Amid the holiday season, one high school basketball tournament stands out from the rest: the Les Schwab Invitational (LSI). The best teams from across the state and a select few nationwide are pitted up in a five-day, 16-team consolation tournament bracket. This year, the Tigard boys made the cut.
The Tigers are led by the Brown brothers – 6’0 Malik and 6’1 Kalim. Two junior guards that played at the varsity level their freshmen season.
Off rip, the Tigers achieved a clean 6-0 pre-season record before the tournament to rank fourth in the statewide 6A division. They also won the four-team Bill Gabel Invitational hosted at Tigard on Dec. 3, but the team has yet to have much in the way of steady competition. That would change enormously when they entered LSI.
In the past, LSI has seen current NBA stars in their high school careers including Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Ben Simmons and Kevin Love. After organizers abandoned last year’s tournament in the midst of high school in-person cancellations, the bracket was revived to be played this holiday season in its 25th year, with the eighth-ranked (ESPN) team in the country, Link Academy, as the headliner participant out of Missouri and having clear favor to win the whole thing.
As it happens, Link was the Tigers’ first opponent. The Lions were 16-0 on their season and have four of the top 60 players in the country along with a 6’5½ average player height while Felix Okpara (ESPN 59) stands at 6’11 and Tarris Reed Jr. (ESPN 33) just one inch less. Jordan Walsh (6’7) is also the seventh-ranked player in the country.
“We just knew that they were going to be a great team that, you know, we didn’t have the biggest shot,” Kalim Brown told Tigard Life, “but we still went out there and competed and had a great time.”
Link took the first-round win handily 80-45, shooting 72.7% from the field and 6’8 Julian Philips (ESPN 14) adding 20 points. Tigard was forced into a plethora of ugly positions and shot 16-for-53 from the field and 8-25 from three.
Knocked into the consolation bracket, they were now fighting for the consolation champion title – requiring three more consecutive wins. Up first was the Gresham Gophers, who narrowly lost to second-ranked Roosevelt, 70-68.
Tigard took the lead for the first three quarters, but never by more than a couple of points. The game was tied on numerous occasions and was only decided at the bitter end after Gresham tied it up 59-59 at 26 seconds.
With possession solely in Kalim Brown’s hands, he used his fast first step to charge through and force his layup with seven seconds of game time. Gresham had one shot remaining, and Gopher Esyah Pippa-White let out a deep three from the right side for the game-winning buzzer-beater but fell short, allowing a Tigard advance.
Brown led his team with 26 points playing all 32 minutes with Douglas Bailey adding 15 and Malik Brown on 13.
“This game was definitely better than yesterday [against Link Academy], so I’m glad I had a bounce-back game,” Kalim Brown said.
But the Tigers found themselves in trouble once again with the Central Catholic Rams. The last time these two fought, the Rams knocked the Tigers out of a promising 2020 playoff run, and once again knocked them down in 68-37 defeat.
Although Tigard was out of the running for both championship titles, team participation is emphasized, and all tournament teams play four games regardless of performance (weather permitting) and the Tigers had one final stand on Dec. 30 against fellow Three Rivers League (TRL) member, Canby. Tigard ultimately took their second and final tournament win in a 55-44 margin.
Kalim Brown was, once again, the top scorer, contributing 21 points to add to his tournament total of 61 across four games, coming eighth in scoring overall amongst all participants. Malik Brown added seven assists and three blocks in the game against Canby to come third in assists with 18 total.
What lies ahead for the Tigers is TRL play. The league, this year, is emphasized by powerhouses Tualatin – ranked first in state – and the country-traveling West Linn Lions spearheaded by Jackson Shelstad – a four-star junior guard and University of Oregon commit.