Sky is not the limit for South Medford’s Malcolm
Despite basketball running rampant through his family, football was always the sport of choice growing up for Devon Malcolm.
With his sturdy frame and athleticism, that certainly seems like a natural fit.
Fortunately for South Medford basketball fans — and maybe to the dismay of all others who now oppose Malcolm — the tide turned a year or so prior to joining the high school ranks, first in Butte Falls and now in Medford.
“I used to play basketball just to keep me in shape,” says the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder. “I was actually a football kid but one day I met (then-Butte Falls basketball coach Bryan Wood) who became my high school coach and he taught me the ways to love basketball and how I could be really great at it. I fell in love with it and just decided this is what I want to do.”
Malcolm’s older brother Collin was a star player at Ashland High as well as Warner Pacific, where he became a two-time NAIA All-American and now plays professionally overseas, so it wasn’t a stretch to consider he may have a little game.
In short order, though, the South Medford senior has developed into a leading player at the Class 6A level and contender, in very good company, for Southwest Conference player of the year this season.
Malcolm enters tonight’s 7:30 showdown against North Medford averaging 16.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 1.7 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. The Panthers (13-2, 3-0 SWC) are ranked No. 8 in the latest 6A coaches poll while North Medford (15-1, 3-0), which has a pair of top SWC candidates in its own right, is ranked fifth.
“He has helped us out so much,” says South Medford head coach James Wightman, who took over for legendary coach Dennis Murphy in 2016 after a state runner-up showing.
“He really has taken us to that next level as a program, and we needed that shot in the arm. A couple years ago (2018-19 season) it was 2-22 and ugly, but now I think kids are expecting to win games from the lower levels on up and we’re kind of getting it rolling again.”
After an eye-opening start to his high school career at Butte Falls, Malcolm’s family made a necessary move to Medford for personal reasons prior to his junior year, and his overall progression with the Panthers has been notable.
“I’m glad we made this decision,” he says. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“I’m definitely feeling a little more comfortable,” adds Malcolm, whose marquee moment thus far at South was a 26-point, 25-rebound outing against Ida B. Wells. “When I first transferred I was a little hesitant and feeling a little tension but the difference now is I’ve gotten to know some of the guys really well and it’s much more comfortable for me.”
Getting to this point in his basketball career, mind you, wasn’t as natural as some might assume.
“I didn’t really take basketball seriously until the eighth grade,” laughs Malcolm, “so you can imagine how uncoordinated I was. I had coordination to some point because of football but when it came to basketball, I had no coordination and no footwork. As I’ve developed I think I’ve grown pretty far. I feel like I’ve gone from being a bum to being an elite player in a span of two or three years.”
That’s where his family has come in as much as any, giving Malcolm the time and outlet to hone his skills — even in harsh conditions.
“It came with a lot of going to parks at 4 in the morning with my uncle, shooting and working out with my family,” says Malcolm, whose cousin Desmond Clayborne is a 6-5 senior contributor for South. “It was not easy; the road has been really hard. Shoutout to them because they’ve been one of the main reasons why I’ve come so far because they know so much about basketball.”
“From seventh and eighth grade I was waking up at 4 in the morning, going out to the parks where it’s freezing cold — you know how Oregon is: freezing, snowing, raining, you name it,” he adds, shaking his head still in amazement, “but we went out there and handled business.”
Along the way, Malcolm turned into a player hoping to one day have an impact to one now who routinely attacks the rim as if it slandered him in some way.
“I think he is the most explosive jumper that we’ve had,” says Wightman. “Kyle (Singler) could jump but Kyle couldn’t jump like that. Our highest jumper was probably Josh Washington but he didn’t have the coordination or timing that Devon has. To do the stuff that Devon does, it takes a lot of coordination and timing. Dunking is an art form and he might be the most explosive guy that we’ve ever had at that.”
Even the art of dunking is something that has been a work in progress for Malcolm, who is asked all the time when he pulled off his first dunk, which came in seventh grade.
“It was kind of after a game and I just caught the ball and I just went up and dunked it,” he recalls with a grin. “I was freaked out, too, on my dunk. I was like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, I got my dunk.’ I was freaking out.”
“After that I was just trying to dunk on everything,” says Malcolm. “I was battling with elite players from eighth grade on and I did not care. A lot of the time I was going up and I’d get high enough but I just could not finish. It would either bounce right off the rim or I’d get rim-stuffed, but it developed the confidence I have now to dunk in traffic and not be scared of people or scared of contact.”
And for the land-locked majority of hoopsters out there, Malcolm says being able to throw down a dunk is exactly as thrilling as one might hope.
“It’s like slow motion,” he says. “You don’t realize it until you go up and then as soon as you’re up there, you’re like, ‘Oh man, what do I want to do?’ You think of a million things. Do I want to windmill it? Do I want to cock it back? Two hands? Between the legs, behind the back?
“You just want to do something and it’s just all slow motion. You feel like you’re flying. And then once you pull it off, it’s just exciting. But then you’ve got to act like you’ve been there before.”
The good thing, though, is that what you see with Malcolm is what you get. The raw emotion, the laughs and smiles, everything in between, is genuine Devon.
“He’s just a great kid, he really is,” says Wightman. “He’s a good human being. He’s 18 years old and he’s a man, but he acts like he’s still 11 years old and he’s just having fun out there.
“He understands life, too,” adds the coach. “Just the simple things like a woman will be walking through a door and he’ll go and open the door for her. How many kids actually will do that? They don’t because it’s just all about me for most of them, but that’s a reflection of who he is fundamentally.
“He’s an unselfish dude and he’s a great teammate. If you watch him on the bench and he’s out, he’s cheering those guys on like crazy. He’s just fun to be around. Wherever he goes, he usually lights up the room.”
As much as anything, that may be what Malcolm is most proud of, well beyond a highlight reel dunk here or there.
“I know I’m a high-energy player with the dunks and all that,” he says, “but I feel like I’m also a leader and can be a big role model.”
And within this season as well as in the years to come, Malcolm believes he has plenty more to offer.
“I feel like my ceiling is very high,” he says, noting he’s still involved in college recruitment. “The sky is not the limit for me, it’s beyond that. I feel like I can be a really great player because I have the tendencies, the physicality and the athleticism for all that. I can develop into a great player, and that’s just what I’m trying to do every day.”
Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry