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Holmes is raising the bar at North

True basketball fans know that points scored isn't necessarily a true barometer of a player's value, but it's usually the first thing that gets your attention.

In the case of North Medford junior Tristen Holmes, his ability to fill up the basket definitely draws you in, but there's so much more there than just being a scorer.

Sure, Holmes ranks first in Southern Oregon Hybrid scoring at 19.4 points per game, but his averages of 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game also rank second on a Black Tornado squad positioned to vie for its first conference crown since the 1998-99 season.

"I just try to fill up everything you can on the stat sheet and try to help out wherever possible for that night," says Holmes, who is also a standout receiver/defensive back in football.

The impressive thing is that, according to Black Tornado head coach Scott Plankenhorn, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound guard only seems to be scratching the surface in what he can do on the basketball court.

"He's off to an awfully good start so far through the first 12 games, and it's been a little bit of everything," says Plankenhorn of the two-year starter. "Obviously people are going to see the scoring but he's been good in so many areas for us. That's something special when you've got a guy who scores the ball a lot but realizes there's so many more ways he can contribute to the team."

"I think the improvement of his overall game is what I'm excited about," adds the coach. "He's much, much better defensively this year. He's committed to stopping people and getting into passing lanes and his five or six rebounds per game has been great to have out of a guard to help the post guys out."

Holmes' next chance to stretch his game will be at 7 tonight when North Medford plays host to South Medford in the first of three Southern Oregon Hybrid cross-town matchups this season. The Black Tornado (9-3, 2-0 SOH) and Panthers (9-5, 2-0) are tied for first in the conference standings, with North Medford No. 7 in the state's Class 6A power rankings and South Medford at No. 13.

The top-ranked South Medford girls, 10-2 and 2-0 in SOH play, play host to North Medford (7-5, 1-1) at 7 tonight in the Panthers' gym.

"I'm pumped for our game," says Holmes. "It's nice to have a packed crowd to play in front of for that, with the place going crazy and filled. I think it's the funnest game of the year to be at."

The revitalization of the Black Tornado program under Plankenhorn has helped make it that much more entertaining against the Panthers, who have earned at least a share of 11 of the past 12 conference championships, including the past two outright titles.

"We seem to always have a good year going when we run into South and they're having a good year going, too," says Plankenhorn. "It's one of those contests where whoever wins gets an upper-hand toward the conference title and everybody else is going to have to come get you. Then when you throw that cross-town rivalry thing into it, it just adds another part to it that makes everyone excited."

Like every game it seems this season, Holmes is sure to get plenty of attention from the Panthers. It's an issue he's had to learn to deal with, having teams game plan against him, and it makes for a good challenge each night.

"I guess it kinda makes me feel good as a person knowing that people are trying to stop me," Holmes says of the extra attention. "Just knowing that people are going to be watching you, you just have to work that much harder on the court and I rely a lot on my teammates to try to get me shots. It's really a group effort, it's not just me at all."

In fact, Holmes is quick to credit his fellow starters and each of the players who come off the bench for setting the table for him to shine. Point guard Julian Gray averages 12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 steals per game, while fellow senior Aaron Browne-Moore notches 8.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

"We really try to ride whoever's going at the moment and Julian really tries to work to get me the ball and run plays for me and the other guys work hard to get me open," says Holmes. "Everyone's setting screens and working to get the ball to whoever is hot. It's not the most glamorous thing for everyone but everyone really comes together to make it happen. I kinda end up with the good stats when really it's the whole team doing the work for me."

For his part, Holmes considers his play thus far "decent" and says that there's always things he can work on and tweak to help himself as an individual as well as help his team. Part of that was an offseason bent on shoring up his long-range shooting, allowing for a quicker and more true release.

"Growing up I've always been more of an attacking driver to the basket and that kinda limits me if people sag off and makes me one-dimensional," he says. "Over the summer and playing in the offseason, everybody has really worked with me to get my shooting better and working on catching and shooting in rhythm so I'm not having to dribble to shoot."

The one constant, however, for Holmes has been his uncanny calm demeanor. Few could tell how the night is going for Holmes or the Black Tornado by watching his expressions on the court.

"Everybody always makes fun of me for it but I don't really show much emotion out on the court, I'm just neutral no matter what situation I'm in," Holmes says of a composure that has served him well in late-game circumstances thus far. "I don't know where that's from, I've always just been that way. I kinda like it though because it doesn't give your opponent any lead or edge on you when you're just calm on the outside."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Tristen Holmes (11) and the North Medford basketball team hosts rival South Medford tonight in a Southern Oregon Hybrid game.