North, South boys happy with Oregon Madness opportunity
After a whirlwind spring season that was more of a sprint as compared to the usual four-month grind, one might have understood if local basketball players wanted to take a short break before summer workouts got going in earnest.
Instead, the North Medford and South Medford boys basketball teams decided to play on.
The Black Tornado and Panthers both took to the court at the 16-team Oregon Madness tournament in Salem earlier this week. They were two of the final four teams left standing, with South losing to Grant in the semifinals and North falling to the same Generals team in the tournament’s championship game.
“It went really well,” North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn said. “Obviously, we didn’t quite get what we wanted, but we took second to Grant. We played really well up there. ... It’s amazing to get six or seven weeks of basketball in. It’s been a flash, and it felt like we were almost on an NBA schedule. We didn’t get to practice the way we would like to practice, but we got 20 games in and it was flying by.”
The tournament field was a hodgepodge of teams from all over the state, with a wide array of schools from different classifications facing one another.
There was a chance that North and South could have played one another having been on different sides of the bracket, with a potential second straight tournament title game in less than a week providing quite the final game of the spring.
Just days earlier, North and South faced one another in the Southern Oregon Conference championship game, with the Panthers claiming a 74-69 win.
Both North-South games in the regular season went into overtime, so it was no surprise to see their third and final meeting go down to the wire.
“That was a heck of a game,” South Medford head coach James Wightman said of the SOC title game. “We won, so it was better for us, but North was pretty good in that game, too. It was back and forth and we knew it was going to come down to the last minute.”
After such a big game, Wightman had a question for his seniors: Go out on a high note with a win over North, or head north to Salem to play one last tournament together?
“They wanted to go,” Wightman said. “We got to play two or three more games and we were excited, so it was good for them to go out like that.”
Both teams rolled to wins in their first two games in Salem.
North claimed wins over St. Paul and Seaside, with Plankenhorn describing the Black Tornado’s quarterfinal win as “probably our most complete game up there.”
“We played really well and beat (Seaside) fairly easily,” he said.
South, meanwhile, beat North Salem and a shorthanded Sprague squad that was without its 6-foot-9 starting center Dallon Morgan.
Panthers freshman point guard Jackson Weiland was one of South’s standout performers in the tournament. Weiland, who was a first-team all-SOC selection last month, was named to the all-tournament team.
“In the first and second game, I don’t know if they really knew about Jackson because he came down and whacked 3 after 3 after 3 and was able to get into the paint,” Wightman said. “For Jackson, just to go up there and see the speed difference and play against a 17-year-old, which he already did here anyway. He got a good look with (North Medford’s) Landon Ellis, a three-year starter and he’s been around. It was good for him to see a different pace.”
North had one of the most exciting games of the Oregon Madness tournament in its 73-71 semifinal win over Yamhill-Carlton, which had beaten Cascade Christian in the Class 3A culminating week tournament the week before. Black Tornado junior guard Trey Neff hit back-to-back 3-pointers with less than a minute to go in regulation to get the win.
“He just really bought in to what he had to do for the team, got quality shots and knocked them out,” Plankenhorn said of Neff’s breakout spring season. “Any time we needed a big one, he really stepped into that role and cherished the chance to have the shot and wanted to take it.”
“They always talk about the Steph Curry numbers and similar guys that are 50-40-90, and (Neff) is 87% from the free throw line otherwise he’s a 50-40-90 guy,” Plankenhorn continued. “He’s shooting above 50% from the field, above 40% from the 3-point line and 87% from the free throw line, so that’s about as good as it gets for anybody that can play shooting guard.”
In Grant, however, North just saw a different animal.
“Grant was just too much, man,” Plankenhorn said. “They got out on us early. We couldn’t get a bucket in the first quarter and were down 20-0 before we bounced back. It was 30-25 at one point, but then they went on a little bit of a run and we just never got back into it after that.”
That was something the Panthers had seen the day before in the semifinal round.
“Our goal was to play Grant in the semifinal, and we did that,” Wightman said. “With us able to play each other down here, that speed of the game (that Grant has), we’re just not used to that.
“Our goal in the fall is to go up there and play in a fall league just to give us a sense of that speed. We should be pretty good again next year and return three big pieces.”
Both Plankenhorn and Wightman will see a pair of senior starters graduate, but are excited for what the future holds.
That was only solidified during the past week in Salem.
“We were happy to make it to the semis and do all of those things. It was a heck of a year for us before that,” said Wightman, who will also have starters Junior Sleezer and Devon Malcolm back next season.
Plankenhorn said that the Oregon Madness tournament could become something that develops into something that takes place after the state tournament in March or the summer months when things return to normal next season.
Above all else, Oregon Madness proved to be something that was just like the 2021 spring season: another chance for the players to play.
And after a school year with so much uncertainty, a few extra games were appreciated no matter what the outcome ended up being.
“I’m curious how it’s going to go,” Wightman said of the tournament’s future. “It’s just going to give the players another thing with an opportunity to go play. If it’s a well-organized thing, I think that teams will be excited for it going forward.”
Added Plankenhorn: “It was a nice event. It was definitely fun to keep the kids together, go play and do it a different way with a different atmosphere, really get after it and have some teams you don’t see all the time.”
Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.