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BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Decatur hoping for sixth-straight trip to state; TJ, Beamer, FW improved
Head coach: Kevin Olson (12th season)
Last year's record: 17-9 overall, 8-2 SPSL 3A
Strong returners: Sr. Dom Hunter, Guard; Sr. Markus Rawls, Point Guard; Jr. Abraham Ferrell-Logan, Wing.
Top newcomers: Sr. Jeff Bartley, Guard.
Thomas Jefferson Raiders
Head coach: Kyle Templeton (third season)
Last year's record: 6-14 overall, 3-13 SPSL North
Strong returners: Jr. Danny Park, Pont guard; Jr. Daryon James, Guard; Sr. Kendall Green, Wing; Sr. Jacob Thoreson, Wing; Jr. David Luafatasaga, Forward; Jr. Tyshawn Webster Piper, Forward.
Top newcomers: Jr. Josh Duckworth, Guard; Soph. Pekedey Ren, Guard; Jr. Hunter Henry, Forward.
Federal Way Eagles
Head coach: Jerome Collins
Last year's record: 14-10 overall, 11-5 SPSL South
Strong returners: Soph. DeeShawn Tucker, Guard; Jr. D'Londo Tucker, Guard; Soph. Deonte Anderson, Wing; Jr. Tremaine Rambo, Wing; Jr. Rashawn Goosby-Fields, Wing.
Top newcomers: Soph. Brayon Blake, Wing; D'Andre Daniels, Wing; Soph. Anthony Rogers, Wing; Fr. Vionte Daniels, Wing.
Head coach: Winston Bell (second season)
Last year's record: 6-13 overall, 5-11 SPSL South
Strong returners: Sr. Thomas Rhodes, Wing;
Top newcomers: Jr. Juwan Flowers, Guard; Soph. Lucious Brown, Guard; Roosevelt Jones.
The Decatur Gators are looking to tie the 1990s run of six consecutive state basketball tournament appearances this year. The Gators rolled into the state tournament from 1992 through 1997, spanning the tenures of head coaches Ed Boyce and Keith Cooper.
But under Kevin Olson, the current Gators' streak dates back to 2007 and could reach six with another berth into the Class 3A State Boys Basketball Tournament. Decatur finished 17-9 last season.
"The players are used to winning," Olson said.
Leading the way for the 2011-12 edition of Decatur will be senior guards Dom Hunter and Markus Rawls. The two are the lone starters returning for Olson.
Hunter, a 6-footer, averaged 14.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game a season ago and Rawls, a 6-foot-1 point guard, chipped in 8.4 points and five assists.
Also back for the Gators will be junior wing Abraham Ferrell-Logan. The 6-footer scored nearly six points a game and grabbed 4.5 rebounds. Olson will also be counting on newcomer Jeff Bartley, a 6-foot-3 senior.
Decatur will have to replace the all-time leading scorer at the school this season. Jerron Smith is currently playing at Portland State after finishing last year averaging 27.5 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. Also gone is leading rebounder Austen Wilson, who averaged 11 a game. He is currently attending Pacific Lutheran.
"Who is going to score in the fourth quarter with the loss of Smith and who is going to get the rebounds with the loss of Wilson?," Olson said.
The Gators will have to contend with the Lakes Lancers again this season. Lakes won the 3A state title last season and return a bulk of that team, including all-staters Nate Guy and Zach Banner.
Decatur finished second to Lakes in the SPSL 3A Division and also were second at the West Central District Tournament. Auburn Mountainview also looks like a team that could do some damage in the SPSL 3A.
Head coach Kyle Templeton is hoping that his basketball team can build on the success that the Jefferson football program experienced during the fall season. For the first time in the 40-plus-year existence of the school, the Raider football team advanced into the postseason. In comparison, the basketball program hasn't been to the playoffs since 1985.
"I am excited to see if we can follow in the football team's steps and make the postseason for the first time in a long time," Templeton said. "We are going to follow their lead and fight like crazy to give ourselves that opportunity."
The Raiders bring back six of their top-nine from a season ago, when they finished just 3-13 in the rugged SPSL North. Leading the returners are guards Danny Park and Daryon James, wings Kendall Green and Jacob Thoreson and forwards David Luafatasaga and Tyshawn Webster Piper.
Templeton also will be counting on guards Josh Duckworth and Pekedey Ren, along with forward Hunter Henry. The three are all new to the TJ varsity roster.
