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Unfinished business

South Medford builds its case as one of the best teams in state history Commentary

Is South Medford the best boys basketball team ever to come out of Oregon?

It's a question sure to rankle the feathers of just about every basketball team headed to this week's Class 4A state tournament in Eugene, as well as fans of ' and players on ' some of the great squads who have come before.

But it's also a question that deserves to be asked, as it should every year for the top-ranked team in the state.

It's one of the water-cooler aspects that makes athletics so enjoyable. The notion of making comparisons and developing all-time lists is a time-honored tradition, and one that shouldn't be spared for the 25-1 Panthers.

That said, South Medford surely has more work to do since a state championship is a prerequisite before one can seriously consider placing the local boys among a list of the great teams from Jefferson, Benson, North Eugene, et. al.

— In fact, it'll take a finish higher than third for the Panthers to even be considered the best team in school history.

Still, there's no denying the 2005-06 version of the Panthers are a special bunch. Just how special is up for considerable debate.

With so many factors involved in determining the best, it may come down to personal preference on what factors carry more weight than others.

When it comes to the Panthers, however, there certainly is a lot to appreciate.

First and foremost, South Medford has not lost to an Oregon team this season. In fact, the Panthers have trailed at halftime only once (33-32 at Jefferson on Jan. 21) and have outscored their opponents by an average of about 34 points per game.

The mark of any quality team is how it starts and finishes each game, although the fourth quarter hasn't been an issue for South all season beyond its 73-67 loss to Reserve Christian of Louisiana.

The only other team that has been within 10 points heading into the fourth quarter was Beaverton, and that was directly related to point guard Michael Harthun having to sit out the first half for disciplinary reasons. The sophomore had been late for the team bus but went on to lead a second-half surge that did in the Beavers, 72-50.

Given that the opening of the first and second halves may be more pertinent, South has outscored its opponents by an average of about 20-10 in the first quarter this season (526-250), and 20-12 in the third (519-321).

Maybe most impressive of all has been the Panthers' ability to adapt to any style of play.

If you opt for a deliberate attack, such as Grants Pass did on Feb. 7, South has the mental toughness to still win by 21 points (56-35).

If you want to push the tempo, as Jefferson did, the Panthers have a roster skilled enough to do that as well. South beat the Democrats by a season-low 11 points (80-69), with its largest margin of victory (63) coming against Crater (105-42) in the regular-season finale.

With an average height of 6-foot-6&

189; among its starters, South has been dominant when it comes to rebounding, both on the offensive and defensive side of the court.

In fact, the Panthers have more offensive rebounds (346) than their opponents have defensive rebounds (328). On the flip side, South has 550 defensive rebounds and has allowed its foes to pull down only 208 offensive rebounds.

And when the Panthers aren't wiping the glass clean, they're busy sharing better than Siamese twins. South boasts a remarkable 516 assists on 789 field goals, meaning that 65 percent of their baskets come via the extra pass. At one point this season, that number was as high as 80 percent.

If those numbers aren't enough to create some sort of pause when considering the Panthers, the team possesses key intangibles as well.

All five starters have either signed or will sign scholarships to play basketball at college but, beyond their talent level, you wouldn't know it. From top to bottom, the Panthers treat each other with respect and genuinely want the other to succeed.

Kyle Singler is rated as the No. 4 or No. 6 junior in the nation, depending on what list you choose, yet he remains level-headed.

Brent Johnson, Myles Daley and Kendall Gielow are in that senior year where it should be all about them, yet they're the first ones to pass the ball and heap praise on their teammates.

Harthun's name is also bandied about as one of the top sophomore recruits, yet he's as happy dishing the ball as he is raining down jumpers over his opponent.

It's a team concept South bought into months ago.

It's a team chemistry few programs will ever know.

And, win or lose, the Panthers have been the talk of Oregon for the 2005-06 campaign.

The rest is up to them.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail Unfinished business"khenry@mailtribune.com.