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HILLSBORO, Ore. — Barlow coach Tom Johnson has known freshman phenom Jalen Atkins since he was in a cradle.

So to say Atkins’ arrival on Oregon’s high school stage has been a long time coming for the Bruins’ 36-year head coach would be an understatement. 

Only, it happened sooner than even Johnson expected. In just his second high school game, Atkins scored 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting — including 3 of 5 from 3-point range — to help Barlow (5-2) hold off Roosevelt 80-74 in the Les Schwab Invitational quarterfinals Tuesday afternoon, offering a glimpse at a bright future along the way.

“He does a lot of things you just can’t coach,” Johnson said of his 6-foot-1 point guard, who held offers from Oregon, Washington State, Portland State and San Francisco before he played a varsity game. “He made a couple passes today very few people can make. He’s got vision a lot of kids don’t have.”


It took more than just a standout performance from Atkins to overcome Roosevelt’s late push. Bruins senior big Jesse Jones had 24 points and 12 boards and fellow senior forward Nathan Jones added 17. 

Roosevelt (5-2) played without dynamic 6-foot-7 senior Raysean Seamster, who has missed the past several games and was on the bench at Liberty High School in street clothes. The Roughriders were led by sophomore guard Terrence Hill Jr., who scored 24 of his game-high 36 points in the fourth quarter. 

Hill Jr. hit a 3 to knot the game’s first tie at 57-57 with six minutes left, and he completed a three-point play from a runner off the glass to pull within one with 4:27 to play. 

Barlow hit all eight free throw attempts in the final minute to pull away.

Atkins momentarily considered going elsewhere for high school, but ultimately he was drawn to the idea of continuing his family’s legacy.

Johnson coached Jalen’s father, Josh Atkins, in the late 90s alongside University of Oregon great and 2004 NBA dunk contest champion Fred Jones. Jones is Jalen’s godfather. 

“I’m just trying to keep my feet in the shoes,” Atkins said. “There’s a lot of people who tell me how good my dad and Freddy (were), so I’m trying to live up to the hype.”

Johnson has seen Atkins coming for years. Now, he’s getting to enjoy a freshman point guard with poise beyond his years.

“I always tell myself as a coach to never get too excited about younger kids because a lot can happen, but when I saw him as a sixth-grader, I thought he could be really special,” Johnson said.

On Tuesday, Atkins let the game come to him, and it didn’t take long for him to flash no-look passes and an extensive offensive toolkit. He said he studies the games of Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum, and it showed in the first half. With his back to the basket, Atkins hit a turn-around jumper off of one foot.

What's unlocked the team’s potential is Atkins and senior point guard Connor Hills’ ability to play off one another — something made possible by Atkins’ humility.

“He just does his job,” Hills said. “Knows what we need out of him.”

Atkins and Hills are close friends despite a three-year age difference. They grew up going to church together, played pickup together and their families are close. Now, they are teammates for the first time and give Barlow two capable floor generals.

In the eyes of Johnson, early returns on this rendition of Barlow are overwhelmingly positive — especially after Tuesday.

But the Bruins face their toughest test of the season next in the LSI semifinals Wednesday night, where they will take on presumptive favorite Link Academy, No. 8 in Sports Illustrated/SBLive’s national Power 25 rankings, which boasts a smattering of Division I prospects.

Bruins players and coaches were in the stands to watch Link’s opener and welcome the challenge. Johnson’s group faced Oak Hill Academy in the opening round of the LSI several years ago, and he said his players and coaches still talk about the opportunity.

The Bruins won’t back down from the challenge. 

“They’re huge,” Hills said of Link Academy. “But in the fall, all our senior guys and Jalen played against a bunch of prep schools in scrimmages and we held our own. No matter who we’re playing, we do what we do.”