One of the most common questions posed to me during the state tournament was, What do you think? I was amazed at how many people wanted to know what I thought of Washington’s state tournament because I’m an outsider.
And so I thought I’d quickly hit a couple of the high points and low points in the aftermath of three days spent at the Tacoma Dome.
The Tacoma Dome
OK, let me explain here because I’m sure many of you rolled your eyes when you saw ‘Tacoma Dome’ and ‘good’ paired together. And while I get that the Tacoma Dome isn’t the easiest place on the eyes or isn’t the best place to watch a basketball game – the sight lines and food aren’t great – it does create a big-game environment. With the court planted in the middle under the big domed roof it reminded me, on a much, much smaller scale, of a Final Four. I thought it was a fun setting to have a big tournament in.
The eight-team tournament
I’ve heard a number of complaints about the tournament being limited to 16 teams instead of eight. And I get that that’s the way it was done for a number of years, and it’s one of the things that made the Washington state tournament unique from other state tournaments. But as someone who never experienced that format, I thought eight teams worked perfectly. You could make the argument that more teams and players should experience the Tacoma Dome, but I also think the eight-team format makes getting to the Tacoma Dome that much more special. Three full days of basketball was just long enough to give it a tournament feel without seeming like it dragged on.
Obvious, I know, but man they were really entertaining and there was so much talent in the field. I thought the tournament had peeked early when No. 6 Curtis and No. 1 Garfield engaged in a fascinating back-and-forth game in which both teams tried to assert their styles of play. It went to overtime, and featured everything you could ask for in a game: plenty of emotion, a comeback, lead changes, big shots. But the final day of the tournament produced two thrilling games. First, Rainier Beach beat Lakeside in overtime in the 3A title game after the Lions missed a free throw with one second left. Then, as if that wasn’t good enough, Curtis held off a hard charge from Jackson in the fourth quarter of the 4A title game. The Timberwolves had a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer in the final seconds. The level of play, the talent on the courts, was phenomenal.
I won’t write too much about this, because I’ve been critical before, but I’m not a big fan of the random drawing process. I think you get uneven brackets and quarterfinal matchups that probably shouldn’t happen in the quarterfinals. I don’t care if Bothell lost to Newport in a consolation bracket after a disappointing loss the day before, Garfield and Bothell shouldn’t have been a quarterfinal game. No way. I get why the WIAA does the random draw, but I still think a selection committee could come up with a bracket that is more balanced and genuine. That would still produce criticism and people unhappy with their draws, but that wouldn’t be much different from now.
The confusing label of regionals vs. state
This is an easy fix, but it was also the most common thing people told me they didn’t understand. Are regionals part of state? Are they not? What exactly are regionals because they aren’t really “regionals”? They can’t be when Newport travels to Eastmont. I think that round, which consists of 16 teams, should simply be called the first round of the state tournament. It’s simple. It’s explanatory. It gives the common fan easy-to-understand context. I know those games were called state a couple years ago before people wanted to change it so they weren’t considered part of state. I don’t get that. Call them state. It’s not in the Tacoma Dome, but those games are state games in my mind.
I understand that this year’s scheduling snafu was most likely an aberration instead of the norm, but the fact remains that a state championship game was going to tip off at 9 p.m. Even without delays, that’s pretty late. Throw in the fact that championship games often drag on and are supposed to be the most competitive games of the tournament (see: chance for overtime or drawn-out endings high) and it seems likely that delays can and will happen. If I’m a casual basketball fan in the area, especially from anywhere 30-plus minutes away, I’m probably not going to go to a game scheduled to start at 9 p.m. And to have a high school game end past midnight, under almost any circumstances, isn’t right. I don’t think any game should start later than 8 p.m., when many games tipped off during the regular season. If that means moving consolation games up – or playing them at a Tacoma high school instead – so be it. That Saturday should be about the championship games, and a championship game shouldn’t be in danger of reaching midnight.
