By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

I love it when you call me Big Poppa

The first hints came during summer league.

Never any one thing. A strong pass to a cutter here. A boxout there. A nifty post move or a well-set screen. No one pointed out that these moments were anything more than fleeting until it was too late for the other team.

“All of a sudden, he’s just dominant,” McMinnville senior Drew Spence says. “No one really saw it coming.”

Summer ball bleeds into fall ball. The picture is not yet clear. The competition is strong, and the team finds itself up for the challenge. All the subtle touches, the passes and the post moves, are still there – their impact is magnified as the season draws near.

“Maybe he didn’t have that amount of confidence he had hoped,” Mac senior Bryce Anderson said. “Just playing and dominating in there, that was big for him. Trying to figure out what he can and can’t do.”

Every big production needs a stage. The McMinnville boys basketball team stepped into the gym at Southridge High School on Dec. 4, 2013. The season feels fresh, full of potential, free of expectation.

Here he comes. Or, more accurately, there he was. He leads a short-handed Grizzlies squad with 20 points and 15 rebounds, doing everything in his power to keep the Skyhawks close until Spence finishes them off with a three-pointer with 16 seconds remaining.

“We were warming up with six players. We look at Southridge, they look athletic,” recalls Mac senior Gage Gubrud, who missed the game due to injury. “He had 20 and 15 and we won the game – I didn’t expect us to win.

“That’s when I really looked at Vince and was like, you know, this guy’s good.”

World, meet Vincent Patrick Boumann. You can call him Poppa Vinny.

Boumann (rhymes with Loman, like Arthur Miller’s traveling salesman) posted averages of 16.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game through Feb. 12 for a Grizzlies team that, at 15-5 overall and 7-4 in the Class 6A Pacific Conference, is a contender for an automatic qualifying spot to the state playoffs. At 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, Boumann is a large target in the middle of the painted area.

“He’s definitely the key to our whole season,” Gubrud says. “When he plays good, our whole team plays good because him playing good opens up everything.”

Boumann is a throwback to the 1960s, a classic back-to-the-basket post player. He receives the ball in the post, backs his defender down and either executes one of his growing arsenal of post moves – watch out for that baby hook – or passes it out to one of McMinnville’s perimeter players for a basket or a cut.

Because of Boumann’s size and the Grizzlies’ three-point prowess, teams throw a lot of zone defense at McMinnville. Boumann is learning to work better in space, make sharp cuts to the basket and – most critically – keep out of situations where he may draw fouls.

“He’s working at every part of the game,” Grizzlies coach Willie Graham says.

Boumann’s size belies the athleticism to beat slower post players off the dribble or back down smaller post players to gain position. It has taken him 17 years to build up his body, and he is still figuring out how to use it.

“He’s a big (6-foot-7),” Gubrud says. “When I mean big, I mean wide. He has broad shoulders and he’s really strong. Even though guys taller than him might guard him, they still can’t get to his shot because he’s so wide.”

On the court he is sufficiently aggressive and even intimidating, but off the court Boumann is so unassuming that his self-coined nickname has morphed into a term of endearment, rather than a millstone of arrogance.

“I starting calling myself Poppa Vinny because I thought it was funny,” Boumann says. “I am the biggest kid in school. Other kids started calling me it. I just rolled with it.”

“I guarantee you people probably don’t even know him as Vince,” Anderson says. “They just know him as Poppa.”

Perhaps his winsome nature feeds the impression that he came out of nowhere. After all, Boumann had never made a varsity start before this season. He didn’t even begin the 2012-13 season – his junior year – as a junior-varsity starter. In popular high school basketball culture, most athletes would have transferred to a second – or even a third – school to receive that coveted burn.

“People say, ‘Oh, all of a sudden you became good,’” Anderson says. “I don’t know why they would say that. He’s put in so much work.”

Eighty percent of life, the now-controversial director Woody Allen posited, is just showing up. After transferring to McMinnville High School as a sophomore (from Newberg High, of all places), Boumann showed up for basketball tryouts his sophomore season. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound post player hoped he wouldn’t get cut. He never got cut, but he rarely left the bench.

“I was underdeveloped,” Boumann said. “I was undersized and just weak. I was like a little kid. It wasn’t the best of times.”

“We have pictures – at one point sophomore year, (Grizzlies junior Kyle) Brooker was taller than him,” Spence says in reference to Mac’s 6-foot-1 reserve post. “Now he’s just a monster.”

Boumann grew four inches between his sophomore and junior seasons and returned to the junior varsity squad, where he came off the bench and began suiting up for varsity games. On and off the court, he started to acclimate himself to his environment.

“The first year he was here, he was really quiet,” Anderson says. “You kind of have to expect that, coming from a rival school and playing basketball. Last year, you could tell he was a little more comfortable with us.”

Boumann became a starter midway through the junior varsity season and continued working on his game in the offseason. He would head to Linfield College after school and participate in open gym, banging with full-grown bodies in the post. He would attend every single one of Graham’s after-school and summer workout sessions – usually twice a week – and continue developing his game.

“He keeps showing up and keeps playing,” Graham says. “Whether he was invited or not, he was there.”

Boumann developed his post moves. He developed what Anderson calls “a really good jump shot,” even if it rarely manifests during game time. He learned to handle the ball more consistently – when he executed a perfect behind-the-back dribble to fool a Century defender in the Grizzlies’ Feb. 13 victory over the Jaguars, the McMinnville student section roared in approval.

And, most importantly, he grew. Boumann is still growing, and when he turns 18 on July 4 he may or may not stop growing.

“I hadn’t seen him much (in the offseason),” Gubrud says. “I saw him back in school (this fall) and I was like, dude, you’re huge.”

Big men carry big crosses. In Boumann’s case, he is a target for the opposing team with each step of his size-16 shoes on the court. Referees keep their eyes on the post, for three-second violations and any incidental contact.

It overwhelms Boumann at times, and Graham and his teammates have to talk him down from his emotional frenzy. Gubrud recalls one particular incident in which, after Boumann was pulled away from the scene of the foul, he bellowed, “No one messes with Poppa Vinny like that.”

“I have to smile every time,” Gubrud says. “I love Vince.”

The Grizzlies’ spirit animal has three guaranteed games left in his Mac career, with an uncertain future ahead. Boumann wants to continue playing basketball and he has received overtures from community colleges interested in helping him fulfill his potential. Linfield coach Shanan Rosenberg, who coached Boumann’s cousin Zach Thomas at Foothill College in Palo Alto, Calif. – Rosenberg’s previous stop – has scouted Boumann and kept in close contact with his family. (Rosenberg is not allowed to comment publicly on unsigned recruits, per NCAA rules.)

The spot on a college roster of any size would be affirmation of the simplest – and yet most complex – of principle: showing up and putting in the work lead to rewards.

“Now he’s tasted success,” Gubrud says. “And he wants more.”

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