PORTLAND — Bill Bakamus, the fifth winningest coach in Washington high school basketball history, has been synonymous with winning.
Perhaps more significantly, not losing.
So in the leadup to Saturday’s 2019 Northwest Shootout, which pits the top high school senior basketball players from Oregon and Washington against each other, Bakamus, the Washington boys team’s coach, feels the shadow of Oregon’s five-year win streak of the annual event.
“I feel a little bit under the gun,” Bakamus said Friday morning before the Washington team practiced in downtown Portland. “Five-game losing streaks don’t sit well with me personally.”
And this game in particular, Bakamus said, doesn’t fit the traditional feel of an all-star game, a bonafide dunk contest — “it gets a little frothy.”
On paper, Washington had the clear edge last season, boasting six soon-to-be Division-I players to Oregon’s one. But Oregon scraped together a 105-98 win. That’s what fuels Bakamus going into Saturday’s game, where the rosters will be stacked similarly.
“The most disappointing thing I’ve watched as a coach is we’ve had better paper on talent, but that certainly hasn’t spelled success. Oregon has played better as a team,” Bakamus said. “There lies the frustration.”
Even while the Washington side will field five-star McDonalds All-American Jaden McDaniels, the fifth-ranked recruit in the country according to 247 Sports, Gonzaga signees Anton Watson and Brock Ravet and Michigan signee Cole Bajema, Bakamus sees no guarantees.
He sees it as his responsibility to get the team to gel. Everything the team will run from an Xs and Os standpoint were chosen for their simplicity.
That’s been the winning formula the two other times Bakamus has coached: in 2004 when eventual Gonzaga standout Josh Heytvelt was a senior; and in 2015 when Matisse Thybulle was a senior, before he went on to achieve success at Washington (the last time the Washington team won — 109-108 — Bakamus noted).
The teams were selected weeks ago, but have just two days of in-person preparation before Saturday’s game at Liberty High School in Hillsboro. That’s where Bakamus, who coaches at Longview’s Mark Morris High School, has the advantage of assembling his own roster based not just on talent, but who will most commit to playing together.
“Talent-wise it’s a pretty good group of kids; so far so good,” Bakamus said. “Not the easiest thing to do in two days, mold a cohesive unit.”
When Bakamus — the fifth winningest coach in state history with 611 wins in 36 years — was appointed by the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association to compile and coach the Washington boys team, he immediately got to work.
Bakamus drove down to Portland for the Oregon high school state playoffs at the University of Portland’s Chiles Center. There, more than a month before the all-star game, he saw University of Washington commit Marcus Tsohonis (Jefferson), Vermont commit Aaron Deloney, Lake Oswego’s Josh Angle and Jesuit’s Justin Bieker.
The Washington team practiced on Thursday night at Mark Morris, then drove to downtown Portland where they are lodged in a hotel for the weekend. On Friday, after a morning practice at the Multnomah Athletic Club, the team went on a behind the scenes tour of customized Nike sneakers in Portland’s Chinatown.
All the highly recruited players but McDaniels have committed to a college. McDaniels’ recruitment, which includes offers from Washington, Kentucky, San Diego State and Texas among others, remains one of the most anticipated decisions in the 2019 class.
Saturday’s game offers a last hoorah on the high school stage for the players. For Bakamus, the game will be fueled by some vengeance.