Cleveland Boys Basketball Team Makes School History With Playoff Run


Clarion photo Anna Suydam

Christian Green (0) opens the scoring against Mountainside as teammates Stephen Treat (23) and Jackson Cooper (34) look on.

Cleveland’s boys basketball team made school history in the 2021-22 season.

The team started the season ranked sixth in the state, featuring a junior class with a high ceiling, but a lack of returning starters from the previous season. By the end of the season they halved that rank, and proved that their potential was underrated earlier on.

“Seeing us ranked at six below teams we knew we were better than was the first thing our team really bonded over,” said standout junior Jackson Cooper, “that’s when we decided we would go prove everyone wrong, and I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

Cleveland started strong with a five-game winning streak, which was a good time to build a reputation, as this stretch led directly to the Les Schwab Invitational tournament, where Cleveland would face some of the best teams in Oregon.

Cleveland went on a run at LSI, with statement wins over David Douglas, Lake Oswego, and Jesuit. Their one loss came against No. 9 Beaverton, which ended their early win streak, but losing to the best team they’d faced only showed that the Warriors had to continue taking care of worse teams and focus on those ranked closely to them.

Standout performances in the tournament came from high-flying junior Christian Green, and excellent three-point shooter Lawson Vella.

For Vella, a 41% shooter, the pressure to perform in big games became more of a strength than a weakness. “I kinda knew I had to step up and shoot the ball more, especially as one of the only perimeter shooters on our team, so it kinda got to me, but in a good way because it made me more aggressive.”

As the season went on, Cleveland’ strengths became clear and won them all but two games against Grant and Roosevelt. Their primary scorers, Cooper and Green, were best in the paint, along with supporting scorers SC Tresvant and Stephen Treat. Playmaking fell mainly on Vella and junior guard Jamel Pichon, which Pichon mentioned as one of their strengths.

“The biggest strength we had this year was our chemistry and teamwork, there was a lot of times when we played so well together that we passed the ball a little too much,” said Pichon.

This was most exposed in the loss to Roosevelt, as Cooper was forced to carry Cleveland’s offense with his post scoring, which was defended very heavily in the second half, but despite knowing that was Cleveland’s style most teams couldn’t stop them.

The biggest win of the Warriors’ season came on senior night against Grant. “My favorite memory of this season was probably beating Grant on senior night,” said Vella. “That was pretty big and I feel like that was the milestone we needed to achieve to get to that championship contender level.”

The win was sealed with two dunks from Green, who put together easily the most entertaining highlight reel of any Cleveland player.

The Warriors entered the playoffs with their best seeding in 60 years at third in the state, and just like that, the team made it to the championship round.

Cleveland’s run started in their own gym, coasting past Century then ending the season of fierce rival Lincoln with a 10-point win. They had made it to the Chiles Center to face Mountainside in the state quarterfinals.

Unfortunately, this game would be played without Vella, who broke his foot in the Century game, and also with limited minutes for Cooper, who dealt with early foul trouble. Green went on to lead the Warriors with 17 points, including a buzzer beater to send the game to overtime tied at 53. Cleveland would lose by 10, struggling to knock down shots throughout overtime.

The good news for the Warriors is that they will return most of their core players next season. “They are already top dogs,” said Vella of next year’s team. “You’ve got Jackson coming off another great season. I mean you’ve got all three of Sean Chris, Christian Green, and Jackson Cooper playing together, and Jamel is always working on his game.”

On that point, Pichon and Cooper have high expectations for themselves and the team next year, with Pichon saying “my own main goal is to be a much better leader for our team”, and Cooper saying “it’s great to have new history and be a part of that, but the team we have here is just special and what we’ve built here is more than just one year of history”.

The team will face a once-again star-studded PIL, with the strong teams from this season retaining some of the best seniors in the state, but coming off an historic season, Cleveland has gained key experience to compete again.