How does a high school coach get his basketball team out of its comfort zone?
Head to the University of Oregon team camp, where there’s stiff competition, no shot clock and a wildly designed, unconventional floor. While the veteran-heavy Peninsula Seahawks squad dominated its way through the Curtis High School summer league, the Oregon camp was a different ballgame and a welcome challenge for coach Jake Jackson’s team.
Peninsula went 3-4 during the tournament, beating South Eugene, McNary and Southridge. The Seahwaks lost to Union, Seattle Prep, Mercer Island and West Linn (Ore.). Peninsula’s opponents combined last season for 149 wins and 43 losses, six out of the seven went to their respective state tournaments and four of the seven won their league titles.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Jackson said. “We played against some phenomenal Washington and Oregon teams. We wanted to see where we’re at as a program. We left the camp much better. That’s what you want.”
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Peninsula has taken second place in the Class 3A South Puget Sound League the past two seasons. With a senior-heavy roster in place, Jackson expects the group to take the next step — winning league and making it to the state tournament. Improving in the summer is key for the group.
“We’re doing all this right now to become a better team, so these mistakes won’t happen (during the season),” Jackson said. “We went down there with the mindset to finish strong and leave stronger. We’re a stronger team because of that experience.”
Jackson pointed to 6-foot-6 senior forward Josh Keough as a player who had a breakout performance in the camp.
“He had 16 points in one game,” Jackson said. “He had two ferocious dunks, good rebounding and a good midrange game. He’s improved tremendously. Josh is a big part of what we’re going to do this season. It’s starting to show out there.”
Playing games on Oregon’s court, which features dark trees painted all over the hard wood, is a unique experience, Jackson said.
“It’s hard; it’s distracting,” Jackson said. “When you’re sitting courtside, it’s hard to see the overall landmarks — lane lines, 3-point lines. It’s hard to focus at times. But from a marketing standpoint, it’s brilliant. Everyone wants a crazy watermark design on the court. They’ve done a great job selling it.”
The University of Oregon, known for its expensive athletic facilities and flashy uniforms, impressed Peninsula’s players.
“They loved it,” Jackson said. “It’s very similar to Washington as far as weather, the campus, how nice the facilities are, how much money the school has invested into facilities. The guys were really excited.”
Peninsula star senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin, who recently re-opened his recruitment after being verbally committed to Washington, is taking his time with the recruitment process, taking visits and working to find the best fit. The all-state player, currently ranked as the No. 87 overall player, and No. 15 shooting guard in the country for the 2016 class by 247sports.com, has narrowed his list down to five schools: Washington, Wisconsin, Arizona, Stanford and Gonzaga.
“He’ll have options,” Jackson said. “He wants to be patient, take official visits, maybe make a decision before (the season starts).”