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Roosevelt gives community a sense of pride, hope in unforgettable season: ‘There’s something special brewing in the North’

Roughriders come up just short of a state title, but that hardly matters given everything this group has done in changing the culture of Roosevelt basketball
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PORTLAND — Saturday’s state championship game meant more to Roosevelt than just basketball. 

Beyond any basket scored, beyond what shows up in the final box score and beyond any critical play — the community that showed up to support the Roughriders’ journey to secure their first boys basketball state championship since 1949 meant a whole lot more. 

Despite coming up short of their goal in an 85-76 defeat to top-seeded Central Catholic, there was a huge sense of pride in what they accomplished and in representing their neighborhood high school that sits just a mile from the Chiles Center. 

“Throughout the whole year, it hasn’t been just basketball,” senior Terrence Hill Jr. said. “From the coaches and players, it’s shown throughout our community. It’s showing that we care about them, that we want to change for them, so just them coming out to support us, even with the loss, even taking second place, it was a big thing we changed throughout the whole community.”

Hill said it’s been a “crazy” past 24 hours since winning the semifinal game over Beaverton in convincing fashion, 75-43, on Friday night. The support swelled immediately afterward, as the OSAA announced on social media that tickets for the final were sold out early Saturday morning.

“It’s the most support I’ve seen in Roosevelt history,” Hill said. “Everyone was just texting me, ‘Go finish the job.’ I’m just proud to see the whole community come out, cheering for us.”

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While the initial feeling in the postgame locker room was that of letting down friends, family and supporters who showed up, Roosevelt coach Jamarr Lawson reminded his players what the entire moment of Saturday’s game meant. 

The entire student section was filled. More than half the arena was on their side. Several kids came up to the players asking for autographs, like they were rock stars.

“Everyone had to shift the narrative because they were all like, ‘We let our community down,’” Lawson said. “And I’m like, ‘No, you guys brought your community out.’ We haven’t seen something like that at Roosevelt since I’ve been here in eight years, and I’ve never seen the community show up in the way it did. That’s just because these are a great group of young men.”

For Hill, it was not only about representing the team today, but also being a good role model for kids looking up to them and the future of the Roosevelt program.

“I would just say, I haven’t had a role model that I looked up to (growing up) in this community,” Hill said. “I wanted to set the standard to do that, challenge myself every day to be that role model for my brothers and my family and be a good representative of the whole community.”

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Lawson said his one regret is not being able to coach this group anymore. His players completely bought into their holistic approach all season to get their mental and emotional focus right.

For all four days of the tournament, they stayed together in a hotel nearby with a 9:30 p.m. lights-out bedtime while also giving up their phones at night. Any distractions were not allowed. 

“We really wanted to lock into each other,” Lawson said. “They were receptive to their phones being taken, which is a hard thing to do for kids in this generation. That’s the love of their lives, but they showed up and turned off their phones every day at 9:30 and got a good rest. They just did a lot of the things we asked of them off the court to prepare for this.”

For the team’s eight seniors — Hill, Chance White, Utrillo Morris, Griffin Parman, John Fernandis, Malachi Burns, DJ Johnson and Joseph West — there was a united promise to always give back to the program.

“(They said), ‘I’m going to continue to come here and support you guys and your journey,’” Lawson said. “That’s been the biggest thing — not being about you, but being about us.”

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The Roughriders expect to return junior Owen Nathan, an all-PIL second-team selection and the league’s defensive player of the year, and sophomore Syrius Owens, an all-league honorable mention. 

Their biggest losses will be the graduation of Hill, White and Morris — three players who have been coached by Lawson since their youth days. Hill was the PIL player of the year after returning from a one-year hiatus to play at AZ Compass Prep last season. White was a second-team selection, and Morris was the team’s catalyst at guard as an honorable mention.

Hill said he saw flashbacks of his early playing days, looking at White and Morris on the court for the final time on the same team. Memories of winning their sixth-grade championship in Las Vegas started flooding back.

“It’s been a great journey since we started in fourth grade,” Hill said. “We knew it was going to be our last game together, so we just put it all on the line.”

The trio meant so much more to Lawson, who moved from Texas to Oregon years ago, during a time when he was “trying to figure out” his next steps in life.

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“I just didn’t know what the plan was for me,” he said. “So, meeting those kids and getting them in the gym, they pushed me to go learn more.

“I’m honored. They were like, ‘Man, we let you down, Coach.’ And I said, ‘Absolutely you haven’t!’ We’ve really overcome different family demographics and challenges. We got through it together.”

Lawson said his players had many options to transfer to different schools and find success elsewhere, but they stuck with him and the Roosevelt program. 

“They said, ‘We trust you because of what you have done for us,’” Lawson said. “Not just as basketball players, but helping us build life skills, and giving that social and emotional support.”

Sustaining the success will be the challenge now for the Roughriders. But Lawson is confident in what they’re building and envisions returning to the Chiles Center in the future.

“We just don’t want to be here this year,” Lawson said. “We’re really dedicated and committed to being here for years to come and let people know that there’s something special brewing in the North.”

Tournament preview | Players to watch | Top storylines | Our predictions | Bracket


Photos by Naji Saker