02-19-2017  1:20 pm      •     

"When I grew up, I didn't have my mom or dad because of drugs and the bad decisions they made to get put in jail."
Those are LaMarcus Stewart's thoughts about his life so far. He goes on to praise his grandmother and Portland Community College's basketball program for helping him "better" his life.

When you watch a PCC basketball game, you can pick out Stewart immediately. He's the guy in charge, a 5-foot, 8-inch point guard dominating the court. He's the energy out there pushing the other players, creating opportunities, setting up plays and encouraging everyone on the court to "bring their best."

This success has not come easily for the Northeast Portland native, and he will tell you that. He doesn't dwell on the specifics of his family's past. Instead, he's more likely to tell you about the 18 points per game and the strong academic effort he has under way.

In 2002, Stewart graduated from Helensview High School, an award-winning alternative program in Multnomah County. While at Helensview, he played basketball for Roosevelt High School in North Portland. He's taking general studies at PCC's Cascade Campus with plans to make a career out of his interest in business.

PCC Coach Wayne Mendezona, whose coaching travels have taken him as far as the Middle East, said Stewart is "in a transforming process … becoming a leader because he is listening and accepting responsibility," and he's "gained confidence in his academic abilities."

Stewart's story resonates with many on both the men and women's basketball teams. While PCC is building a reputation on the basketball court — they're now ranked 12th out of 34 teams in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges League — coaches and the athletic director launched a targeted effort to emphasize academic success as well. A demand that players thrive in education goals has been matched by a commitment of staff to monitor their progress, including providing specialized tutors to ensure success. It is working.

Players from Southeast Portland like Avery Rosen on the men's team and Leah Davidson on the women's team model what coaches would like to see from all of their athletes. Rosen graduated from Cleveland High School as a varsity basketball player. After attending Joliet Junior College in Illinois last year, and after being part of a team that lost in the Nationals by one point, Rosen returned to Portland for family reasons. He now has found more success — not only on the basketball court, but also in the psychology classroom.

Davidson's energy as a shooting guard on the court is expected to propel her into a strong career as a personal trainer or physical therapist. Fitting directly within the goals of the program, she expects to move into a four-year program at a local college or university once she gets the career requirements out of the way.

She took a year off out of high school, worked in a convenience store and "realized that I didn't want to always work at minimum wage." She then looked around for a college to attend. She had played basketball since sixth grade, felt comfortable with women's team coach Rob Pridemore and enrolled in PCC. She recently discovered that not only was the extra time spent working out and playing on the court interesting, but a writing class sparked her creativity in ways she didn't expect.

PCC has invested heavily of late in new coaches and facilities. A $5 million, two-story athletic building along North Killingsworth Street has become a jewel in the program, with both the men and women's teams playing to strong audiences in the gym.

The coaches, Mendezona and Pride more, focus on revitalizing and expanding the program. Their goals are straightforward — they, and athletic director Karl Easttorp, believe that a strong athletic and academic program will bring in more students to PCC, and an ever-increasing quality of players. They also believe it helps the students, the college and the community, providing a path for many students who would not otherwise have access to higher education and skilled jobs.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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