BY BILL KOSSEN / SEATTLE TIMES STAFF
Like many basketball fans living in NBA-free cities, I had no problem jumping on the San Antonio Spurs’ bandwagon this year with their fun-to-watch nonstop offense that wore down mighty Miami.
And what role models! Everyone was raving about the Spurs’ conditioning, confidence and that determination to rebound from the collapse against the Heat in the NBA Finals the year before.
That’s nice. But you don’t need the NBA to find a team like that. Just prep hoops. We had our own San Antonio story this year in Seattle with the Garfield Bulldogs winning the men’s state title, a year after their hoop dream was dashed in one of the toughest tournament losses in history.
They won the title this year, as did the Spurs, in part by being in better shape than their opponents, by not panicking when the other team made a run, and by having a calm, tough head coach who cared about his players and got them to put the team above the individual.
And Garfield did it while lugging a lot of history on their backs. Literally. On the back of every Bulldog jersey this season was the word “Legacy.”
This is the year that Garfield’s head coach, Ed Haskins, not only found a spot on his bench for history, but put it into the game, too. Good call, Coach.
Hoops history is a big deal at Garfield, which now has won 15 state basketball titles (12 for the guys, three for the girls), the most in Washington state. Plus they’ve won a ton (43) of league titles.
But the men hadn’t won a state title since 1998 (the Joyce Walker-coached girls won it in 2005) and there were whispers of “a curse” hanging over a program that couldn’t win the big, gold trophy despite having top-ranked teams and future NBA standouts Brandon Roy and Tony Wroten Jr.
Well, you can kiss that curse goodbye. And say hello to a championship celebration that may just go on forever.
Recently, the men of Garfield received an official “Recognition” from the Metropolitan King County Council, the latest in a parade of assemblies, accolades, trophies and banners and even a commemorative case of grape (purple) Jones Soda bestowed upon the purple-and-white clad champion Bulldogs.
Garfield didn’t get the key to King County or a proclamation that it was the “Day of the Bulldog.” They got something better. Along with an impressive, suitable-for-framing document recognizing their achievements, the players and coaches were congratulated and praised by longtime Councilmember Larry Gossett, who also played point guard for archrival Franklin in the 1960s.
That presentation by Gossett truly was a special moment in Seattle sports history. You rarely hear a Garfield Bulldog or a Franklin Quaker praising each other. At least not publicly. It’s always been that way, dating to when Garfield opened in the 1920s, when my dad went there, and through the 1960s when a couple of my older siblings also graduated from there.
And in 1993, The Seattle Times ran a story by Percy Allen about Garfield-Franklin basketball games under the headline: “The oldest, hottest rivalry” featuring a photo of former principals Roscoe Bass (Garfield) and Frank Hanawalt (Franklin, and also a stint at Garfield), standing together with a basketball under a hoop, “fondly recalling their schools’ longstanding athletic rivalry.”
The historic moment this month with Councilmember Gossett wasn’t lost on this year’s Bulldogs.
I attended the event in the crowded council chambers and when I asked what it was like to hear a Franklin grad say such nice things about them, Garfield’s sophomore point guard, Jashaun Agosto, smiled and said, “This is wonderful.”
Tough kid, big crowd
History helps, but it didn’t hurt that Garfield also had a deep, strong lineup that included the state tournament MVP, Tramaine Isabell, and four-year letterman Torrence Baker, a fan favorite, clutch player and football star, too.
As we’ve seen over the years, however, many talented, well-coached teams have fallen short. But they didn’t have history on their side like Garfield did this year.
Even the sportscasters on TV picked up on it. Near the end of the close state-championship game against Richland, Isabell suffered a leg cramp, not unlike what sent Miami’s LeBron James to the bench for good in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Isabell limped to the sidelines during a timeout and the Bulldogs’ trainer, Carmay Jones-Isaac, started working on his right calf.
We’ll let ROOT Sports broadcaster (and former Mariners pitcher) Bill Krueger take it from here (from a DVD that you can buy of the broadcast). Here is what he said of Isabell:
“He’s a tough kid. He’s going to figure out somehow, some way to get back out there and do what he can do to help his team get to their 12th state championship. What a history for Garfield!”
No kidding. Isabell did get back out there and soon he was sprinting down the floor to join Brandon Roy and other Garfield fans in celebrating their history-making championship.
What a difference a state title can make. When I watched top-ranked Garfield play for third place last year — after losing a heartbreaking overtime game the night before against eventual state champ Curtis — the crowd at the Tacoma Dome was small enough to fit into a school bus.
Garfield won the third-place trophy, a great accomplishment, but that was it. Game over. So long, see you next year.
