One exhibits a constant display of dazzling finesse and style with the basketball. He drives past opponents who leap in anticipation, yearning to swat him away in a statement of defiant defense. As they ascend, he sneaks under them, swinging his arm wide and curling his fingers to award the perfect spin that will seal the reverse layup. It was art, pure and simple, and the effortless nature with which he performed only served to accentuate its beauty. This is basketball talent in its raw form; this is Carson Flores.
The other is different; he is the epitome of control. Quiet and calm, he scans the floor from the top of the key, searching for opportunity. A screen down low, a cut across the middle — options appear in front of him as the ball dribbles steadily in hand. He makes a quick chest pass to the wing and follows it, prepared to set a screen. With firmly set feet and rigid back, he screens the defender and rolls. His form is flawless, his timing precise. As his teammate rounds the screen, he rolls into the lane, hand raised. The ball comes to him and he concludes the drive with an unchallenged layup. It was coordinated well, executed perfectly. His talent is refined, his game a beaten craft; this is Noah Webster.
The two players are fast becoming well known in Hood River as the basketball season enters full swing. Flores, a 5’9” senior guard, and Webster, a 6’2” junior wing, are leading the Eagles with their offense dominance, averaging 22 and 15 points per game respectively. The game comes easy to both players who began to play years ago.
“I started in second grade, when my mom got me into it,” said Webster. “I played other sports, football and lacrosse, but I liked basketball the most.”
“I started playing basketball my sixth grade year,” said Flores. “I played football, baseball and basketball, and wanted to advance in one of them, become more talented. When I went to a basketball camp one summer I got serious about it and from there started focusing.”
Their decisions to focus on basketball have paid dividends over the years, with the greatest payoff coming this season. Though the Eagles have begun the preseason around a .500 record, they are gaining momentum fast under the consistent performances of Flores and Webster. While that may rattle some players, it doesn’t faze either of them; both were aware of the roles they’d be undertaking this year.
“This year we have a lot fewer seniors and players with varsity experience, and I knew I had to step up and be a leader,” said Flores. “It doesn’t bring extra stress, just more responsibility with my teammates.”
“There isn’t a lot of pressure. We’re choosing to step it up and lead the change,” added Webster.
Flores’s comment acknowledges a possible weak spot of the Eagles’ team this year — varsity depth. The team graduated 10 seniors last year, and while they still have numerous returning players, it is a lack of on-court experience that threatens them. Flores and Webster are the clear X-factors for this team, and are aware of the fragility that exists should they have an off day. Their response to such a situation only exemplifies the nature of their leadership qualities.
“Noah’s great about getting the team involved if either of us aren’t scoring,” said Flores. “We want to get assists and get our teammates open.”
While both Flores and Webster act to help the team, they also influence one another offensively.
“Carson, he’s right off the bat scoring,” said Webster. “For me, it takes a while to get into a game, so to have him attract the other team and think, ‘Okay he’s their scorer,’ gets me more opportunities throughout the game.”
“When playing with Noah, I know that even if he isn’t scoring, he’s helping the team,” said Flores. “He’s getting assists, trying to get other players open. He’s well rounded.”
Flores is right about that —Webster is well-rounded. While Flores dominates the scoring, including a career-high 34 points in a win against Madras, Webster rounds out his performance with other statistics, like six assists, five rebounds and two steals per game. He even snagged a triple-double in that same Madras win, with 16 points, 11 assists and 13 rebounds. Recent games have shown the deadly duo settling into a groove; should they continue to excel, hopes are high for the regular season.
“We’re definitely a top three team in league this season,” said Flores. “I think collectively we’re confident about this year.”
Time will tell whether that confidence is realized, but the Eagles are looking up, with more recent wins than losses. Flores and Webster can lead this team to new heights, though they’ll definitely need support from the rest of the cast. When asked about their teammates, both boys acknowledged their vitality.
“Our team has done a great job to support us,” said Flores. “They do a lot that we can’t do, they play great defense, they communicate. Having them helps us out a lot.”
It won’t be an easy road for the Eagles. Challengers for the top spot in conference come from Pendleton and The Dalles, who return with impressive offensive threats themselves. Nevertheless, Hood River has a chance, and while a significant portion rests on the performances of Flores and Webster, basketball is a team sport and one where teams succeed or fail together. It’s been almost 25 years since the Eagles made the playoffs; the question remains whether this team can break that streak.
“We definitely can,” said Webster.