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‘They gave us the tools to succeed.’ As Tualatin celebrates 6A boys basketball title, Timberwolves players are quick to point out it was their coaches who made it all possible

“Without them, we don’t get this. They pushed us every day. They gave us confidence. They told us every day that we could be state champions.”
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By Dan Brood | Photos by Dan Brood 

The Timberwolves took it all. 

The Tualatin boys basketball team made history, winning the program’s first Class 6A state championship by defeating Summit 66-49 in the state title contest, played Saturday, March 12, at the University of Portland’s Chiles Center. 

And, like with any wolf pack, so much depends on leadership. Wow, did this wolf pack, the title-winning Timberwolves, have strong, strong leadership.

The Tualatin squad seemed to thrive this championship season behind the leadership of head coach Todd Jukkala and his top assistants, Tom Duggan and Brandon Lemon.

“They played a major, major role. They helped us with our mindset, and with rotation, and everything in between that,” Tualatin senior post Ashton Rose said. “They’re awesome. They’re very supportive. They’re very generous with their time. They’re great coaches, and great people.” 

“They’re role models. They’re guys we look up to,” Tualatin senior post Peter Burke said. “They help us with everything, not only on the court, but off the court. They mean a lot.”

“Oh my goodness, they treat us like their kids,” Timberwolves senior guard Malik Ross said. “They love us, and we love them. We help each other out.”

Tualatin coaches Dan Brood

Jukkala, Duggan and Lemon have deep roots in the Tualatin program.

Duggan has been a coach at Tualatin since the school opened its doors in the fall of 1992. Lemon played basketball and football at Tualatin, graduating from the school in 2006. He was brought back as an assistant coach by then-head coach Rick Osborn six years ago.

Jukkala was the Tualatin girls basketball head coach for 13 years. He then was an assistant coach for the boys team for six years. This year’s state championship came in Jukkala’s fourth season as the head coach for the Tualatin boys.

“That was a hard-earned state title and something they should feel very proud about,” Jukkala said. “Just the way they came together, under adversity, while never making excuses or whining about anything. They just kept going to work every day. It’s hard to improve over the course of a season when you’re playing games, but they found a way to do it. It’s a testament, not only to the guys who played a lot of minutes, but also to our bench. They kept it competitive. When we had practice time, it was very competitive. That really helped us get through the season.”

It certainly was a challenging season that saw Tualatin overcome various obstacles on its way to winning the crown. First, the football players got a late start to the basketball season because of their success on the gridiron, with the Timberwolves making it all the way to the Class 6A state championship game. Then, because of the Omicron COVID outbreak, the team had nearly a month layoff and didn’t play a game between Dec. 30 and Jan. 28

“This is just a special group of guys,” Jukkala said. “I don’t think any team has ever had to go through a season like we went through and still win the title.”

One of the reasons the team grew, both on and off the court, players and coaches say, is Jukkala. 

“Todd cares about his players, first and foremost,” Duggan said. “He puts guys in position where they can make plays. He’s done a great job holding these guys through all kinds of adversity this season and keeping it all together in what has been a difficult season.”

“Todd is an amazing guy,” Lemon said. “Nobody loves the kids as much as he loves them. I think the kids would run through a wall for him, and he’s just done a great job.”

To listen to 2007 Tualatin graduate Lindsey Wilcox, who played four years for Jukkala when he coached the Timberwolves girls team, he’s been doing a great job for a long time. 

“This truly couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more committed coach,” Wilcox said. “I’m just so thrilled for him, the program, and these young men. He has an infectious intensity about him. As players, I remember we all cared about the games and each other, but more than anything, we didn’t want to let him down. That says a lot about a bunch of high school girls, as well as the care and patience with which he coached and mentored us on and off the court.”

Todd Jukkala Dan Brood 2

The current Timberwolves agree.

“He’s a great coach,” Burke said. “I’ve been with him since sophomore year. I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s taught me about the game, he taught me how to be a man, and everything like that. He’s a great guy, and I’ve learned a lot from him.”

