It has become a sort of axiom in the sports world: Adversity often precedes success, toughening up the athlete and inspiring growth.
Gabe Stanley and the Ashland High boys basketball team is counting on it. And thanks in part to Stanley, there's reason for hope.
While the Grizzlies struggle through one of the worst seasons in program history, Stanley has quietly made the most of his opportunity. A 6-foot-1 junior wing, Stanley has been a pleasant surprise for the Grizzlies since transferring from the South Medford High school district last summer, averaging a team-high 10.2 points per game, including a season high of 23 points for an Ashland team that's averaging a meager 41.4.
Who: Ashland High 6-foot-1 junior wing.
Scoring: A transfer from South Medford High School who is playing his first year of high school hoops, Stanley is averaging 10.2 points per game with a season-high of 24.
Up next: Ashland at North Valley, Saturday.
A deceptively quick slasher with a unorthodox but effective jump shot, Stanley was just hoping for playing time when he decided to re-commit to the sport after his family moved back to Ashland last summer. Then, says sixth-year head coach Larry Kellems, Ashland lost six would-be varsity players to various circumstances, opening a door for anybody who was willing to step up. Stanley was, and quickly established himself as the Grizzlies' premier playmaker.
"I remember, we played South (Medford) during the summer league and I scored like 24 against them," he recalls, "and then I scored like 28 against Phoenix and in the 30s against Grants Pass, so I felt like I could do pretty well on the high school team."
That despite the fact that Stanley had yet to play a minute of high school basketball, varsity or otherwise.
"At that point," Kellems added, "I knew (Stanley) was definitely going to be varsity and probably going to be one of the starters.
"He definitely has a good quick first step to the hole, and he can attack the basket pretty well. He can shoot the 3. It's a crazy shot — sometimes it's so flat and other times he's got some arc on it."
But it often goes in, which has helped Ashland remain competitive against opponents that are comparable in terms of school size. As far as the big schools go, however, the Grizzlies are having trouble keeping scores respectable.
Heading into Saturday's nonconference game at North Valley, the Grizzlies are 1-14, having lost 11 games in a row, including four by 40 points or more. Their last victory came Dec. 4 against Mazama.
The long losing streak, coupled with the Oregon School Activities Association's revamped playoff qualification system, means that the Grizzlies' scant postseason hopes rest almost entirely upon their three-game series with Southern Oregon Hybrid Class 5A rival Eagle Point.
Ashland, which was No. 30 out of 39 teams in the 5A power rankings before Tuesday night's games, faces Eagle Point (11-6, ranked fourth) for the first time next Tuesday at Eagle Point. The other two games in the series will be played in Ashland on Feb. 8 and Feb. 19.
Kellems says Ashland's schedule, which includes five Class 6A opponents, makes it difficult for the Grizzlies to compete.
"If we were playing the Mazama's or the Henley's or Yreka or that-sized school that are only like 50 to 100 kids less than us "… we would be OK," he said. "We wouldn't win a conference title this year but we would at least compete. But when we're playing the Norths, the Roseburgs and the Souths, it's just brutal."
Stanley hopes Ashland can put it all together in the games that really matter, but admits that the Grizzlies are longshots to make the playoffs.
"I just try to come out every day and try to be the best I can and help us win," said Stanley, who says he didn't start playing organized basketball until his sixth-grade year. "Scoring 20 points in a game feels really great, but I think winning the game feels better, for me."