There’s one thing basketball coaches say they can’t coach — height.
But when they have it, it’s a luxury, especially at the high school level.
Hermiston coach Juan Rodriguez counts himself a lucky man with 6-foot-4 senior Jordan Thomas on his side of the court.
“It’s a big deal in high school basketball to have a 6-4 girl who can finish around the basket,” he said. “She has the talent to play college basketball.”
Which is a dream for Thomas, but first there is her senior season to take care of.
“Honestly, I love it,” Thomas said of basketball. “It’s a stress reliever and it makes me happy.”
The Bulldogs will open their season Friday, hosting Lewiston in a nonleague game. They will host La Grande on Tuesday before beginning Mid-Columbia Conference play Dec. 8 at Kennewick.
Thomas and fellow senior Mati Byrd have been playing basketball together since grade school. With Byrd standing 6-2, they are Hermiston’s version of the Twin Towers, though they do not play at the same time.
“I hope coach makes the decision and looks at us and sees two girls over 6-2,” Thomas said. “It’s intimidating. It could be a huge threat.”
Rodriguez said their offense isn’t designed for two post players. He said Byrd will come off the bench to relieve Thomas.
While Thomas is one of the two tallest players in the school — Hermiston boys player Blake Davis also is 6-4 — she also is the tallest in her family.
Her dad John is 6 feet tall, while her mom Barbara is 6-1. Her older siblings Mitchell (6-1) and Vanessa (5-10) also are shorter. She believes her height comes from her mom’s side of the family. Her mom’s brother, Larry Bush, is 6-9.
Thomas is the Bulldogs’ returning leading scorer from last season with 16 points and 11.8 rebounds a game. She had 30 points in a playoff game last season against St. Helens, and while pouring in the points is nice, she feels her strength is her defense.
“Rebounding is what I feel I am better at,” she said. “I’d rather play defense — I feel I am more of a threat and I’m more comfortable doing what I do. I can score, but if I have an off night, my defense is always there.”
Pendleton coach Kevin Porter isn’t shedding any tears with Hermiston and Thomas leaving the Columbia River Conference.
“Last year, she was our focal point,” Porter said. “She killed us in the second game and was almost unstoppable. Our plan was, how do we drag her away from the basket defensively, and how to keep her from scoring without opening up the 3. Even on a bad night, height kills.”
Thomas spent the summer playing with Oregon Elite. She was on the Navy team, which is the top team in her age group.
The team traveled to Canada, California, Kentucky and Arizona.
“We won our tournament in Canada,” Thomas said. “In Kentucky, we were at a facility that had 150 courts. There was one in Arizona with 60. There were girls playing everywhere. It was a lot of fun.”
Rodriguez said the summer program helped Thomas with her game.
“She has developed a lot the past year and a half,” he said. “She is very athletic, and she slimmed down this summer playing on her traveling team.”
The move to the MCC is exciting and a little sad for Thomas and Byrd. They want the challenge of the playing the MCC teams, but they will miss the friendships they have made over the years, especially with the Pendleton girls.
“We have played against them since the seventh grade,” Thomas said. “They have been our rivals since then. It’s part of growing up, I guess.”
But, they also have played against the Tri-City schools in summer league.
“I know some of them, but a lot of their best players are always gone with their elite teams,” Thomas said. “Washington is a totally different league. It will be interesting.”