by Abe Asher
Long before I knew Chris Myers as the OES Upper School librarian, I knew him as the middle school basketball coach at Mt. Tabor.
My middle school, Winterhaven, played Mt. Tabor maybe a half-dozen times all throughout sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. They were close, competitive, fun games.
There were obvious differences between the two teams. Chris was an intense coach, and his teams were well-drilled and skilled across the board.
That was in contrast to my team, helmed by my dad, who had a lot of interesting ideas about coaching – including chanting Aretha Franklin songs in the huddle and sticking blue tape all over the practice court – and didn’t run any plays or really have a cohesive defense or offense, just a lot of fun.
But we also had a lot in common. “Our teams were similar. We were both all from one school. We weren’t all-star teams,” Chris told me.
We both played the game hard, valued sportsmanship, and had plenty of mutual respect.
Mt. Tabor was a lot better than us – we might have beaten them just once, in an undefeated seventh grade season, I might add – which wasn’t bad seeing as zero of our players are still playing basketball competitively…… or even recreationally.
Chris eventually conceded that, “We might have had a little more talent,” as I reminded him about one game where I shot 3-20 and earned the nickname Poor Man’s Wally Szczerbiak.
But the most effective player on the court in those games was Chris’ son Joseph Smoyer, who was approximately thirteen feet tall.
Now, Joseph, who attends Franklin High School, is being recruited by division one schools.
Chris wasted the first five minutes of our interview trying to flatter me by saying that I was good at basketball once, with passive-aggressive comments like, “My main memories of those games were that you were really good,” and. “you handled the ball very well, too.”
But eventually he got down to business, which was appropriate since his son is being recruited by division one schools, and my career ended after averaging 3.2 points in JV2 freshman year while consistently incurring the wrath of David Spindel for not being happy enough.
“To me, he’s a testament to a couple things: One, big guys bloom a little bit later. And it’s better to be a late bloomer than an early bloomer. He could barely catch the ball in fourth, fifth, sixth grade.”
“Then he decided to really work at it. He’s worked hard at it. He lifted weights, he worked on his footwork. He’s good about eating well and getting sleep.”
Joseph couldn’t coast on his natural talent, even though Chris had a brush with stardom himself in the Portland high school basketball circles.
“I was on arguably the worst Central Catholic varsity teams when I was a junior. We went 3-17, but we beat Jesuit twice.” Chris went on to name his main skill as throwing entry passes into the post. Solid, since my main skill was completing inbounds passes.
Joseph had his slightly inexplicable height (Chris is 6’4 and his wife is 5’11, sure, but Joseph is clocking in today at 6’10), but, “he had no in-born basketball skill.”
It was a long road to get to where Joseph is at today, and it wasn’t always easy.
“It was interesting,” Chris said of coaching his son, “The early years were not good. He was not very pleasant – I had to kick him out of practice a couple times.”
“One practice I said to my assistant, you’re in charge now, I’m driving Joseph home.”
“One time he pulled me out of a game throwing a behind the back pass,” Joseph said.
But things improved, and it hasn’t all been tough love. “In middle school, it was really really fun,” Chris said.
“Since I first started playing, my dad always stressed the fundamentals. He made sure that I practiced with my left hand and learned the very fundamental stuff,” Joseph told me.
“He always made sure that whenever I practiced by myself I would focus on one thing for that day and try to get better at a single skill. He has supported me whenever I’ve had a bad game and made sure I was never too hard on myself.”
Joseph’s career has taken off in the last year. He has developed his basketball skill to the point that his height is no longer his only advantage – in fact, Joseph has spent some time this year on the wing.
“I was thrilled when he made varsity, because I think that’s just about the purest form of the game,” Chris said. Franklin is especially young this year, starting three freshman, and Joseph has had to step into a leadership role.
Of course, it’s still a team sport. “He’s a really confident kid. For me, I’m always reminding him to trust his teammates. He’d rather win than do anything individually,” Chris said of his son.
Now, the recruiting process that started during last year’s AAU season picks up steam.
“The last couple of years I’ve gone to the University of Portland elite camp and their coaches have been talking to me. PSU and Montana State have come to my games this year.”
Joseph has also gotten interest from Montana, and two Ivy League schools in Brown and Yale.
“My wife and I are realizing how little we know about the process,” Chris said. “There was an assistant coach at a game a couple weeks ago, and the Montana State assistant handed me his card instead of handed Joseph his card, because he can talk to me, but he can’t talk to Joseph.”
“I just want him to play for a great coach. There are great coaches in a lot of places, and bad coaches in a lot of places – I just want him to find someone that he loves playing for for four years.”
There’s the inanity of the NCAA. Then there’s the staggering number of division one options in basketball – over 350 programs.
But this is a father-son story, and it’s one of the best father-son stories because it took place in gyms, and it took place with teams, and it appears to be headed towards the son outdistancing his father’s achievements and striking out for success on his own.
It’s really fun to be good at something. But when that thing is something you can share with the people around you, it’s all the more special.
During Joseph’s seventh grade year, Mt. Tabor played a team (obnoxiously) called “Vanport Dynasty.”
Vanport Dynasty was a bit of a dynasty, and they were winning the game by a little.
Or 85 points. But then things took a delicious turn.
Chris tells the story: “The game was stopped due to excessive technical fouls on Vanport with 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter – we were playing HS rules, so the clock was stopping. At the time the game was stopped, the score was 104-19 – and they were still pressing full-court!
That’s right. The coach who had his team pressing up 104-19 in the third quarter of a seventh grade game was so incensed with the officiating that he got multiple technical fouls, which whipped the Vanport fan-base into such a frenzy that they were given a technical foul, and the game had to be stopped.
Mt. Tabor won in a forfeit. And how that story didn’t make national news, I’ll never know.