Mead’s Elijah Knudsen spent much of the quarantine months preparing to finish what he felt was stripped away.
Even with Mead’s championship in boys basketball last month, a day-after-tetanus-shot-like sting lingers from the Mavericks’ magical 2019 season and the title run that never got its proper ending.
For what had been must-see basketball at its most electric — led by a high-flying senior class who ally-oop’d and dunked their way to 25 straight wins and a spot in the Class 4A Final Four — had the power cut as the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly canceled sports across the country.
Knudsen, a sharp-shooting sophomore from that group, used it as fuel until high school basketball returned a year later.
“It was an everyday thing” to get better, Knudsen said.
With the state shut down, the junior expanded his game inside the half-court gymnasium his parents built onto the house in the months before the pandemic. In the Knudsen’s household, basketball runs deep as his dad Brandon and mom Camrin met while playing at Southern Oregon University.
And now they’d created a basketball asylum. A haven in the pandemic. From high ceilings going from the basement up to the main level, a hoop constructed into a wall, underneath sat crisply painted lines onto a silky wood floor.
There, the Mavs guard worked on his shot, his ball-handling, among other things — all in hopes to push aside the moniker of being a pure shooter and develop into an elite all-around player. He said he worked mostly by himself, but also put time in with instructors.
Perhaps coolest of all? He said he trained with former Eaglecrest and Pepperdine standout Colbey Ross, who Knudsen said used the family gym a few times during the summer.
“My club coach, name’s Mike Chemotti, has tons of connections and knows a bunch of college coaches, trainers and college players,” Knudsen said. “And Colbey reached out to him, I believe looking for a place to work out. All the gyms were shut down and we had a place. So, he came here and it ended up working well for me because he taught me a lot.”
Ross went on to finish his senior season at Pepperdine, leaving as the program’s all-time leader in points and assists. Meanwhile, Knudsen went forward to lead the Mavericks to their first state title since 1957 (the school didn’t exist between 1961-2009).
As part of the championship run, the Mavs junior transitioned brilliantly from shooting guard to point guard — scoring 19.3 points per game over 18 games. His assists (3.2), rebounds (3.4) and steals (1.5) were all also up from the season before. And his 59 3s tied him for third in the state.
“I think it’s really just a culmination of all the time and work he’s put in,” Mead coach Darin Reese said. “I think I can safely say nobody has put more work in than him. It’s definitely a cliché but he’s a true gym rat. If he’s not in the gym, he is working strength and conditioning. We asked him to do quite a bit more than last year and he took it and ran with it.”
Knudsen’s best work came in the postseason, the place where his dreams, and others’, had crumpled the year before.
Knudsen averaged 26 points per game in the 4A tournament, leading the Mavs to five double-digit wins en route to the title. Among highlights, he had a career-high, 45-point effort in the second round against Holy Family in which he shot 58%. He then added another 30 points on just 24 shots in the finals win over Montrose.
“Man, I’d like to hear the story of anybody in this area having a game like that, getting 45 and as efficiently as he did, it was just impressive,” Reese chuckled. “He has that capability to just really get going. No other kid we’ve had and probably nobody else in the area has that next level where he can get his shot off and make difficult shots and make it look that easy.”
In celebration, Knudsen and the team dedicated the victory to sophomore guard Nick Basson. Just before the team’s Great Eight game, Basson suffered a stroke.
Next is a town parade for the team, which has been postponed due to quarantine but is still expected to happen soon, Reese said. As he and Knudsen know well, it’s better late than never.
“Winning this was the best feeling in the world,” said Knudsen, who was also named the CHSAA 4A player of the year. “Doing it for Nick, and also for coach Reese, who got it taken from him last year, and for three of our returning players who got it stolen from us last year. It felt good to get there, and get the opportunity to do it again for coach Reese, Nick and the whole Mead community.”