Rogue Valley residents waiting to see one of the state’s top high school boys basketball players — and potentially one of its best teams — will finally have their chance this week when Kaison Faust and North Medford look to capture their fourth straight Abby’s Holiday Classic.
Faust, an explosive, 6-foot-2, senior wing, has sparked the Black Tornado (8-1) to an impressive start to the season, including seven victories during an eight-game stint of the road that spanned nearly an entire month. The last time North played on its home court was Dec. 1, in a season-opening victory over Summit.
While Faust leads North in nearly every statistical category — including points (26.0) and rebounds (8.1) — his shooting efficiency inside the 3-point arc has been off the charts: 77 percent (95 of 124) on 2-point field goal attempts.
“He’s awfully good,” Plankenhorn said. “He hasn’t had to make many outside shots yet this year, but he’s become very capable of doing that now.”
An honorable mention selection on last year’s all-state team, Faust has “gotta be in the conversation, at least,” when talking about the top Class 6A players in the state this year, Plankenhorn said.
“He’s a fun watch,” Plankenhorn said, adding, “I think we’re a fun team to watch.”
Faust’s quick first step has made him an effective scorer throughout his varsity playing career, but his improved outside shot and passing ability this year, combined with his explosiveness, have made him nearly unguardable, Plankenhorn said.
“He definitely frees up everybody for open shots, that’s for sure,” Plankenhorn said. “I still think we can make more of those, though.”
The main beneficiaries have been North’s other four starters, senior point guard Oscar Banuelos (12.3 points, 4.0 assists), senior guard Quinton Rumrey (9.2 points), senior forward Jake O’Connor (4.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals) and junior post Eli Spence (6.7 points, 7.2 rebounds).
Averaging 67.6 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the field, the Tornado has breezed past most of its competition, dictating tempo and playing at a fairly high pace while using a variety of effective options in the transition game.
“We’re doing what we want to do right now,” Plankenhorn said. “We’ve got a really good thing going with our starters, and we’re hoping to make another jump this week.”
And the question remains whether the other teams in the tournament will be able to stop the Tornado from imposing its will.
On the other side of the bracket is crosstown rival South Medford, co-host of the tournament, which has gotten off to a slow start while working into the lineup several players who were part of South’s run to the state championship game in football.
Jesse Higgins, a 6-9 senior post, has been a dominant inside force at times for the Panthers (3-5), leading the team in both scoring and rebounding, but South hasn’t found a lot of consistency otherwise.
North and South have three common opponents this season: North lost 68-61 at West Salem while South (playing short-handed in its season-opener) was defeated 81-49 by West Salem at home; North edged Summit 51-49 at home in its season-opener, while South lost 74-64 at Summit; both North and South defeated Eagle Point handily.
The last time North faced South in the finals was in 2015, when the Black Tornado beat the Panthers 62-54.South is 4-3 against North all-time in Abby’s finals.
Last year, North secured its third consecutive tournament title, eighth overall, with 57-56 comeback win over Forest Grove.
Games begin Wednesday at North Medford and South Medford high schools. The tournament continues Thursday and Friday with all of the contests at North. The championship game is set for 5:15 p.m. Friday.
Here are capsules of the other six teams competing in the tournament:
EAGLE POINT: The Eagles (1-6), one of two Class 5A teams competing in the mostly 6A field, have dropped five straight, including lopsided losses to South Medford and Roseburg.
Seniors Zakk Scott and Dennen Adams and junior Levi Scott have been standout players.
ROSEBURG: The Indians (6-2) are much improved this year and have a returning core from last year that includes senior guards Cody Johnson and Jon Crince and junior guard Collin Warmouth.
Roseburg had won four straight prior to stumbling at Aloha on Dec. 21. The Indians could face North Medford in the second round of the tournament in a potential preview of what could turn out to be the top two teams in the Southwest Conference.
“They’re going to be a challenge,” Plankenhorn said.
MCKAY: The highly improved Royal Scots (4-3, 2-1 6A Greater Valley Conference), return five seniors (Khyler Beach, Israel Garza, Andre Tovar, Drioji Joel, Ryan Bangs) who were starters or in the rotation last season and will continue their up-tempo play.
FOREST GROVE: Last year’s tournament finalist is a bit down this year. The Vikings (3-5, 1-2 6A Greater Valley Conference) are led by senior wing Noah Duve, junior post Adison Emerick and senior guard Kyle Thompson.
LA SALLE: The Falcons (2-5), who hail from Milwaukie and compete in the 5A Northwest Oregon Conference, feature Alex Boyd, a 6-3 combo forward.
RED BLUFF (CALIF.): The Spartans (6-6), who lean heavily upon 6-3 junior forward Valentin Ramirez, 6-4 senior forward Derek Gorden and senior point guard Brayden Hutchens, are 2-2 at home, 1-1 on the road and 3-3 in neutral-site games.
— Reach reporter Mike Oxendine at 541-776-4499 or email@example.com