I guess I’m getting old.
It’s been nearly 32 years since Jeff Clark played in the Class AA state boys basketball tournament at McArthur Court in Eugene as a member of the Sutherlin Bulldogs.
I was in my fourth year at The News-Review as a sports reporter and covered the Bulldogs during their impressive season in 1987-88. Coached by Willis New, they were talented and fun to watch.
They had state championship hopes after running the table in the Sky-Em League, finishing the regular season with a 20-0 record and entering the state tournament ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll.
Clark, a then-6-foot-7 center, was the catalyst, but he had some good players around him — J.R. Adams, Mike Olson, Ed Martineau, Jim Martineau, Ted Hobgood and Kyle Reber to name a few.
Unfortunately, the breaks didn’t go Sutherlin’s way in the tournament.
Ed Martineau, the starting point guard, missed the Bulldogs’ last two games of the tourney with an injury. The Bulldogs played their worst game of the season in the semifinals, losing 61-33 to eventual state champion Central.
Sutherlin played hard, but dropped the third-place game to Sweet Home, 62-61. With their fifth-place finish, the Bulldogs didn’t bring home a trophy. You felt for those kids, because they were a state championship caliber team.
Individually, it was a fantastic senior season for Clark, who went on to play college basketball at Idaho State University and Western Oregon University.
Clark averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocked shots a game during the regular season. He finished with 77 points and 52 rebounds in four state tournament games, making second-team all-tournament.
He broke the Sutherlin single-season scoring record, and was selected the Sky-Em Player of the Year and first-team all-state.
New filled me in the other day about Clark’s development as a basketball player, starting in seventh grade.
“The first time he came to one of our basketball camps, I sent him home,” New recalled. “He was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had. He continued to get better, he wanted to get better.
“As a sophomore, he dressed down for varsity and didn’t have an opportunity to contribute a lot. But between his sophomore and junior years Jeff made some real improvements. He’s as competitive of a kid as I’ve coached.”
Fast forward 32 years. Now Clark is the principal, athletic director and boys basketball coach at Oakland High School, a Class 2A school. He’s one of the top prep coaches in the state, as 549 wins and three state championships would attest.
Jeff has lost quite a bit of hair since his high school days, but his passion and intensity continue to burn and the kids at Oakland should feel fortunate to have him around.