Sports

BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Decatur and Federal Way should be strong again; TJ and Beamer young and inexperienced

Decatur senior Jerron Smith is looking to lead the Gators to their fifth straight state tournament after averaging 20.9 points per game last year. Decatur has moved down from the Class 4A SPSL South to the SPSL’s 3A division this year.  - Casey Olson/The Mirror
Decatur senior Jerron Smith is looking to lead the Gators to their fifth straight state tournament after averaging 20.9 points per game last year. Decatur has moved down from the Class 4A SPSL South to the SPSL’s 3A division this year.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

The Decatur Gators’ boys basketball program is used to winning games. That’s just what happens after playing in four straight Class 4A State Basketball Tournaments inside the Tacoma Dome.

But the Gators will embark on a new journey this season, their first as a Class 3A program. Decatur moves from the highly-competitive South Puget Sound League South into the 3A division of the SPSL. The six-team SPSL 3A includes Lakes, Bonney Lake, Auburn-Mountainview, Enumclaw and Peninsula.

Decatur enters its inaugural season as the early favorites in the league, along with Lakes. The Lancers have played in the past four 3A state tournaments, placing second in 2008 and third last year.

The Gators will be counting heavily on senior guard Jerron Smith during their first 3A season. The 6-foot-3 Smith has already signed his national letter of intent to play next season at Portland State after a stellar junior year.

Smith was a first-team, All-SPSL South selection after leading Decatur in scoring at 20.9 points a game. He tallied 30 or more points five times last year and is currently the third leading scorer in Gator basketball history. His 978 career points trail only Marcus Tibbs (1,223 points) and Quincy Wilder (1,131).

Smith, who had 27 points Tuesday in a season-opening loss to Jackson, will be joined in the Decatur backcourt by junior Dom Hunter. The 5-foot-11 Hunter started several games for the Gators a season ago and averaged 4.9 points and 2.1 rebounds. Also back for Decatur will be the 6-foot-6 senior post Austen Wilson, who averaged two points and three rebounds. Wilson tallied 19 points in Tuesday’s loss to Jackson.

The Gators will be playing without the services of Jordan McCloud for the first time in four seasons. McCloud, a first-team All-SPSL player last year, is currently attending North Idaho Junior College. McCloud, who averaged 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds last year, was the first-ever Gator to play at four state tournaments.

Decatur will also be without Terrell Williams, who has started the past two seasons at point guard for the Gators. Williams transferred to Mount Rainier for his senior season after averaging nine points and 3.5 assists last year.

“We need our young players to step up and contribute at the varsity level,” Olson said.

Olson will be counting on several newcomers to pick up the slack of the losses of McCloud and Williams. Markus Rawls, Yohiness Jennings and Abe Ferrell-Logan seem to be the likely candidates.

The Gators will have some time to develop during the extended preseason, which also includes non-league games against powers North Kitsap, Mercer Island, Foss and Wenatchee, among others. Decatur’s SPSL 3A schedule doesn’t kick off until Jan. 4.

The Gators got an early test Tuesday night when they took on the Jackson Timberwolves and their Oregon-bound guard Brett Kingma, who knocked Decatur into the loser’s bracket at last year’s state tournament. Jackson, ranked fourth in the 4A division, beat the Gators, 74-63.

Federal Way

The Eagles are coming off yet another stellar season, which isn’t a shock to anybody in the high school basketball community.

Like Decatur, Federal Way has played at four-straight Class 4A State Boys Basketball Tournaments inside the Tacoma Dome. And during the last three, Federal Way has walked away with a first-, a second- and a third-place trophy.

But the Eagles will be doing it this season with a new cast of characters and are playing in a new league — the SPSL South. Gone are four starters from a season ago, including four-year stalwarts Cole Dickerson and Isiah Umipig.

“This year will be interesting,” said longtime head coach Jerome Collins.

Both Dickerson and Umipig are currently playing their freshmen seasons at Division I programs. Dickerson is suiting up at the University of San Francisco and Umipig is playing at Cal State Fullerton. Dickerson was the Class 4A State Player of the Year a season ago after averaging 22.9 points and nine rebounds a game and Umipig scored 14.1 points and led the SPSL with 7.4 assists a game.

But the blow of losing Dickerson and Umipig will be eased a little bit by a pair of transfers into the Federal Way program. Senior guards Napa Mefi and Deshea Bell will don Eagle jerseys after stellar junior seasons at different schools.

Mefi is Beamer’s all-time leading scorer and averaged 17 points a game last season for the Titans. Bell led Kennedy Catholic in scoring at 21 points a game. Bell was recently cleared to play medically after suffering a back injury during the offseason, according to Collins.

