Jackson players still see room for improvement

Everyone at the MaxPreps Holiday Classic seemed surprised when the Jackson boys basketball team kept winning.

Well, everybody except the Timberwolves.

Jackson fought off some of the toughest teams in the country and went 4-0 in the tournament, becoming the first team from outside the state of California to win the highly competitive, 24-team Invitational Division.

“Between us 13 guys we have a core belief that if we play the way we can, we’re capable of beating anyone,” said Jackson wing Jason Todd, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “Are we surprised we won? Probably not surprised. But I don’t think we went down thinking we’d win. We’re not surprised we won, but I’m sure a few people are.”

The Timberwolves had played just two games before heading to the tournament in Palm Springs, Calif.

“I think we didn’t really know what to expect,” Jackson senior Brian Zehr said. “Our main goals were just to play as hard as possible, just see where we’re at and see if we could play with those other teams. I think one of our goals was to win it if we could, and we’re really excited about that.”

The Timberwolves wrapped up the title with a 54-45 victory over Capital Christian of Sacramento, Calif., on Monday night, and celebrated with a trip to In-N-Out Burger.

Unheralded coming into the tournament — unlike some of the teams, the Timberwolves were not nationally ranked — Jackson heard its share of trash talk from its four opponents.

“All those teams definitely did talk a lot of smack,” said Zehr, who sent Jackson to the championship contest with a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in the Timberwolves’ semifinal game against Long Beach Poly. “A lot of those really talented players didn’t care, I think. They just said whatever they wanted. They got in our face. I don’t think they thought we could beat them.”

Said Todd: “I think when we first got there, nobody knew who we were. We were just some guys from Mill Creek, Washington. What are they going to do? I think we earned some respect, though.”

Todd, last year’s Herald Player of the Year, had a double-double in all four games. The University of Portland-bound senior also requested to defend each opponents’ leading scorer.

“Jason’s so consistent, every single game,” senior guard Dan Kingma said. “You can literally count on him for 20 points and 10 rebounds, every game. To have Jason to go to in any situation makes it easy on the point guard.”

Todd was quick to credit his teammates for his MVP award.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the 12 guys I get to go to battle with all the time,” Todd said. “Frankly, I’m not sure I deserve that. My point guard (Kingma) was pretty good. Brian (Zehr) was pretty huge. I guess I’ll take it for now, but really the MVP is shared with the team.”

Despite their success in Southern California, the Timberwolves (6-0 overall) say they can be even better.

“We know that we’re not as good as we can be,” Kingma said. “We just need to keep getting better every day, We need to work hard every day in practice. We know we’re not even close to how good we could be or want to be.”

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