When Portland gets its fast break going, which is often, you can bet Steve Alex will be on one of the wings streaking toward the basket.
Alex is at his best in transition. The 6-foot-2 junior forward knows how to finish.
“Steve gives us a lot of versatility,” said Coach Joe Russo. “He has a lot of quickness. He can slash to the basket. He can put the ball on the floor and he can shoot. We can play Steve at different positions.”
Alex became a starter this season for the top-ranked Bulldogs, who will open play in the Western Class A quarterfinals at 9 p.m. Friday against eighth-seeded Noble (11-8) at the Portland Expo.
Fourth-ranked Deering and 12th-ranked Marshwood play in the opening game at 7.
On Saturday, there will be four Western Class B boys’ quarterfinals at the Expo, beginning at 11 a.m. with third-ranked Spruce Mountain playing sixth-seeded Poland.
The last two Class A quarterfinals will be Saturday night with No. 3 Bonny Eagle vs. No. 6 Sanford at 7 and No. 2 Falmouth vs. No. 7 Cheverus at 9.
For Portland to win the regional title, it will need contributions from all five starters and at least a couple of players off the bench, but depth has been a strength.
Going into the season it was a given that 6-foot-6 center Matt Talbot, and guards Justin Zukowski and Jayvon Pitts-Young would continue to be the go-to players. They have been, but Alex’s emergence as a scoring threat has given opponents another player that causes concern.
“I think it’s really tough for teams who play us because we can all spread the floor, shoot and drive,” said Alex.
Alex got accustomed to Class A ball last season, coming off the bench.
“In my first year on the varsity, I just tried to contribute as much as possible,” he said. “Being a starter this season, it’s a lot easier than coming off the bench. It’s easier to get into the flow of the game. I like to play an up-tempo style.”
Having gained confidence last season, Alex said he’s more aggressive this year, which has contributed to his strong play.
“Even though I played behind a couple of players last year, I got a lot of minutes,” he said.
On a team where all five starters are capable of scoring in double figures in any game, Alex is averaging 10 points per game with 4.8 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.2 assists.
In the team’s biggest game of the regular season, Alex scored 16 points in a 69-60 victory against Bonny Eagle on Jan. 14.
The game was moved to St. Joseph’s College from Bonny Eagle’s gym to accommodate the large crowd. It was the closest thing to a tournament game that teams could get in the regular season.
“Winning in front of that crowd gave us a lot of confidence,” said Alex.
The crowds will be even larger at the Expo and in the refurbished Cumberland County Civic Center next week. Alex said the Bulldogs are ready.
“If we focus on what Coach Russo tells us, we’ll do fine,” he said.
Alex attended Deering his freshman year and played basketball. In the sixth grade, he played for Lincoln Middle School, where two of his best friends on the team were Liam Densmore and Garang Majok.
Densmore plays for Deering. Alex moved to Munjoy Hill and went to Lyman Moore Middle School for the seventh and eighth grades. Wanting to rejoin Densmore and Majok in high school, Alex attended Deering even though it meant rising earlier and traveling across town to make his first-period class.
Another reason he went to Deering was that his family and Labson Abwoch’s family were close. Abwoch played on Deering’s Class A state championship team in 2012 and graduated last year.
Alex then decided going to Portland would be a lot easier.
“After waking up at 6 a.m. the whole year my freshman year, I decided to attend Portland as a sophomore,” said Alex. “It’s made it a lot easier for me. I love it here. It’s a nice atmosphere.”
On Tuesday, the Bulldogs didn’t practice until 7 p.m. Because he lives less than a mile from school, Alex was able to go home and relax before practice at the Expo.
Alex doesn’t relax on the court. Opponents have to deal with his speed and quickness, which isn’t easy. When you add the other threats, it’s not surprising Portland is a co-favorite with Falmouth to win the regional title.
Portland lost to Falmouth by two points in the Portland High/Red Claws Christmas Tournament in December at the Expo.
“After that loss we knew we had to work harder,” said Alex.
The Bulldogs have and the results show.
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: [email protected]