Mefi and Bell will be joined by returners Jerry Duckworth, Rayshawn Goosby-Fields and D’Londo Tucker. Duckworth, a 6-foot guard, was the Eagles’ 3-point specialist and averaged 7.5 points a game while starting several games. He also had eight double-figure games and hit the game-tying 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer in a state quarterfinal overtime win over Gonzaga Prep.

But after that, the Eagles’ roster gets very young, very quick. Federal Way will feature a group of four very talented freshmen, led by DeShawn Tucker, the younger brother of D’Londo and an already-accomplished AAU player. Other ninth-graders on varsity will include guard Sam Dowd, wing Eugene Artison and post Deonte Anderson.

And like year’s past, Federal Way and Collins will feature a very athletic and quick group that will wreak havoc on the defensive end with their full-court press.

The Curtis Vikings look like the preseason class of the SPSL South. The Vikings return Washington State-bound guard Devonte Lacy, along with several other talented players from a team that finished unbeaten in league play a season ago. Curtis enters the season as the second-ranked team in the state behind Garfield. Federal Way enters as the fifth-ranked 4A team by The Seattle Times.

The Eagles open their SPSL South season tonight at Puyallup and travel to Emerald Ridge Tuesday. They play their home opener Dec. 11 against Bethel.

Thomas Jefferson

The Thomas Jefferson Raiders came close to making the program’s first appearance at the West Central District Tournament since 1985. The Raiders finished one spot out of the postseason last year with a 10-10 overall record, including wins over state-champion Kentwood and state participants Decatur and Auburn.

“We almost got over the hump last year,” said second-year head coach Kyle Templeton. “But this year is going to be a rebuilding year. We graduated 11 seniors last year and are going to be extremely young and small.”

Jefferson loses over 96 percent of the team’s scoring and rebounding from a season ago, including all five starters. Templeton basically returns only two players that even saw the court during 2009-10 in senior wing Chase Braxmeyer and sophomore guard Daryon James. But those two combined for only 45 points in the Raiders’ 20 games.

“We do, however, have a really good group of young players and you will see some sophomores playing huge roles for us this year,” said Templeton.

Templeton will be leaning heavily on that group of sophomores this season. James leads the class that also includes guard Danny Park and wings Tyshawn Webster and John Foster.

“We have five sophomores in our top-nine players and a couple more on JV who might swing up,” Templeton said.

Jefferson will also be counting on newcomers Deonte Davis, a senior guard, Alex Merced, a senior wing and junior guard Kendall Green to provide some depth.

The Raiders also have a big-time lack of size on their roster, which isn’t a good thing in the talented SPSL North. Jefferson doesn’t have a player over 6-foot-3.

“So we are going to have to compete by playing fast and playing hard,” Templeton said.

The Raiders won’t get any nights off in the rugged SPSL North Division during the regular season. The league features Kentwood, the defending state champs, along with preseason favorite Auburn and perennial power Kentridge, among others. The Chargers feature Gonzaga-signee Gary Bell.

“We will be successful this year if we are playing at a high pace, while limiting our turnovers,” Templeton said. “Because of our lack of varsity experience, we could struggle against veteran teams.”

Jefferson opened its season Wednesday with an impressive 83-63 win over Beamer on the road. Braxmeyer led the Raiders with 18 points and Merced, James and Davis were also in double figures.

The Raiders open their SPSL North season tonight on the road against Kentridge and will travel to Kent-Meridian Monday. The Raiders’ home opener is slated for Thursday against Kentwood.

Beamer

To say the Titans lost a lot from last year’s team would be an understatement. Beamer is not only without its top-five scorers, including all-leaguers Kevin Davis and Napa Mefi, from the 2009-10 season. The Titans are also without the only head coach to lead the program to the Class 4A state tournament.

Winston Bell takes over coaching duties from Brent Brilhante this season and becomes Beamer’s fourth head coach in the last five years. Brilhante resigned after two seasons after leading the Titans to state in 2009 and one game short last year.

Bell was a junior college All-American at San Jose City College in California before earning a scholarship to play at Washington State University. Bell, a Chicago native, was a Cougar from 1988-90 and played for Kelvin Sampson in Pullman.

Beamer will return one starter in senior post Mac Gridley from a team that finished 17-8. The 6-foot-4 Gridley averaged 4.4 points and was second on the team with 6.1 rebounds a game. But this season, he will be taking more of an offensive role for the Titans. Gridley led Beamer with 16 points during its season-opening loss to Jefferson Wednesday night.

Also back for the Titans is junior forward Thomas Rhodes, who averaged two points a season ago.

The Titans will also have a pair of talented freshman seeing a lot of playing time this season. Jarius McDade and Trey Burch-Manning combined for 22 points against TJ, including 13 from McDade. Beamer’s roster also features 5-foot-11 Terrence Salazar, who averaged eight points at Decatur last season.

The Titans open their SPSL South season tonight on the road against Emerald Ridge and will take on the Bethel Braves at home on Thursday night.

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