MILL CREEK — It happened in the locker room, minutes before the University of Portland men’s basketball team took the court for a Dec. 12 game against visiting Sacramento State. Sophomore Jason Todd was seated at his locker, doing his final preparations before the squad headed out to warm up.
As another Portland player walked by, Todd asked if the teammate had borrowed one of his knee braces. Inexplicably, Todd said, the other player took immediate and vicious exception. First he threw a shoe at Todd from across the room, and then he charged and began kicking and punching. In a matter of seconds that “seemed like an eternity,” Todd suffered a concussion, a broken nose, two black eyes and other facial bruising that would force him to miss three games, along with emotional trauma that would take months to overcome.
“All I know,” the 20-year-old Todd said recently, “is that one night changed my life.”
It also changed the direction of his basketball career. Initially, Todd said, the other player was suspended from the team and from the school, but was reinstated in early April by both the school’s administration and new Pilots coach Terry Porter.
That decision came as “an absolute shock” to Todd, and it led him to leave Portland after the spring semester. A few weeks later, he made the decision to enroll at California Baptist University in Riverside, California, an NCAA Division II program, where he expects to complete his eligibility by playing his final two seasons over the next three years.
Todd’s older brother, Ryan, was acquainted with Geoff McIntosh, a Cal Baptist assistant coach, and that friendship led to Lancers head coach Rick Croy reaching out. Though Jason Todd was in contact with other coaches, including some from Division I programs, a spring visit to the CBU campus convinced him to commit.
“I couldn’t be more happy and more thankful that Coach Croy and his staff have given me a chance to have some redemption … from a basketball aspect,” said Todd, a 2014 graduate of Mill Creek’s Jackson High School, where he was a two-time Gatorade Washington Player of the Year. “Coach Croy and Coach McIntosh are two of the best men I’ve ever met in my life. I haven’t even played for them yet, but I get two years to play for them and I’m more excited than ever to be a part of their program, which has a rich tradition of winning and a fan base like I’ve never seen.”
Still, the difficult memories linger.
“To this day,” he said, “I can vividly tell you everything that was said and what happened (in the Portland locker room that night). … To be honest, it probably took the rest of the school year to be fully over it. I’ve had dreams about it. In the weeks that followed, I woke up in sweats. I woke up shaking. I remember one time I screamed and my roommates woke up. So there were definitely some post-incident stresses and ordeals that I dealt with.”
Likewise, there is much that he still cannot explain. For instance, he wonders, why would someone suddenly punch and kick a teammate without provocation? Prior to the incident there was “no bad blood” between the two players, Todd insisted.
“I have no clue,” Todd said. “I still don’t know.”
To avoid disrupting the team during the season, Todd and his family chose not to press charges immediately after the incident. They made the same decision later, believing at that point it was simply better for Jason to move on. (The Daily Herald does not name people who haven’t been formally accused of a crime. Since charges in this incident were never filed, the other player is not being identified.)
Former Portland coach Eric Reveno, who was fired after the 2015-16 season, said he was in his office at the time of the incident “and so for any interpretation of what happened … I’m not in a position to comment.”
Likewise, Reveno said he was not part of the athletic department investigation and that he didn’t “find out anything until the final decision (about the incident and the subsequent suspension).” Throughout the entire process, he said, “I was a spectator.”
Added Reveno: “Jason was a tremendous member of the team and a great kid. … From my standpoint, it was unfortunate that something happened. But it was something that happened and the university investigated and made (its) decision, and I respected that.”
In a separate email, Brough forwarded a university statement: “During his two years at the University of Portland, Jason Todd was an enthusiastic contributor both athletically as a member of the Pilots basketball team and academically as a student in the Pamplin School of Business. We will miss Jason, but fully support his decision to transfer this fall to California Baptist University. We wish him much success as he continues his college career.”
Todd remains at a loss to understand why the school, the athletic administration and the new coaching staff would welcome the other player back to the campus and the team.
“I looked at it like this,” he said, “how do you expect me to play two more years with him, to act like he’s a brother of mine and that we’ll go to battle on and off the court, and (that we’ll) just be buddies? After knowing what he did to me, the emotional and physical toll on not just me, but on my family and others that love me? You’ve got to be kidding. You’re actually going to do this?
“(School officials) are choosing, in a sense, to say, ‘Sorry, Jason, we want him enough to where we don’t really care what happens to you.’ That’s how I feel.”
But if Todd feels discarded by Portland, there is no question he is wanted at Cal Baptist. Lancers coach Rick Croy calls Todd “a young man with old-school values and those are hard to find. We were able to identify pretty early on in the process that we were getting a special person. In our program, we always say that we win with people … and we think Jason is going to be a tremendous fit for us.”
From a basketball perspective, Croy went on, Todd stands out for “his versatility. He’s a wing player who makes great decisions and he makes everyone around him better. … He’s going to be asked to do a lot for us — defend full court, rebound the ball, make decisions and finish plays. But that’s the strength of his game, the versatility.
“A lot of guys say they want to win,” Croy added, “but they want to win if they can get their shots, their (ball) touches and their minutes. There’s a lot of ‘ands’ or ‘buts’ behind it. But Jason is one of those guys who wants to win only, and we certainly think he’s going to help us do that.”
Todd already has participated in Cal Baptist summer camps for kids, and he is eager for the coming school year and basketball season. He is also grateful for the chance to tell his story after team and school officials requested he stay silent in the aftermath of the attack.
“I was asked … to basically keep my mouth shut,” Todd said. “So to have my side of things out there now is really important to me. Some people might think I was transferring because I didn’t like it there. That I didn’t like my teammates or I didn’t like the school. But I loved the school, I loved the city of Portland and I loved having my parents at every home game. I loved all of that.
“But what I didn’t love was how I was treated and how they chose (the other player) over me, frankly,” he said.
Todd expects to play for CBU in the coming season, largely because the Lancers have a formidable team and hope to compete for a national championship. He then plans to redshirt in 2017-18 before returning to play one final season, during which he hopes to pursue a master’s degree in sports management to go along with an undergraduate business degree.
And in that time he hopes to put a troubling experience behind him.
In the months following the attack, Todd said, “I looked on it as a negative. I’d think, ‘Gosh, this is just awful, I can’t believe this has happened, why me, why me?’
“But now, having gone through it and growing from it … yeah, it still sucks that it happened and I wish it hadn’t happened. I’d love to be at the University of Portland still. But I couldn’t be more excited to start this new journey.”