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Branden Cutsforth is the 2012-13 Polk County Player of the Year for high school boys basketball.
March 19, 2013
INDEPENDENCE -- Branden Cutsforth has never had dreams that he would shoot his way into the Central High School boys basketball record books.
Not even as a wide-eyed first-grader hooping it up in "Biddy Ball."
"I was not a scorer when I was little," the Central senior said with a laugh.
But what he did have, even at a young age, was a hunger for a part of the game that most first-graders don't even think about: defense.
"I liked the competitive atmosphere that you could guard your man and he wouldn't score and that would be a victory -- and in that way, you could help your team win," Cutsforth said in all seriousness.
"In other sports, you can't have as big of an impact defensively -- that's really why basketball is such a great game: If you win your individual battles, your team is going to succeed."
In a year when area teams used balanced scoring to find success, Cutsforth's defense and leadership has earned him the title as the 2012-13 Polk County Player of the Year for high school boys basketball.
The 6-foot-3 post's offensive numbers were minimal -- he averaged 7.4 points per game shooting a crisp 51.4 percent for the 18-7 Panthers -- but it was his hustle numbers that made him a special player on the court.
Cutsforth collected 141 total rebounds -- 67 of them offensive -- to average a team-best 6.1 boards per contest and he added 2.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game. His lauded defense -- he has guarded the opposing team's best post player since his sophomore year -- was what Central coach Bob McBeth has referred to as "the best in the state."
"He does such a good job of getting that guy fronted and shutting his man down -- and those kind of things don't show up in the stat line," McBeth said.
Cutsforth's quickness on the perimeter also deterred opponents from using any sets with a ball screen involved -- even Class 4A state runner-up Cascade.
"What he could do on ball screens was double-team because he was athletic enough and people who ran on-ball (screening) stuff against other people didn't run it against us -- they didn't want to put their guards in that position," McBeth said. "That's a luxury when you take some of the other team's playbook away."
While Cutsforth was a varsity freshman practice player for Central's 2008-09 state championship team, he was a pivotal part of last season's state title run, when the Panthers finished the season 27-1.
Central senior Branden Cutsforth goes up for a shot in a game against Cottage Grove earlier this season.
His senior season, however, didn't quite go as planned.
After the Panthers won their first 10 games to open the 2012-13 campaign, they saw their starting point guard and floor leader, Chan Bal, get injured and be lost for the season with a torn ACL.
It was shocking, to say the least, and Central dropped its next game at La Salle Prep by 19 points.
After that loss, Cutsforth didn't waste any time wondering what he should do. Instead, he took action.
"(Coach) McBeth and I had a long talk in the locker room after that game about what I needed to do as a leader and as a basketball player to make sure the team got on the right track," Cutsforth said. "It was a good conversation and we just decided that even though we knew we were going to hit obstacles, that's life and what we do to overcome it is what separates the men from the boys."
The Panthers found their groove after that, holding on to win seven of their last 10 games, finish at No. 6 in the Oregon School Activities Association power rankings and reach the Class 4A state playoffs before being eliminated one game short of the state championship tournament.
"He strives to give that leadership and he's a kid who works his tail off," McBeth said. "Just that example and that energy, that means a ton. I can't think of a day when Branden came to practice and took a day off and said, `I don't feel like going hard today.' With the younger guys, that sets a tone with those kids on how you're supposed to practice."
To Cutsforth, he was just filling -- to the best of his ability -- the role that he accepted long ago, even back in Biddy Ball.
"That's what the team needed -- I mean, you could choose to be one of those guys that is selfish and just wants to be all about the points and be all about just me me me, but that's not going to benefit the team," Cutsforth said. "It might benefit a little bit, but that's going to benefit championships.
"At Central High School, we want to build championships, so everyone's got to accept a different role, go with that role, and just let it flourish."