“He’s pretty laid back, and he’s a chill guy,” Tualatin senior guard Noah Ogoli said. “He’ll always listen to your input and he’ll trust you to do the right thing. And he’s teaching us to be good young men, as well. He’s a good coach.”

Becoming good young men — that seems to be a main objective for Jukkala, and the rest of the coaching staff, when it comes to the Timberwolves players.

“My good feeling about being a coach is seeing these guys become great young men,” Jukkala said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the kids. And I’m so happy for them. I’ve been in this long enough now to know the most important thing is that we develop young men of character, and if you can do what we did (in winning a championship) along the way, that’s great.” 

Jukkala is also quick — very quick — to point out that what Tualatin has accomplished, both on and off the court, has been a group effort.

“I am blessed to have guys around me that are so supportive and so good at what they do. They make my life and my job so much easier. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate them,” Jukkala said. “Tom Duggan, I couldn’t do it without him. He keeps everything running. We are the most organized program because of him. He puts in all of this extra time, downloading films, making sure we know what all the schedules are, and stuff like that. He’s invaluable. We couldn’t do it without him.

Tom Dugan Dan Brood

“Brandon Lemon, a guy who played in the program, comes back and he’s an outstanding coach, outstanding JV coach for us. He’s great support on the bench. He’s a guy whose advice I value and listen to.”

Lemon seemed to be kind of teary-eyed and emotional throughout tournament week — with good reason.

“This is a very special week for me. I had a baby this week, for the first time,” Lemon said.

Lemon’s wife, Amanda Setzer Lemon, gave birth to a daughter, Mychaiah, on Tuesday, the day before the state tournament started.

“People told me I got four wins this week,” Brandon Lemon said with a smile. “These guys mean the world to me, and I’m thankful for my wife, that she let me come out here and keep working. She was planning to get this baby out, so I could get here.”

Brandon Lemon 2 Dan Brood

In addition to Lemon and Duggan, Jukkala also pointed out Tualatin freshman team coaches Wade Moyer and Nathan Platter, who is another former Tualatin player.

“They did a fantastic job with our young guys,” Jukkala said.

There is one other person Jukkala said was absolutely invaluable to the program and what was accomplished this season – Rick Osborn.

Osborn coached the Timberwolves from the school’s first year through the 2017-18 season.

“This would mean absolutely nothing if I didn’t mention Rick Osborn,” Jukkala said. “Rick was helping us throughout the entire year. He was someone I could go to and get some basketball wisdom from every day. He’s the best Xs and Os guy I’ve ever known, and I’ve been around a lot of coaches. And to have that resource, and to have his support, is invaluable. I wish he was here, and I have to let him know how important he is to what’s going on. He was at practice and helping a lot. I can’t say enough about Rick. He’s a wonderful person, and he was a huge chunk of this.”

“This program was started out by Rick Osborn, and Todd has carried the tradition forward,” Duggan said. “I’m just so proud of all of our guys and the contributions they’ve made. I couldn’t be prouder of all of our players throughout the years, and this championship was built on the backs of their collective work.”

That collective work, of Tualatin players past and present, resulted in the Timberwolves joyously cutting down the net off the basket at the Chiles Center in a state championship celebration — a celebration longtime coming for the Tualatin players and a special group of coaches. 

Tom Dugan 2 Dan Brood

“They mean a lot,” Ogoli said. “We all bonded super well. We were all super comfortable with each other and trusting of each other. Everyone just kept moving forward. The players will be remembered, and the coaches will be remembered, that’s for sure.”

“These coaches have been here for a long time, and they never had a championship,” Tualatin senior Kellen Hale said. “They gave us everything. They gave us the tools to succeed. They put the right guys in the right spots. They’re great guys, and great coaches.” 

“Without them, we don’t get this,” Ross said. “They pushed us every day. They gave us confidence. They told us every day that we could be state champions.”

And, as evidenced by the triumphant victory celebration on the hardwood at the Chiles Center, they were right.