STHS alums ride the Storm to further basketball careers
SALEM, Ore. – It’s a Friday night in the Pacific Northwest and the crowd is filing in as if the Lakers or Dodgers are the featured attraction.
But this is junior college basketball and audiences rarely grow larger than 100 spectators. To spend a night away from the books or give up the prime social night of the week, there has to be an attraction.
At Chemeketa Community College, 6-foot-9 sophomore center Curtis Johnson is it. The former South Tahoe High center is attracting two and three defenders from the Warner Pacific University junior varsity and the extra bodies are having very little success stopping Johnson from entrenching himself in the low post.
“I’m seeing a lot of triple teams and a lot of double teams, but most of the time I just have to be patient and look over them and pass across court,” Johnson said.
When one of the Storm guards feeds the ball inside to Johnson, fouling seems to be the only way to stop him. Johnson goes on to score 14 points and grab six rebounds in limited action because of the blowout win.
“He has moves both left and right,” said Warner Pacific coach Chris Azorr. ”He has an excellent baby hook over the middle and he’s just so big you can’t defend him.
“When you have a guy that big and that good finesse-wise, he’s tough to stop. You have to hope to contain him. Part of our game plan was to beat them up the floor and that (255-pound) guy was sprinting up and down the floor with them.”
STHS pipeline continues
As the Storm’s lead approaches double digits, a young man who is more recognizeable to South Tahoe High basketball fans enters the game.
Even though his playing time is minimal, the multi-tattoed Matt Mora’s part in Chemeketa’s success on this night is no less than Johnson’s. Mora starts out doing the team’s dirty work, hitting the boards and setting screens.
However, Mora’s contributions go much deeper as he drains a pair of three-pointers. One of them followed a double stack with Johnson above the three-point arc. Johnson received a pass as he cut to the basket and when the defense collapsed on him, he spotted Mora open for a three-pointer.
“Coach put that in for me and Matt because Matt is such a good shooter,” Johnson said.
By the time Chemeketa finishes off the 109-73 victory, Mora has delivered his best game as a collegian, according to coach David Abderhalden.
“He’s been a little up and down so far, but I think he’s starting to get the rust off of him,” Abderhalden said. “It’s good to see because the guy who we saw when he visited and was here during the summer we hadn’t seen for a little while.
“It’s pretty typical at this level because everyone is all-state, all-league kind of guys and you got to come out and compete. The timing wasn’t quite there and he was forcing it a little bit. He’s starting to come around and he’s in that mix battling for playing time.”
Mora’s stat line reveals five rebounds, two steals and two assists, not to mention 5-of-5 shooting from the field as well as canning 2 for 2 from the line. His 14-point night is a career high, but the points don’t excite him.
“I’m just trying to get in and do whatever I can do to help the team,” Mora said. “We got the ‘W’ so that’s all that matters to me.”
Mora played sparingly in the Storm’s previous games, so he was pleased to make a favorable impression.
“This (really) is my first game since my senior in high school,” Mora said. “To get going it feels a lot better.”
Mora’s tough road to Chemeketa
Mora has endured more than most to continue his college basketball dream. After a redshirt freshman season at San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton, Mora returned to the South Shore to comfort and help his seriously ill mother. Diabetes cost his mother both legs and eventually her life.
“I went back home the year after she lost her second leg, so I went back to help her out,” Mora said. “I sat out a year and I was itching to play again. It’s like a tight family here, everyone is real cool.”
Mora didn’t know if there still was a spot in basketball for him, but STHS coach Derek Allister contacted Abderhalden and worked out a summer tryout.
“At the time I didn’t have a guaranteed spot for him, but he came up here and worked out. And things happened as it often does in community college basketball and a spot opened up. We’re more than happy to have him,” Abderhalden said.
Mora said he owes his college basketball career to his former high school coach.
“He’s probably the only reason I’m playing basketball,” Mora said. “I really had no thought about playing, but he always told me I could.”
Johnson helped ease Mora’s transition into the Storm program.
“We’re trying to keep in the family up here. I called Matt after my first year here and I said I liked it a lot,” Johnson said. “It’s great playing with him because he knows that I work hard in the post and he gives it to me when I need it.”
Johnson is getting ready for bigger fish
Abderhalden said Johnson’s biggest improvement in the past 12 months has come on offense.
“He has become a threat on a consistent basis, not just pick-up-an -offensive-rebound kind of a threat,” Abderhalden said. “He does see a lot of double and triple teams at times and he’s been doing a great job of learning how to pass out of that and make his teammates better.”
The Storm coach also likes the way Johnson is hitting the boards.
“When he’s not getting the touches in the post out of the offense, he’s doing a great job of going to the offensive glass,” said Abderhalden, who noted that half of his center’s rebounds through six games were on offense.”
But Aberhalden doesn’t expect Johnson to do something Allister required him to do as a senior. In his final year at STHS Johnson was asked to use his ballhandling skills to bring the ball up the floor.
“I kind of miss it,” said a laughing Johnson. “It’s kind of nice to run down to the block and set up shop and get ready to score.”
Although the season is early, Abderhalden sees a future in college basketball for both parts of South Lake Tahoe connection.
“He’s getting lots of inquiries. They are mid-to-low Division Is, Division IIs. With his big body and if he keeps progressing and he gets it done academically, then Division I is very possible.”
The opposing coach on this night agrees.
“No doubt in my mind that he can go on and play Division I with his size and his ability to see the floor and pass the basketball,”Azorr said.
Mora is a freshman, but Abderhalden will try to move him after this season.
“Because he’s academically a junior, he’ll probably move after this and we’ll try and find a spot for him. It doesn’t make sense for him to be here in his fourth year of college,” Abderhalden said.
The STHS alums also believe there is a basketball career out of the rain and fog of Northern Oregon.
“It’s still early,” Johnson said. “I got a few looks from University of San Diego, Loyola Marymount and just a few DIIs in California. Coach Abderhalden knows I want to get back to California and play California basketball.
“The door is still wide open. I just have to play hard every night and get those stats up.”
Mora sees basketball as a means to provide for his next step in life.
“Hopefully I can go and get my education paid for, wherever that is.”
But for now both are content in trying to help the Storm win as many games as possible – no matter if the gyms are half full or half empty.