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Zosel's Journey

ASHLAND — Matt Zosel's path from Marshfield High School in Coos Bay to Southern Oregon University has been anything but a straight line.

There were stops at Portland State University for football, Lane Community College in Eugene for basketball and Willamette University in Salem for football, basketball and track.

Such journeys are often the result of academic struggles, poor relationships with coaches or simply having an uncertain grasp of one's goals.

The latter most closely applies to Zosel, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior center with the Raider basketball team. But none of them truly fits.

Different circumstances caused him to bounce from one school to another, but he isn't likely to ricochet anywhere else.

He likes SOU, plans to graduate with a degree in history next year with his 3.6 grade point average in tow and one day hopes to teach and coach.

And right now, Zosel is playing up a storm for the Raiders. The undersized pivot is averaging 10.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per game. But the statistic that catches everyone's attention is Zosel's field goal percentage: a torrid 69.6 percent in SOU's 16 games, an even more torrid 77.8 percent in the Raiders? five Cascade Conference contests.

I'm getting a lot of easy looks, Zosel says. The way our offense is structured, I'm getting a lot of layups and 5- to 10-foot shots.

SOU coach Brian McDermott has implemented a triangle offense made famous by Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson. It involves a lot of movement, constant cutters and subtleties that take time to perfect.

If you?re playing the spot that Matt's playing and you?re quick and smart like he is, then it really works well, says McDermott, whose Raiders are 9-7 overall and 3-2 in conference play heading into tonight's game against Eastern Oregon at 7:30 at McNeal Pavilion. He's great at sealing his man and getting to the basket unguarded.

Zosel has enjoyed three nights of shooting perfection, going 9-for-9 against Northwest College, 8-for-8 against Concordia and 7-for-7 against Simpson. Two of those efforts led to him being named Cascade Conference Player of the Week.

Although he routinely goes against players 2 to — inches taller and 25 to 50 pounds heavier, Zosel holds his own in the paint. He knows how to get his shot off quickly to avoid getting it blocked, he's got a nice jump hook and he often reverses his position under the basket, using the rim to shield himself from bigger players.

I've learned a lot of tricks under there, Zosel says. If you don't, you?ll get every shot smothered.

Zosel starred in football, basketball and track at Marshfield. Although basketball was his favorite sport, he liked football almost as much. He was the Midwestern League's Offensive Player of the Year as a tight end and accepted a scholarship to play football at Portland State.

Zosel redshirted his freshman year but didn't return to PSU, instead opting to transfer to Lane Community College and play basketball.

I liked the football coaches and players at Portland State but didn't care much for the campus, Zosel says. And then over the summer, I worked in several basketball camps and just decided I wanted to play hoops again.

Zosel enjoyed his one-year stay at Lane, teaming with former North Medford High star Dan Carter to lead the Titans to the Northwest Athletic Association Community College championship game.

Zosel nearly stayed another season at Lane, but decided to transfer to Willamette in the fall of 1999 when that school came up with a big financial package. He returned to the football field, played basketball in the winter and participated in track and field's most grueling event — the decathlon — last spring.

It was a little hectic playing three sports, he admits. It was go to class, go to practice, go home and study and then back to class the next day.

But I'd probably do it again because I love to compete.

Zosel never would have left Willamette but that school reduced its financial aid package after it learned that Zosel's mother had changed jobs and was making more money. A Division III school, Willamette gives scholarships based on need only.

The coaches up there (at Willamette) did everything they could to get the money back, Zosel says, but it didn't happen.

And so he packed his bags for Ashland, where McDermott had one last scholarship to give.

In return, Zosel is giving the Raiders his best shot. And it's going through the net nearly 70 percent of the time.

Reach reporter at 776-4469, or e-mail

Zosel's Journey