The non-traditional tournament teams
* Freshman who stood out at the state tournament.
- MVP: Isiah Brown, Lakeside, 6-0, guard, 6.2 points
- Steven Beo, Richland, 6-2, guard, 9.5 points
- Keith Smith, Franklin, 6-4, forward, 7.4 points
- Jashaun Agosto, Garfield, 5-8, guard, 2.8 points
- Dejounte Murry, Rainier Beach, 6-3, guard, 4.8 points
- Sean Gummersall, Seattle Prep, 6-5, forward, 6.9 points
* These are guys I would pay to watch anytime simply because of the way they play the game.
- Isaac Dotson, Newport, 6-3, forward: The future WSU football player is the best screener I’ve seen this season. He knocked the wind out of a guy while setting a pick in the state tournament.
- Dominic Robinson, Curtis, 5-7, guard: After Robinson missed a big three late in the Garfield game, he walked up to his teammates and patted his heart. “I’ve got the next one. My bad. I’ve got the next one.” Plus, he can flat out play.
- Trevaunte’ Williams, Garfield, 6-5, forward: If he were 6-7, every Pac-12 team would be coming after him. He’s so smooth and crafty around the basket.
- Jason Todd, Jackson, 6-5, guard: Todd plays hard all the time. He defends. He rebounds. He’s an example of how the game should be played.
- Arell Hennings, Franklin, 5-9, guard: Hennings is so quick and smooth with the ball. He’s one of my favorite guys to watch slice through the lane because he is so good at shaking defenders.
*Guys who will return next year that made a big impression at the state tournament
- Eugene Artison, Franklin, 6-8, forward: Skilled big man was far more assertive around the basket than when I saw him before. He really came out of his shell offensively.
- Donaven Dorsey, Timberline, 6-6, guard: Most people knew about him, but one coach described him as the breakout start of the tournament. He scored 30 in one game.
- Tramaine Isabell, Lakeside, 6-1, guard: Those in attendance learned what Metro coaches already knew: Isabell is incredibly quick and can play with the best.
- Torrence Baker, Garfield, 6-3, forward: They call him Bear, and with good reason. Baker isn’t the biggest guy, but he’s incredibly tough to keep off the boards.
- Nathan Streufert, Richland, 6-7, forward: The combo guard-forward can score from just about anywhere and is solid.
Favorites heading into next season
- Rainier Beach. Beach loses five seniors, but the Vikings return a large chunk of this year’s core, including Shaqquan Aaron, Djuan Piper and Elijah Foster.
- Lakeside. The Lions may return the best backcourt in Tramaine Isabell, Isiah Brown and D’Marques Tyson.
- Timberline. Donaven Dorsey leads a group that returns a solid supporting cast around him.
- O’Dea. Another team that missed state out of Metro should return next year. Tyler Kidd, Jacob Lampkin and Jamie Orme all return.
- Lincoln. Anytime you return a player like Ahmaad Rorie, you have a chance.
- Eastside Catholic. The Crusaders, who went 16-10 this year, lose leading scorer Austin Soukup but return just about everyone else.
- Jackson. The Timberwolves return six of their top seven players, including their three leading scorers in Jason Todd, Dan Kingma and Brian Zehr.
- Central Valley. Austin Rehkow and his 15 points per game are gone but just about every other key piece is back.
- Richland. Top four leading scorers are back for the Bombers next year.
- Garfield. Bulldogs lose leading scorers in Tucker Haymond and Trevaunte’ Williams, but return some very capable pieces, including Vincenzo Reiser, Torrence Baker and Jashaun Agosto.
- Federal Way. The Eagles didn’t make it out of districts this year, but Adrian Davis, Brayon Blake and Malik Montoya form a nice returning nucleus.
- Issaquah. Young team this year becomes a veteran group a year from now; Jake Henke, Ty Gibson, Brian Watson and Cory Nevin all are back.