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2009-10 Boys Basketball Preview: Federal Way looking for a repeat; Beamer, Decatur and TJ also strong
Even after winning the program’s first-ever Class 4A state championship and losing three starters, the Federal Way Eagles are searching for more.
The Eagles enter the 2009-10 boys basketball season as the favorites to repeat. Federal Way is ranked first in every major preseason poll in the state and debuted in the No. 45 spot in ESPN’s national rankings last month. All the praise comes after the Eagles also won the South Puget Sound League championship and the West Central District title before beating the Garfield Bulldogs in the state championship game inside the Tacoma Dome.
Leading the way for an Eagle repeat will be seniors Cole Dickerson and Isiah Umipig. The pair has already signed national letters of intent to play Division I basketball next year. Dickerson, a 6-foot-6 forward, inked with the University of San Francisco and Umipig, a 6-foot guard, will play at Cal State Fullerton.
Dickerson was the most consistent player for Federal Way last year. He led the Eagles in scoring at 17.5 points a game, finished in double figures in 28 of Federal Way’s 30 games and also led the Eagles in rebounding at 8.21 a game.
During Federal Way’s postseason run, Dickerson was named to the Class 4A state All-Tournament Team after averaging 17 points in four victories in Tacoma.
Umipig led all scorers during the Eagles’ win over the Garfield Bulldogs in the state title game inside the Tacoma Dome last season, finishing with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting. During the state tournament, Umipig averaged 8.5 points a game, despite not being 100 percent healthy.
Umipig played only 13 games during the regular season last year after suffering an ankle injury during the fall, and was just rounding into game shape at the state tournament.
Also back are wings Robert Christopher, who started a lot of the season and averaged five points, and George Williams, who chipped in 2.4 points a game. Also helping will be the addition of newcomer Tyrell Lewis, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Mount Rainier High School. At Mount Rainier, Lewis averaged 11 points a game as a junior last season.
The SPSL North will again be arguably the state’s toughest and deepest division in the state. Last year, Federal Way not only won the state title, but the Kentridge Chargers finished in third place.
Surprisingly, Kentwood, despite the presence of big man Josh Smith, failed to make it to state last year. The Conquerors missed state by one game, falling to Kentridge at the West Central District Tournament. The Chargers graduated three starters, but junior Gary Bell is one of the state’s best all-around players.
Kentwood was the only team to beat both Federal Way and Kentridge last year. While the league graduated a handful of top-tier players, the bulk of talent that made it so good a year ago remains.
Smith, the league’s two-time MVP and UCLA-bound senior, will again dominate the paint. He averaged 24.1 points and 14.5 rebounds per game last year.
The Eagles begin defense of their SPSL North, West Central District and state title Dec. 4 at Auburn Riverside. Federal Way travels to Kentwood Dec. 8 to take on Smith and the Conquerors.
The Eagles will also play in the 2010 King Holiday Hoopfest at the University of Washington on Jan. 18 when they take on Oregon state champion Jefferson from Portland at 6 p.m.
The Titans burst on the high school basketball scene during the 2008-09 postseason. After finishing fifth in the nine-team South Puget Sound League South Division during the regular season, the Titans rolled to three straight wins at the West Central District Tournament over perennial powerhouses Bellarmine Prep, Mount Tahoma and Auburn to qualify for the program’s first-ever state tournament.
The inexperienced Titans went on to lose two straight inside the Tacoma Dome to Walla Walla and Redmond. But head coach Brent Brilhante returns all the main cogs from last season, including 6-foot-8 Kevin Davis.
Davis was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the West Central District and returns as one of the most talented players in the state. Last season, Davis was a monster for the Titans. He was a triple-double threat every time he stepped on the court and finished the year with four of them.
Davis led the SPSL South in rebounding by averaging 15.3 a game and also was tops in the league in blocked shots (4.1 a game), all while scoring 16.3 points every night.
Davis was also recognized around the state as one of the best dunkers.
But Davis is far from the only returner for the Titans. Also back are guards Napa Mefi, Vladi Aficiuc, Max Aficiuc, Anthony Moore and Mac Gridley.
During his sophomore season, Mefi averaged 15.1 points a game and carried Beamer during the West Central District Tournament. The 6-foot guard tallied 28 points against Bellarmine to clinch the state berth. Vladi Aficiuc was also impressive last year. The senior point guard averaged 11.4 points a game.
The Titans also added Spanaway Lake transfer Terelle Loggins over the summer. The senior guard led the SPSL South in scoring a year ago at 20.7 points a game, including two 30-plus point games. Also new to the program are guard Lorenzo Holcomb and sophomore wing Thomas Rhodes.
