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North, South boys search for identities

Prep Notebook

Two teams searching for their basketball identities will square off Friday night at South Medford High when the Panther boys host the North Medford Black Tornado.

Both teams are expected to advance to the Class 4A state playoffs, with South Medford picked to win the Southern Oregon Conference and North Medford penciled in for a fourth-place finish in a preseason coaches poll.

But the Panthers and the Tornado have labored through some growing pains in the early part of the season.

North Medford struggled to a 1-4 record before steadying itself with a third-place finish in the Abby's Holiday Classic. The Tornado, now 3-5, has talent, with point guard Drew Herrera, shooting guard Kyle Williamson and small forward Ben Running among the better athletes in the SOC.

But until it romped to a 90-76 victory over Wilson last Tuesday, North Medford wasn't playing up to its potential.

— We sat down before that (Wilson) game last week and had a long talk, says Williamson, who knocked down five 3-point baskets and scored a career-high 29 points in the win over the Portland team. We decided that our intensity level had to go up and that we had to show more emotion.

Running played up a storm throughout the tournament, scoring 24 against Wilson, a career-high 27 in a loss to Crescent Valley and 16 in a win over Aloha in the third-place game.

I just tried to out-hustle my opponent all three games, Running said. I got a lot of points on putbacks.

Although Tornado coach Tim Sam was pleased with the about-face, he knows things won't get easier Friday when his team meets its cross-town rival. Practices have remained intense. Sunday's workout, for example, went two hours rather than the standard 90 minutes for that day.

And we hardly even touched a ball, Running said. We spent most of the practice on rebound and defensive drills. We know if we don't box out those (South Medford) guys, we can't win.

Over at South Medford, meanwhile, the emphasis was on breaking down a zone defense. The Panthers had all kinds of trouble solving Crescent Valley's 2-3 zone in a 61-48 loss to the Raiders in the championship game of the Abby's tournament. They spent 1&

189; hours watching video of the game on Saturday, then practiced for 2&

189; hours.

We were lost out there in that game, said Brent Johnson, the Panthers' 6-7 junior center. We weren't patient at all and put up a lot of bad shots.

But I think we'll do a lot better the next time a team zones us. We've cleaned up some things in practice, and we've put in a new (zone) offense.

South Medford should also benefit from having Kyle Singler more in sync. The 6-foot-8 sophomore standout scored just four points against Crescent Valley in his first full game back following a thumb injury suffered in football.

ONE THING South Medford lacks this season is a veritable verbal leader. Johnson is trying to take over that role the way his first-team, all-state brother, Craig, did a year ago.

I'm not afraid to do it, but you feel kind of stupid taking on that responsibility when you score two points, said Johnson, referring to his point total against Crescent Valley.

In fairness to Johnson, who scored 30 points in a game against Helix High of San Diego, Calif., on Dec. 16, he rarely touched the ball against the Corvallis club.

RUNNING WILL have surgery to remove a bone spur on the big toe of his left foot after the season. He already had the surgery last spring, but the spur grew back.

My doctor said he'd never seen one grow back like that, Running says. Basketball is hard on it, with all the jumping and banging, but I can live with it.

SOC GIRLS PLAY kicks off tonight with four games. The best matchup could be at South Medford, where the 6-4 Panthers host 7-3 Crater. The Comets were picked to finish third in the preseason coaches poll, the Panthers fourth.

Ashland hosts conference favorite and eighth-ranked North Medford in what could be another good matchup, but the Grizzlies, picked to finish second, have struggled to a 2-7 record.

Reach reporter at 776-4469, or e-mail