Sports

Collins is the heart and soul of Eagle basketball

My wanderings through the Tacoma Dome during the Class 4A state basketball championships taught me one thing: Jerome Collins and Federal Way boys basketball are one and the same.

The longtime Eagles head coach is hard to miss. Collins is well-known around the state for being a snappy dresser on the sidelines. His outfits last week included a bright gold suit accented with a black vest during Wednesday’s opening round and a striped, rust-colored number Thursday. Both without a single wrinkle to be found.

But, Collins’ eye for fashion isn’t what keeps the Federal Way boys’ program at, or near, the top year in and year out. It is his ability to blend a group of boys into a team that plays the game with confidence, even when not much is expected of them. The Eagles tipped off last week in their 11th state tournament in the school’s history and seventh under Collins.

This year’s team is a prime example of the type of program Collins has created at Federal Way. The 2002-03 edition of the Eagles didn’t have the marquee talent like past groups (Donny Marshall, Michael Dickerson, Jeremy Sloane), but what they lacked talent-wise, they made up for with tenacity and an unwillingness to give up. An attitude that comes from the top.

For example, Federal Way was a perfect 9-0 in loser-out games –– excluding their two losses ending their runs at the state tournaments –– the last two years.

“The kids have really done a great job,” Collins said. “We have been really blessed to come out of those games. The thing about those games is they are not really nerve-racking at all. We just focus on what needs to be done. The results will take care of themselves.”

Collins is very proud of the legacy of winning he has created within the Eagles’ program, and rightfully so. He is also proud of the intimate atmosphere surrounding Federal Way boys basketball.

“We are just one big family,” said Collins.

Several former players could be seen in the stands at both the West Central District tournament and Class 4A state championships the past two weeks.

“They all stay in touch,” Collins said. “They all come back and see us from time to time.”

Building a “one-big-family” mentality is pretty much the goal of every high school basketball coach. That means you have established a tradition and been in one place for a number of years, which is rare in today’s world.

Coaching changes at the high school level are just a fact of life. Teachers, who make up a bulk of the coaches, change school districts often for higher-paying district jobs, new coaching opportunities, to go back to school, or they just become tired of dealing with the ever-present overbearing parent.

Coach Mike Grady and the Jefferson girls basketball program are on their way to establishing what Collins and the Eagles already have. Grady has been at the helm of the Raiders for six seasons now and just led his team to their second-straight appearance at the Class 4A tournament –– which happen to be the only two trips to state in Jefferson’s history.

But now the real work starts for Grady and the Raiders. He will be losing six players off this year’s roster to graduation, including Chelsea Hunt, Kezia Long, Kim Brown, Ashley Marolf, Erin Grady and Kristin Woller.

It is something that is familiar to Grady, however. This year’s team included only one returning starter from the 2002 state-tournament team –– Hunt.

“We weren’t expected to be anywhere this year,” said Grady.

That attitude should continue into next basketball season. He will have to depend on underclassmen and junior varsity players to keep his program as one of the schools fighting for a state tournament appearance every season –– like the Federal Way boys.

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