"Our guard play is going to determine how far we go," said Templeton. "I think we have one of the better backcourts in our league. We have five legit guys that will get minutes in the backcourt and they can all play. Park and James both took their lumps as starters in the SPSL North last year as sophomores, but they have both improved a ton."
Park is the leading returning scorer for the Raiders after averaging 9.2 points a game and James was right behind at 8.2 a game. Park's high game came during TJ's season-ending win over Mount Rainier when he pumped in 19. James finished with 19 points during a win over Decatur.
Green ended last year averaging nearly five points a game, but Templeton expects a lot more from the senior.
"Kendall Green is one of the most improved players in the league this year," Templeton said. "He was wildly inconsistent last year, but he has really matured physically and I think he will be one of the better wings in the league, especially defensively."
Templeton will also be counting on the 6-foot-3 Luafatasaga to provide some bulk inside the paint for the Raiders.
"A lot is riding on our big man David Luafatasaga," he said. "He is still new to the game, but he is a sensational athlete. We are working really hard on improving his skills. When those basketball skills catch up to his physical ability he is going to be a monster. He needs to stay out of foul trouble for us and rebound the ball like a maniac."
But the lack of size is something that concerns Templeton, especially in rebounding. The Raiders' guard-oriented attack is going to depend a lot on making outside shots to win games.
"If we are making shots we can beat just about anyone," Templeton said. "However, when they are not falling, we have to be able to manufacturer points and be solid defensively. Defensive rebounds are going to be our biggest issue. If we are giving up 15-20 offensive rebounds a game, we are in big trouble no matter how well we shoot it."
The Raiders opened their SPSL North season last night at home against Kentridge.
"With six of our top-nine back this year, I expect us to continue to get better," Templeton said. "And with only two seniors in our top-nine right now, the light is bright for the first time in a while at Jefferson. The kids have worked incredibly hard to get better over the last several months."
The Titans finished 6-13 a season ago under first-year coach Winston Bell. But the record was deceiving. Beamer lost several close games during the SPSL South regular season.
Leading the list of returners might be one of the most underrated players in the state — Thomas Rhodes.
Last season, the 6-foot-2 Rhodes was a triple-double machine for the Titans. Rhodes finished the season with a handful of triple-doubles with points, rebounds and blocked shots.
Rhodes was an honorable mention All-SPSL South selection despite playing in only 13 games. He averaged 18.1 points and 12 rebounds for the Titans and had a season-high 31 points in a Jan. 21 win over Bethel.
Beamer also has a group of very talented newcomers, led by junior Juwan Flowers. The 6-foot guard showed what he could do in the Titans' opening game of the season Tuesday night when he poured in 31 points against Jefferson. Sophomore Lucious Brown finished with 13 points during the opener.
"This year our strength should be defense," Bell said.
It looks like the class of the SPSL South will again be the defending champion Curtis Vikings, who lost in the Class 4A title game last year. Federal Way is also very talented and you can never count out programs like Puyallup and Rogers.
The Eagles got a rude awakening during their opening two games of the season in Vancouver earlier this week. Federal Way was beaten up by Evergreen and Union on back-to-back nights.
But both of the teams are rated in the top-10 during the early season and feature two of the better players in the state in Caleb Dressler and Jordan Chatman. The Eagles are also an extremely young and inexperienced team led by longtime coach Jerome Collins.
Federal Way features only one senior on its entire roster, Tanner Post, and have a total of nine freshmen and sophomores.
The Eagles should improve on last year's 14-10 record that ended at the West Central District Tournament. It was the first time in five seasons that Federal Way hadn't qualified for the state tournament.
The Eagles will be led by sophomore point guard DeeShawn Tucker and sophomore transfer Brayon Blake. Tucker started last season as a freshman for the Eagles, while the 6-foot-5 Blake led Cleveland in scoring at 14.8 points a game last season as a freshman. Blake is averaging 13.5 points during the Eagles' first two games.
Federal Way also brings back Deonte Anderson (4.4 points last year), D'Londo Tucker (3.6) and Rashawn Goosby-Fields (1.9).
The Eagles will also get contributions from sophomores D'Andre Daniels, Anthony Rogers and Marcel Hale, along with ultra-talented freshmen Malik Montoya, Vionte Daniels and Vincent Pierce.