Tualatin boys and girls basketball have big expectations to start season

Senior Jaden Stepp has been the rock for the two-time defending state champ Timberwolves so far this season, earning first-team honors in two major tournaments. Adam Littman/Tualatin Life
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Both the boys and girls Tualatin basketball teams are coming off incredibly successful seasons, and so far this year, both teams are dealing with the increased expectations and major roster overhauls.  

Last year, the boys teams captured their second straight state title. The girls team went 24-4, including undefeated in league play, to win the Three Rivers League and make it to the state quarterfinals.

About a month-plus into the season, both teams are balancing major changes to their rotations while also starting off the season with games against some top-tier talent. 

As of our press deadline, the boys team is 9-4 and ranked eighth in the state by the Oregon School Activities Association, and the girls are 7-3 and ranked 11th. 

Here’s a bit more of a breakdown about how each team’s season has gone so far:

Graduations, injuries, and transfers force boys team to work in new talent

Coming into the season, Tualatin knew it would be down one major piece from the two state title teams: Josiah Lake graduated last year after being a key contributor to both state championships. Lake has made an immediate impact as a walk-on freshman for Oregon State, where he is averaging 16 minutes a game off the bench. 

However, a few unexpected turns also cut into the Timberwolves rotation before the season kicked off. 

Senior Jayden Fortier and junior Nolan Keeney were both hurt in the football state title game in late November. Fortier, who played big minutes last year for the basketball team, recently announced he underwent successful ACL surgery. Keeney, who is in his first year at the school, has not played in a game so far this year after hurting his collarbone in the state title game.

If that wasn’t enough, Tualatin also lost transfer student Winters Grady, who averaged 27.4 points a game last year with Lake Oswego as a sophomore. The four-star prospect transferred to Tualatin in June, and played in some summer tournaments with the Timberwolves. In August, he announced he was transferring to Prolific Prep in California. 

For all the changes, both expected and last-minute, Tualatin Head Coach Bubba Lemon is happy with how his team has responded.

“If you can ever bank on a perfect season then we all would be winning championships,” he said. “The thing that I love about the guys is knowing that something is going to happen, how do you respond to it afterwards? They’ve all jumped in full-on afterwards. Guys are hurt, and other guys are stepping up and ready to take their place.”

One player making a big impact early in the year for the Timberwolves is Jemai Lake, the younger brother of Josiah Lake. The sophomore didn’t see much varsity action last year, but he has stepped into the role of starting point guard for Tualatin since the start of the year. 

“His brother has been an amazing role model for him,” Lemon said. “He talks to his brother all the time and goes and watches his brother all the time. He’s been doing phenomenal. As a sophomore handling this kind of pressure, he’s doing really well and it’s going to help us a lot further down the road. Not just today, but even further down the road the next couple of years.”

Lake has been a standout at some recent tournaments where Tualatin competed with big-time talent from around the country. The sophomore was named to the all-tournament second team at the Capitol City Classic, which took place at Willamette University in Salem. Tualatin finished third after a win against nationally-ranked Lincoln Park Performing Arts High School from Pennsylvania. 

Tualatin senior Jaden Steppe was named to the all-tournament first team at the Capitol Classic, and senior AJ Noland was an honorable mention for the all-tournament team. The two seniors are the most experienced Timberwolves, and Lemon said they’re doing a nice job working with the younger players.

“Those guys are second and third coaches on the court,” Lemon said. “They see the game really well. They have such a good relationship.”

After the Capitol Classic, the Timberwolves won the consolation bracket at the Les Schwab Invitational in Hillsboro, and similar to the earlier tournament, Tualatin faced some top regional teams along with a few heavy hitters from around the country full of four- and five-star recruits already committed to big-time college programs. 

Noland said he was proud of how the team competed, especially some of the younger players seeing their first major minutes with the varsity squad. 

“A lot of them play basketball outside of for our team,” Noland said. “They play AAU and club basketball. They’re playing some very good competition during the spring. I don’t think it’s nothing new. It’s more about getting used to playing together and getting use to what their roles are.”

Steppe, who was also named to the all-tournament first team for the Les Schwab Invitational, said he thinks Tualatin is heading in the right direction as league play nears.

“It’s taken a bit of getting used to,” he said. “We have a lot of players who have never played before at the varsity level.  We’re on a good trajectory. We’re going to keep getting better.”

Girls team off to fast start despite major roster turnover

The Timberwolves graduated six seniors last year, five of whom played major minutes, said Head Coach Wes Pappas. 

Not only did Pappas expect some growing pains working in so many new players, but he knew his team wouldn’t have a chance to ease into the season thanks to a few big matchups early.

Tualatin dropped back-to-back games against Jefferson High School, ranked eighth by OSAA, and Benson, ranked sixth. Since then, Tualatin has won six of its last seven games. 

The Timberwolves have been led by senior Jaylyn Arosemena, who was named to the Three Rivers League second team last season. 

“Jaylyn is having an amazing year,” Pappas said. “She’s leading us in points, and her rebounding totals have been much higher so far this year. She’s having by far the best year of her high school career. She’s the rock there in terms of leading us.”

Tualatin’s only other returning starter from last year is sophomore Ries Miadich, who earned an honorable mention last year for the all-league team. Early in her second year, Pappas can already a leap in her game.

“She’s stronger and she’s faster and more explosive,” he said. “She’s just a super dedicated kid. She’ll do whatever you need her to do. She can be a point guard and distribute, and she’s willing to do that, but she also can be a big-time scorer for us. She can shoot the ball and attack. She’s a well-rounded player.”

One newcomer making a major impact already is junior Jordyn Smith, who transferred from Tigard High School, where she was a Three Rivers League first-team selection a year ago. 

“She’s come in exactly the way you come into a team,” Pappas said. “She’s been very unassuming and she’s finding her spot. Now it’s time for her to exert herself as the force she is.”

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