But this year when the once-beaten Bulldogs beat unbeaten Richland 68-59 (after falling behind 14-4 in the first quarter) in front of a crowd bigger and louder than we used to see at some Sonic games, Bulldog Nation flooded the floor next to the court as Brayon Blake and other Garfield players proudly hoisted the trophy.
It was a very emotional time for the team and coaches, especially for Coach Haskins. He is a younger brother of the late Aaron Haskins Sr., who was a basketball star at Washington State and a popular pastor at The City Church in Kirkland. The two were very close. Aaron Haskins died at age 49 in 2009, but his presence was felt that night in the Tacoma Dome, not far from where the Haskins’ brothers grew up.
“After we won, I knew he was there,” Coach Haskins said.
For the fans, there was as much a sense of relief as there was of joy. Bulldog legend Willie Campbell, who played on Garfield’s 1962 state-championship team and the 1963 team that took second, attended the County Council event. When I contacted him for his reaction to Garfield winning the title, he emailed me this: “You know I was there and I’m saying, ‘Wow, it’s great seeing the Bulldogs men’s basketball team back.’ ”
“Taking one for the team”
Late in the game when the stunned Richland players were on the verge of losing their only game of the season (and coincidentally on the 40th anniversary of Garfield’s celebrated “Superdogs” state-title victory over Richland), they looked winded while the Bulldogs were literally skipping down the court.
Let’s go back to the DVD of the TV broadcast, as ROOT Sports’ Brad Adam and Bill Krueger team up to describe a key moment when the Bulldogs’ DeeShawn Tucker sealed the deal:
Adam: “TUCKER WITH A STEAL!” Krueger: “Garfield has just turned the heat up defensively here in the last part of the fourth quarter. Really made it difficult for Richland to do anything.”
The first time I saw the Bulldogs this past season, they weren’t turning up the heat on anything. I was in the hallway just outside of the school gym doing some volunteer work on Garfield’s Walls of Fame and watched the players slowly walk by on their way to the water fountain during a break from practice.
Some plopped down on the floor to rest. Others leaned against the wall. Most were quiet, not talking or joking around like I’d expect from a group of high-school players
They looked dog-tired (bad pun intended) and I thought, “This team is going to be good!”
Little did I know that the “legacy” thing was at work here, too.
I got a chance to interview Coach Haskins in his office (he also serves as Garfield’s athletic director) where the walls are covered with Garfield sports memorabilia, including a purple-and-white towel he had made this year that says “Purple Tornado” – the nickname of the 1925 Garfield football team.
When asked about his grueling practices, Haskins said it was something that was handed down to him from his brother Arthur who played for the legendary Dean Nicholson at Central Washington University on the 1988-89 team that made it all the way to the NAIA semifinals. Nicholson made sure the practices were tougher than any game could be, Haskins said. And it paid off, for the Wildcats and for the Bulldogs.
“There were times (in practice) when we didn’t even touch the ball, where we just got in shape,” Haskins said. “Because we knew this fourth quarter was coming. We knew that fourth quarter was coming. And we wanted to be in way-better shape.”
The Bulldogs also were tough. Offensive fouls are for refs one of the hardest calls to make and for players definitely one of the hardest things to take. But the 2014 Bulldogs seemed to enjoy them.
Against Battle Ground, in a regional playoff game to get to the state tournament, I counted at least three offensive fouls that the Bulldogs took — in one quarter.
That’s when the DeeShawn Tucker did something I’d never seen before in my more than 50 years of watching, covering and playing basketball. He took off down court, chasing after a Battle Ground player who appeared to be on his way for a wide-open layup.
Up in the stands at the Bellevue College gym, you could hear Tucker’s shoes pound the floor as he closed the gap. But instead of trying to steal the ball or foul, as most players would, Tucker ran right by him and somehow managed to set up in time to take a charge and get knocked to hardwood. Incredible. You just knew at that point, that it was going to be Garfield’s year.
When I ran into him recently at the school, I asked him about it. Tucker smiled at the memory and explained that yes, he wanted to take a charge instead of going for a steal, that he and teammates Torrence Baker, Jashaun Agosto and others prided themselves on doing that.
“We call it ‘Taking one for the team,’ ” he said.
Tucker and his fellow Garfield Bulldogs took a lot for this year’s team. And in the process added to a school’s proud legacy.
So here’s to prep hoops and one of the best teams in history. Who needs the damn NBA anyway.
Seattle Times desk editor and staff writer Bill Kossen is an honorary Garfield graduate (Class of 1972) who likes to wear a Bulldog pendant given to him by real Garfield grads. He thinks it brings luck to the Bulldogs. “Hey, every time I wore it to a Garfield game this year, they won” he says. “It must be the power of the pendant.” Yeah, Bill. We’re sure it is. See you next season. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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