Given his lineage, it makes perfect sense how Bubba Lemon is approaching his first head coaching job.
Lemon, the new coach of reigning 6A boys basketball champion Tualatin, is leaning on the sage advice of his late grandfather, former Harlem Globetrotters superstar Meadowlark Lemon.
“He told me, 'Bubba, when you play the game, you've got to play it where you give people joy,'” Lemon said. “He always used this word, joy.
“I hope that as a coach I kind of implement some of those things, especially with joy, where kids have the best experiences that they can have. When they play, they have fun with it.”
Lemon – a former three-sport athlete at Tualatin, where he graduated in 2006 – has assisted in the Timberwolves' program for the last six seasons. He joined the staff under his former coach, Rick Osborn, and stayed on the last four seasons under Todd Jukkala.
Lemon was instrumental in shaping a senior class that led Tualatin to its first state championship last season. The group played for Lemon on the JV as freshmen.
“Watching them grow and being a part of their lives has been phenomenal,” Lemon said. “They take care of me as family, and I take care of them as family.”
Lemon, 34, lives in Keizer with his wife Amanda and infant daughter Mychaiah. He serves as the chief operations officer for the YMCA of Marion and Polk Counties.
He is well connected in the Tualatin community. Through his coaching at the high school and his brothers, who live in Tualatin, he has become acquainted with many of the athletes in the youth basketball program.
“Playing there, and then coming back and being able to coach there, has been some of the best times,” Lemon said.
Tualatin graduates four starters from a team that finished 26-2, but has promising talent coming back. Guard Josiah Lake started as a junior last season and 6-foot-7 wing Jaden Steppe was a key reserve as a sophomore.
“I see it continuing with this next group in summer ball,” Lemon said. “We probably had three or four guys that sat on the bench that would've been starting at a lot of other schools. So them being patient, understanding, knowing that this is now their time, that's going to be really exciting to watch.”
Lemon said the returning players benefited from rugged competition in practice with this year's seniors.
“Those seniors really helped put a bar up high and set it where these other kids have met it, and they're looking to exceed it, if possible,” he said.
Lemon is among those in the program owning a championship ring from last season. His ring is engraved with the number “38,” referring to the March 8 birth of his daughter, one day before the start of the state tournament.
“It was one of the best weeks of my life,” he said. “People always tell me, 'You got four wins that week.'”
Lemon played football, basketball and baseball at Tualatin before going on to compete in football, basketball and track at Linfield College. He played football and basketball for one year at Willamette University, where he later assisted on the football coaching staff for nine seasons.
He served as the defensive coordinator for Lincoln football under coach Jeremy Johnson for three seasons and continued those duties under Johnson at Newberg last season. He said he will drop coaching football, though, to focus his attention on basketball.
Growing up, Lemon lived all over the country. His father, Meadow, was the road manager for the Globetrotters and became a general manager for a semipro football team. The family moved to Oregon to help a pastor start a church in Hillsboro.
Meadow Lemon brought his indoor football team – renamed the Portland Thunder – to the area. He was the team's director of football operations and general manager through 2014.
Meadow Lemon was an assistant football coach at Linfield, part of the 2004 NCAA Division III national title team, and was on the women's basketball coaching staff at the college. He currently is an assistant football and baseball coach at Lake Oswego.
Meadowlark Lemon's involvement in sports had a profound impact on the family. He died in 2015.
“He's one of those reasons why I love sports,” Bubba Lemon said of his grandfather, who performed at a charity basketball game at Tualatin when Bubba was in high school. “When people talked to us after he passed, it wasn't about what he did on the court. It was just about, when my grandpa came on TV, that was a time that we could come together. We sat around the TV and we just laughed.”
So did Bubba ever learn Meadowlark's trademark half-court hook shot?
“I gave up after a little bit,” he said. “Every once in a while I'd throw a hook shot out there and pray for it to even hit the rim.”
Bubba won't be encouraging trick shots at Tualatin, rather solid fundamentals.
“You learn to play it the right way, it can be fun,” he said.