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BOYS BASKETBALL: Jefferson senior trio leads Raiders into uncharted waters
The city of Federal Way is synonymous with high school boys basketball. However, Thomas Jefferson High School is not.
The Raiders’ program has been the bottom feeder of the South Puget Sound League for decades, while the other Federal Way schools have been playing at state tournament after state tournament. On the other hand, Jefferson has never officially qualified for state during the 45-year history of the school.
This year’s edition of the Raiders are closer than they have been in a long, long time. Jefferson is one of only 16 boys basketball teams still standing. The Raiders take on the Curtis Vikings at the Regional Tournament Saturday night with a berth to the 2013 Class 4A Boys Basketball Hardwood Classic inside the Tacoma Dome on the line. The winner-to-state, loser-out game will take place 6 p.m. at Puyallup High School.
“This is a pretty historic year,” said head coach Kyle Templeton, a star guard at TJ during the mid-1990s.
The history, or non-history, of the TJ basketball program is plastered on the walls inside the school’s gym, which are lined, top to bottom, with maroon and gold banners. Every South Puget Sound League, district and state championship is honored on all four sides of the gym.
In the darkest corner of the gym, hangs just three banners won by the boys basketball program, with the most recent coming during the 1974-75 season.
This year, the Raiders are being led by a trio of seniors who have stuck with the program through the thin times. Daryon James, Danny Park and Tyshawn Webster-Piper are hoping their final game in a TJ uniform comes inside the Tacoma Dome.
“I always thought that we should make it,” Webster-Piper said. “And everything that I thought might happen, is happening.”
“It’s been lots of fun,” James said. “Every game we get great support from the teachers and everybody else. It’s been a great year.”
The Raiders finished in a tie for second-place during the SPSL North regular season, before winning two-straight, loser-out games at districts to qualify for Regionals.
“We just have developed a sense of urgency,” Park said. “We know that we can do it.”
James has been the best of the bunch for Templeton and TJ this season. The 6-foot-1 guard was a first-team, All-SPSL North Division selection after averaging 18.5 points. James has been in double figures in all but two games this season and averaged 24 points during the Raiders’ seventh-place run through the West Central/Southwest District Tournament.
Park is third on the team at 10.0 points a game and was the Raiders’ go-to guy down the stretch in games. Webster-Piper is a relentless rebounder and defender, who provided four points a game.
“We came in with a lot of confidence,” Webster-Piper said. “It was easy knowing we’ve been together forever.”
The trio of seniors have played basketball together since their days as sixth-graders at Kilo Middle School and have talked about taking TJ to the state tournament since stepping on the court.
“I think about it every minute that passes,” James said. “It would be a big step for TJ and huge for the school.”
Another huge difference this season is the addition of junior Deonte Anderson. The 6-foot-6 forward, who transferred from Federal Way, is second on the team in scoring (12.7 points).
“It was huge getting Deonte,” James said. “He really filled a spot that we needed.”
The Raiders’ Regional game against fifth-ranked Curtis tips off at 6 p.m. Saturday at Puyallup. The Vikings romped to the West Central/Southwest District championship after winning the SPSL South regular-season title.
“We know a lot about Curtis, which is scary,” Templeton said. “They are very good. Physical, tough, aggressive, deep, talented, athletic, all those things. They are playing as well as anyone right now. They just demolished Bellarmine.”
According to Templeton, it all starts on the defensive end of the court. When TJ wins games, they play solid defense.
“We have been up and down all year on that end of the floor,” he said. “We have to be consistently good Saturday. They are tough on the block and we have to match their intensity.”
On the offensive end, the Raiders just need to shoot the ball better from outside, plain and simple. The normally solid outside shooting team has been in a slump lately from beyond the 3-point line. But, it has been a good sign they have been able to win ugly, despite not shooting extremely well from the field.
“We also need to handle their pressure and convert when we have opportunities,” Templeton said. “That means playing through contact and finishing over bigger guys.”
That shouldn’t be a problem this season. The upstart Jefferson program, led by James, Park and Webster-Piper, have been finishing over bigger schools all year long. Why would this weekend be any different?