Freshman guards Braylon Gaines (left) and Jaydon Schregardus have helped elevate Nelson. (Photo by Annelise Lam)
Freshman guards Braylon Gaines (left) and Jaydon Schregardus have helped elevate Nelson. (Photo by Annelise Lam)

By most measures, Nelson's boys basketball team is having a banner season.

The young Hawks – with five freshmen and sophomores in their rotation – are 8-3 and have shown that they can stack up against some of the state's better teams. They have made progress despite graduating four starters from a team that went 12-15 and reached the 6A playoff round of 16 in the program's second year.

Ask them, though, and it hasn't been good enough.

“It honestly has not met my expectations, surprisingly,” said first-year coach Daniel Blanks, who took over for Alex Edwards after coaching at Aloha last season.

Nelson believes it hasn't come close to its ceiling. The Hawks aren't interested in grading on a curve for their inexperience, even if their youth was a key factor in a three-game home losing streak in mid-December against Oregon City, No. 2 Southridge and Jefferson.

“Those were tests that we wanted to pass, and we failed those tests,” Blanks said. “In those games, I felt like we were hoping to be in the games, not knowing we should be in them.”

Nelson is getting senior leadership from 6-foot-1 guard Sam Lewis, third-year varsity player who is averaging 22.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists and is shooting 34.6 percent from three-point range (34 for 98).

But much of the team's success can be pinned on the arrival of two freshmen guards, 5-11 Braylon Gaines and 5-11 Jaydon Schregardus. Gaines has taken the reins at point guard and is putting up 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game. Schregardus, who has played with Gaines from his early days, is averaging 14.1 points.

They are playing well beyond their years.

“We know that our best years are ahead of us,” Blanks said.

Blanks said that Gaines was ready to be the team's court leader from the first day of practice.

“He's an alpha leader in the sense of his competitiveness,” Blanks said. “Over the summer, he would have those moments where he would fail as a young leader, when the guys might not have wanted to hear it. One thing that impressed me was that he never stopped being him, and wanting to lead.”

Blanks gushes over the potential of Gaines, who had a 32-point game in late December.

“He has so many more levels of his game that I see every single day that the world hasn't seen yet,” Blanks said. “He has an emotional attachment to the game that brings it out of him naturally.”

Schregardus is a natural point guard who has switched to shooting guard. He is a sniper from deep and can initiate the offense from the wing.

“He can score from all three levels,” Blanks said of Schregardus, who missed four games with a high ankle sprain and returned for a 100-34 win over Reynolds on Jan. 9.

The left-handed Lewis has a bigger role in the offense than last season, when he averaged 12 points per game. He benefits from Gaines' ability to penetrate and kick, but he also can get his own shot, sometimes finishing above the rim.

“His athleticism is special,” Blanks said.

With a guard-heavy lineup, the Hawks are averaging 74.2 points, second in 6A to Southridge (78.6).

“They would all be lead guards, so for them to be on the court together, they have to sacrifice,” Blanks said. “There's been an adjustment with all of them getting comfortable in a different role. It gives us an advantage in some sense with other teams having to match up with us.”

Lewis, Gaines and Schregardus are joined in the starting lineup by 6-0 sophomore guard Chaz Kotoanga (6.6 points, 4.4 rebounds) and 6-4 junior wing Lukas Jordan (8.7 points). The first two players off the bench are 6-6 sophomore Zaden Richardson (4.4 points), a transfer from 3A Corbett, and 5-10 sophomore guard Jordan Bonifacio.

Nelson has not defeated a team currently ranked in the top 10 of the OSAAtoday 6A coaches poll. The Hawks got a crack at No. 2 Southridge on their home floor Dec. 15, but fell behind 11-0 and had to battle uphill the rest of the way, falling 75-60.

They expect to be a factor in a rugged Mt. Hood Conference that includes three ranked teams in No. 1 Central Catholic, No. 5 Barlow and No. 8 Gresham.

Skyhawks prevail

Trailing the entire way, No. 2 Southridge (14-1, 2-0) came through late for an 82-81 win at No. 7 Beaverton (9-6, 1-2) in a 6A Metro League game Saturday.

Senior forward Dante Scott scored the winning basket, converting a feed from senior guard Carter Fortune with three seconds left. It came after Beaverton senior guard Max Elmgren hit a three-pointer for an 81-80 lead with 13 seconds to go.

Junior forward Alonzo Hoff led Southridge with 17 points, going 7 of 8 from the field. Senior guard Kaden Groenig had 14 points, four rebounds and five assists and Scott added 14 points for the Skyhawks, who shot 59 percent, including 7 of 20 from three-point range.

Elmgren and senior guard Aidan Rice scored 30 and 18 points, respectively, for Beaverton. The Beavers shot 53 percent from the field, hitting 11 of 21 from behind the arc.

Valley drops Westside

No. 3 Valley Catholic took over first place in the 3A Lewis & Clark League with going on the road to beat No. 2 Westside Christian 52-42 on Saturday.

The Valiants (12-3, 4-0) trailed 27-22 at half but took control by outscoring the Eagles 20-6 in the third quarter. Junior forward Jackson Farris scored 14 points, junior guard Zach Pippin had 11 points and 6-8 senior center Kellen Kinder added seven points and 11 rebounds in the win.

Westside Christian (12-4, 4-1) struggled from the field, shooting 31 percent, including 2 of 24 from three-point range. Senior guard Dax Hanzlik had 19 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks for the Eagles.