VALE – As the weather turned last spring, eastern Oregon athletes were faced with the realization sports were to be delayed. Many believed the shut down would be called off within weeks, maybe months and fall sports were an absolute certainty. The weeks turned into months and the summer heat is now turning into fall briskness. We remain without high school sports.
While some student athletes graduated and more remain impatiently waiting for a return to the field and courts, two basketball standouts, Allie Hueckman of Burns and Hermiston’s Jayden Ray made sacrifices to remain playing. Both athletes signed on to play with Oregon Elite, a club basketball team.
Taking a look at the roster for the Elite, the majority of players list hometowns on the western side of the state. This fact translated to a number of hurdles to Hueckman and Ray. Practices for the team meant travel, not of a few blocks to the gym, but to a few hundred miles to another town. New teammates arrive from schools at the 5A and 6A level, faces unknown to a player in the 3A Oregon level or a player in an Oregon school playing in the Washington leagues.
“Both these players are phenomenal, both as athletes and as people,” said Oregon Elite head coach Gary Lavender.
Lavender, a Vale Oregon native and coach and teacher of 50 years, has been bringing together the best of Oregon basketball players for some time. Based in Salem, Lavender takes his teams across the United States to take the court against the best from other states. The season will culminate with a tournament in Phoenix.
“The players we get on our teams are the elite of the state,” Lavender said. “I find the players after receiving calls from their coaches and then going and taking a look at them.”
This was the case with Hueckman. After a referral from Burns coach Brandon McMullen, Lavender picked up the phone to call the Burns player, already a commit to Eastern Washington to continue her career on the court.
“I was excited to play for Coach Lavender and the Elite,” Hueckman said. “The experience has been great and it gave me a chance to play against a level of competition a lot higher than I was used to.”
Playing in a tournament in Indianapolis, Hueckman and the Elite met a team from West Virginia and played against Washington teams and other states while playing a Moscow, Idaho tournament.
“I have never seen anyone on the court that can elevate like Allie can,” Lavender said. “She was taking the court against players who are going Pac 10 and are 6-feet-4 and she is right up with them. At any level, I think Allie is the best player in Oregon right now.”
Lavender has kind words for his outgoing player.
“Eastern Washington got a great one,” he said. “Allie is a road warrior and her mindset as a competitor is second to none.”
“Getting to play with this team was a great experience to me,” Hueckman said. “I am excited to see what we can accomplish at the tournament in Phoenix in a few months.”
Lavender found Ray after seeing film on her. Seeing her speed, he picked up the phone.
“Jaden has a motor that just does not quit,” said Lavender. “She plays hard and beats others off the dribble all the time. I love the potential she has to go onto the next level.”
This was Ray’s first adventure in club basketball, an experience she will not forget.
“The game is so much faster and physical,” said Ray. “It is a completely different game of basketball than I was used to playing. We played a team in the Moscow tournament from Seattle and they were sinking shots from the NBA 3-point range.”
Ray said she learned quickly toughness was needed-both physically and mentally.
“The Indianapolis trip was great,” she said. “It was also the farthest east I have even travelled.”
Unlike Hueckman, Ray has not made the decision on her next step in athletics, concentrating currently on the upcoming season with Hermiston.
“We only lost one senior from last year’s team so we should be strong,” Ray said.
Like Hueckman, Ray will long remember her time playing for the Elite.
“I received extra exposure and the comradery with the other girls was great,” said Ray. “I am thankful I was provided the opportunity.”