Erica Mashia-Spencer (Jefferson, 1995) got an early start.
She remembers playing basketball with her dad at age 3, and by the time she entered Ockley Green Middle School, “I knew I wanted to play in college.”
She did just that at USC, despite serious injuries that limited her time on the court and her ability to compete after college.
But her talents and exploits – she was Oregon’s high school Player of the Year as a senior at Jefferson High in 1995 – helped put her into the PIL Hall of Fame in 2014.
At one dark point in her USC career, doctors told her she would never play again because of a hip injury.
Return to action she did, though, and today she’s able to work out young players if she wants and when she’s not tending to her job as career coordinator at McDaniel High (formerly Madison).
“Basketball opened a lot of doors for me,” she says. “I got to travel. I got a free education. It helped me a lot in life, in learning how to persevere. So I’m thankful to have had those experiences.
“Things can happen, no matter how good you are athletically, and tomorrow isn’t promised to you.”
Erica’s father, Eric, taught her the game of basketball as much as anyone.
“I was always in the gym with my dad. He was coaching,” she recalls.
She remembers playing as a second-grader on a team at the Salvation Army Moore Street gym. And going to the elite End of the Trail tournament hosted by Oregon City as a fifth-grader. There, she saw some of the best girls in the country play, and at halftimes or during timeouts, she’d go out with other youngsters and shoot some hoops.
“Coaches would talk to me like, ‘Hey, how old are you?’” she says.
Middle-school student Mashia started getting recruiting letters, and the attention only picked up after her successful first year at Jefferson and a big showing in an AAU national tournament shortly after her freshman season.
Going to Jeff made all the sense in the world, even though St. Mary’s Academy and Benson, to name two, would have loved to see her in their uniform.
“I always grew up around Jeff and have a lot of family ties to there,” she says.
She grew up playing with some very good boys basketball players, including Ime Udoka, a former NBA guard recently named coach of the Boston Celtics. He was in her 1995 Jefferson graduating class.
A left-handed point guard, Mashia also especially idolized 1991 Wilson High grad Damon Stoudamire, a fellow lefty point who went on to college and NBA stardom.
Erica led Jeff to its first PIL girls basketball title as a freshman in 1992. She was honorable mention all-state and all-PIL that season, and the Democrats were undefeated until they reached the third round (Sweet 16) in the state playoffs.
She took all the success in stride, though the loss stung.
“I felt like we were supposed to do that,” she says, of being atop the league and winning so much.
She continued having major success over the summer as floor leader of an Oregon team in the 15-and-under AAU Junior Olympics at Amarillo, Texas. That team won the national championship, and she was named MVP of the tournament, which featured more than 70 teams.
“I was like, ‘I’m gonna be back,’” she says, of coming back to Jefferson for her sophomore year and making amends for that state playoff defeat. “I’d learned a lot about how hard it is to get there and win.”
Fate had other plans, however. She tore her left ACL early in the season.
“Just tripped, and while trying to break my fall hyperextended my knee, and that was it,” she says.
Sitting and watching her Jefferson teammates play was the hardest part.
“Basketball was a huge part of my life,” she says.
She couldn’t play summer ball, but returned to the Democrats as a junior “very hungry and ready to go.” But she still had some soreness and wasn’t 100 percent. “I played with a big brace all season and had to get used to that,” she says.
Jefferson had a good season and made the second round of the playoffs, but she wanted more – and got it.
Her senior campaign was memorable. “A really good year for me,” she says.
She already had decided early on a college, after being recruited by former USC star Cheryl Miller, the all-time great who was the Trojans’ coach. “So there was no pressure about picking a school,” Erica says.
The Democrats raced to the PIL championship and went back to state, going 2-2 in the tourney.
Mashia was the PIL and state Player of the Year, averaging 21.6 points and 7.0 assists per game. She also was first-team all-state tournament to cap her four years under Jefferson coach Milt Adams.
She loved being the point guard, “just having the ball, creating, making plays for myself and others,” and she had the skills it took to shine at that position.
“I could shoot and get to the basket,” she says. “I’d take whatever the defense would give me. That’s what made me hard to guard, being able to do both those things.”
Southern Cal was next.
“I was a little starstruck” talking to Coach Miller, “but she was really down to earth, cool, easy to talk to, and funny.”
Erica liked the USC campus. “I loved L.A., the weather, wearing shorts in the winter,” she says. “I’m a city girl, and I wanted to go to a school located in a city.”
By the time she got there, though, Miller had departed for a job in broadcasting. Fred Williams was the new Trojans’ coach (Chris Gobrecht took over for Mashia’s final season).
The 5-7 Mashia was very good right out of the college gate. She was second on the Trojans in scoring, first in assists and led the Pac-10 in three-point percentage (.437), earning conference all-freshman team and honorable mention All-America honors.
And that was despite suffering a hard-to-peg but very nagging injury that she played through.
Erica remembers the blow that caused what was initially considered a hip pointer.
“In a game about halfway through the season, I was driving to the basketball and hit somebody who had stuck their knee out,” she says.
It turned out to be a rare injury, “more like a hockey injury and that type of hit,” she says. “It got worse, but I finished the season.
“Then I came back and it got worse. They found out I had torn cartilage and a piece of my hip bone was loose. They didn’t think there was any surgery that would take care of it, and I just stayed off of it and on crutches for eight months or so. That was really tough.”
The next year, with her hip not better, doctors determined she did need surgery. They were able to smooth out the torn cartilage and remove some bone pieces.
“People were talking like I shouldn’t play, couldn’t play again, would never be the same,” she says.
She did come back, only to tear her right ACL in practice shortly before the first game of the season.
Mashia, who by now probably had spent more time in the training room than on the court, made it back to action as a senior, though it was a “painful year.”
With her knee still bothering her, playing pro basketball didn’t seem like a good post-college option. She ended up returning to Portland with her degree in sociology and minor in psychology. She got into education and married Benson grad Dyon Spencer in 2005. They live in the Jefferson area and have two daughters Eryn,11, and Devyn, 4.
Mashia-Spencer started working at Madison and was the Senators’ girls basketball coach for five years.
Today, she can still get around and play the game.
“I used to play with my team when I was coaching. I was able to show them things,” she says. “I go to the gym, run, lift weights. The hip is good.”