But the Titans also have something else this year that they didn’t have a season ago — expectations. Beamer is ranked as high as third in the state in some preseason polls and is a favorite to win the rugged SPSL South despite finishing fifth last year.
“For this team to be successful, we need to build team chemistry and keep each other accountable on and off the court,” Brilhante said. “And be willing to set lofty goals and be willing to put in the work to achieve them.”
Beamer opens up the SPSL South season on Dec. 4 at home against Emerald Ridge. The Titans take on Curtis Dec. 10 and don’t play Decatur until Jan. 12 in the first of their two battles this season.
The Gators and head coach Kevin Olson have developed one of the best basketball programs in the state. Decatur has played in the last three Class 4A state tournaments and finished in first place in their division the last two seasons.
Last year, the Gators rolled to the SPSL South Division title before losing two straight games at the state tournament in Tacoma. Decatur finished 21-6 on the season.
The tradition should continue during the 2009-10 season. The Gators return three talented starters from a season ago in Jerron Smith, Jordan McCloud and Terrell Williams. The threesome’s talents should make up for the loss of Marcus Tibbs and Cam Schilling. Both Tibbs and Schilling are currently playing college basketball after stellar careers at Decatur. Tibbs is playing at Bellevue Community College and Schilling is suiting up at Pacific Lutheran.
The 6-foot-3 Smith was a silky-smooth scorer for the Gators all season long. The junior averaged 15.7 points a game and was a first-team, All-SPSL South selection. Smith scored in double figures in all but three games, including a season-high of 28. He also averaged four rebounds a game.
McCloud had a breakout season last year for the Gators. The 6-foot-6 senior averaged 13.6 points and nine rebounds and will play college basketball next year.
Williams took over the point guard duties a season ago and had a solid sophomore campaign for Decatur. The 5-11 Williams averaged 5.6 points and 2.4 assists.
“We have experienced players who are used to winning,” Olson said. “We have multiple scoring threats and good size and length.”
Olson will also count on newcomers Robert Oliver, Federal Way High School transfer J.T. Koontz and Life Christian transfer Dom Samuels.
Decatur should battle with cross-town rival Beamer for the top spot in the SPSL South Division. The Gators beat the Titans both times they played last season. Curtis and Puyallup should also have solid teams.
The Gators open their SPSL South season Dec. 4 on the road against Spanaway Lake.
First-year head coach Kyle Templeton is hoping to do something that hasn’t been done at Jefferson since 1985 — play in the postseason. The former Decatur assistant and TJ grad has a team that has the ability to compete for one of the SPSL North’s five berths into the West Central District Tournament. The Raiders just have to prove it on the court in the best basketball league in the state.
“Since our league is pretty top heavy, we need to beat the teams we are supposed to beat and try to steal one or two from the upper echelon,” Templeton said.
Federal Way, Kentwood and Kentridge seem to be the cream of the crop in the North Division, but TJ falls into the second tier, along with teams like Auburn, Auburn Riverside, Kentlake and Tahoma. Jefferson finished sixth in the SPSL North a season ago with a 6-10 record in league play.
Offensively, the Raiders will be counting on their ability to light it up from behind the 3-point line. Jefferson has several players who can make the long-range shot.
“I bet if you polled the other coaches in the league, they would say that we are far and away the best shooting team in the league,” Templeton said. “But we have very little ability to create shots off the dribble. We need to shoot the ball well to have a successful season. I think that we will knock someone off who is better than us because of our ability to shoot the three.”
Templeton has some high praise for the shooting ability of senior guard Jeff Brigham. The 6-foot-1 Brigham recently signed a national letter of intent to pitch next season at the University of Washington and is playing on varsity for the first time in his career. Last year, Brigham played the entire season on the TJ junior varsity. The senior make eight 3-pointers and poured in 30 points in the Raiders' upset win over Beamer Monday night.
“He is the best high school shooter that I have ever been around,” Templeton said.
Leading the list of returners are four seniors who saw significant playing time a season ago. Guard Justin Lanier is the Raiders’ leading returning scorer at 6.4 points a game. Also back are 6-7 Spencer Hicks (2.5 points a game), 6-5 Eric Radford (4.6 points) and 5-10 Scott Sanford (4.2 points). Newcomers Jeff Baklund and Danny Shin should also provide some depth for the Raiders.
Templeton sees TJ’s biggest weaknesses as being the team’s general lack of athleticism and the ability to handle defensive pressure, which they will see plenty of in the loaded SPSL North.
“Ball handling is our biggest weakness,” he said. “We will combat that by having two forwards (Radford and Baklund) help us relieve pressure. We don’t have guys who can jump out of the gym, so we need to be tougher and smarter on the glass than our opponents.”
The Raiders play a non-league game Dec. 2 at home against Stadium and kick off their SPSL North year Dec. 4 at Auburn.