Last boys basketball season was a rough road for Daniel Blanks in his first varsity head coaching job at Aloha.
With 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, the Warriors struggled to a 2-22 record, taking their lumps in the tough 6A Metro League.
The way Blanks sees it, though, the experience will set him up for success as he takes over as the new coach at Nelson of Happy Valley this year.
“It was probably the best thing to happen to my career, being there for the year,” Blanks said. “It gave me the head-coaching experience. I don't think I would have got the opportunity at Nelson without it. It just prepared me.”
Nelson represents a homecoming of sorts for Blanks. When the school opened in 2021, he was a finalist for the head coaching job. The school hired Alex Edwards, who brought Blanks aboard as a varsity assistant.
Blanks is well acquainted with the players in the program. Not only does he know many varsity players, but during his year at Nelson, he coached a seventh-grade team in the district.
“It's not like I'm coming into a brand-new situation,” Blanks said. “I know all the kids in the program, so I'm coming into a situation that's literally family. It's just like a home feeling to me.”
Blanks, 30, grew up in Illinois and graduated from Belleville East High School and Southern Illinois University. He assisted for three seasons in the program at Belleville East, one of Illinois' largest high schools.
He worked for the Veterans Administration in St. Louis and transferred to Portland in 2019. He joined the coaching staff at Gresham in 2020, assisting the varsity and coaching the freshman boys team.
The following year, he applied for head-coaching jobs at Nelson and Sandy. According to Blanks, he was passed over in part because he lacked head-coaching experience. After one season at Nelson, the Aloha job represented the next logical step in his coaching career.
“When I got offered the Aloha job, I couldn't turn it down,” he said. “It was the experience that everyone was saying that I was needing.”
Blanks said that facing some of the state's best coaches and talent in the Metro helped him grow as a coach.
“I know when I'm in situations with more talent or equal talent, I'll be prepared to win and be successful,” he said. “I have the blueprint of the other coaches in the Metro League.”
Edwards stepped down as Nelson's coach after last season, when the Hawks went 12-15, 7-7 in the 6A Mt. Hood Conference. That opened the door for Blanks.
“I left to get my head-coaching experience, and came back to continue building the program that I helped start,” Blanks said. “My goal, since I was in college, I wanted to have my own program. Everything I've done since then has led to this opportunity.”
Nelson made strides in its second season, playing tough in losses to Mt. Hood contenders Barlow, Gresham and Central Catholic and holding a second-half lead against powerhouse West Linn in a nonleague game. The Hawks went on the road to stun Southwest Conference champion South Medford in a 6A first-round playoff game before falling at Central Catholic in the second round.
Nelson graduated nine players from that team, but brings back its leading scorer in 6-foot senior guard Sam Lewis (12.6 points per game), a two-year starter. In summer games, Lewis has reached the 30-point mark three times, according to Blanks.
“He's definitely going to have way more opportunities than he had last year,” Blanks said. “I expect him to be one of the top players in our conference.”
The Hawks will be counting on several young newcomers next season. Blanks said he expects freshman guard Braylon Gaines and sophomore guard Chaz Katoanga, a transfer from Oregon City, to be starters.
Gaines is considered among the state's top players in his class.
“He's played a lot of high-level basketball,” Blanks said. “He's my best leader now.”
Lukas Jordan, a 6-4 junior forward, saw varsity action as a freshman but missed last season with an injury.
“I'll have a super young team,” Blanks said. “We're going to struggle against the top-heavy teams that are supposed to beat us, but we'll be in a lot of games. They're sophomores and juniors, and when that changes, we'll be the top team. I have everything I need to build a program, coming in and in-house.”
Lakers hire interim coach
Lake Oswego has opted to hire Mark Swenson as interim coach to replace Marshall Cho, who resigned in April after going 132-92 in eight seasons.
Swenson has assisted in small-college programs in the Northwest Conference since 1992. He was at Lewis & Clark College for 22 seasons (1997-2019) before spending three seasons at Linfield (2019-22). Prior to coaching in college, Swenson assisted for four seasons at Bellevue (Wash.) High School.
Swenson, a 1973 Washington State graduate who lives in Lake Oswego, told the Lake Oswego Review that the Lakers are going to “have some fun.”
“We’re gonna be up-tempo, and we’ll shoot the three, and try to have as much fun for the kids as we can,” he said.
Several Oregon players racked up college offers from their performances in the Section 7 Tournament in Arizona on June 23-25. They competed with their high school teams in the event.
Jaden Steppe, Tualatin: The 6-8 senior forward added offers from Colorado State, UC Santa Barbara, Montana State, Weber State, Cal Poly, Washington State and Pepperdine. He already had offers from San Francisco, Montana and Portland State.
Isaac Carr, Central Catholic: The 6-3 junior guard picked up offers from San Francisco, Utah State, Oregon State and Loyola Marymount, adding to a list that also includes Portland, Portland State, Pepperdine, UNLV, Weber State and UT Arlington.
Marley Zeller, Central Catholic: The 6-5 senior guard entered with an offer from Montana and added Pepperdine, Portland State, Pacific, Florida Gulf Coast and Cal Baptist.
Austin Maurer, Cascade Christian: The 7-0 senior center landed offers from Grand Canyon and New Mexico. His list already included Oregon State, Portland, Sacramento State and UNLV.
Drew Hall, Cascade Christian: The 6-2 junior guard earned his first Division I offer, from Idaho.