When the Decatur Gator and Federal Way High School Eagles boys basketball teams face off Friday evening, the game will not only earn the winner bragging rights, it will also help prepare both squads as they move further into the season.
North Puget Sound League play began this week for both teams, although the start went a lot smoother for the Eagles (2-0) as they trounced Auburn Riverside 100-50 in a lopsided victory Wednesday night, whereas the Gators (2-3) lost to an aggressive Auburn Trojan team 86-63.
Eagle coach Jerome Collins said his players have goals for their season, and it starts with focusing on the next game, the next practice, as they come.
“That’s our motto for every day. We just want to improve and get better,” he said.
The Eagles return three strong players in Jaden McDaniels, Etan Collins and Jalen Womack, who are leading the younger players who have moved up from junior varsity.
“It’s an interesting group,” Collins said. “I love their work ethic.”
He said the squad has worked hard this past spring and summer, and with their conditioning and weight lifting in the fall, they have potential.
“I like our chemistry, our unity and camaraderie as a team, and we want to continue focusing on those components,” Collins said. “Obviously we want to be playing our best basketball at the right time of the season, and we’re pushing toward that.”
Ultimately, the team would like to make a state run after missing out on a third consecutive 4A title last year, although Collins said state is meaningless at this point so early in the season.
His team has also had fewer tests than the Gators. They used up four of their non-league game opportunities with a tournament scheduled in Arizona over winter break. That’s why the games this week are so important for the team fundamentally.
In contrast, the past five games have been valuable for Decatur and new coach Jeffery Forbes, although Wednesday’s loss served as a tough lesson for the Gators, who stumbled in the first half but made a respectable comeback in the second. At one point, they trailed the Trojans by 30 points but rallied to narrow but not close the gap.
Forbes said after the game, to beat the Eagles, his team will have to come out strong and maintain that energy through all four quarters.
“We’ve got to play more physically, and we’ve got to play better defense,” he said.
Forbes said his players have shined at moments in previous games like their win over Mount Vernon Dec. 1. Overall, however, without four quarters of energy and a strong defense, his team will suffer.
“We’ve got to bring it,” Forbes said, adding the Gators can’t miss assignments and need to do a better job of boxing out opponents and limiting their opportunities to shoot.
Most importantly, they have to work together on the court.
“We’ve got to be able to play the game together and play as a team,” he said.
Forbes said, win or lose, he just wants his team to keep learning.
“I’m OK with the mistakes as long as they learn from them,” he said.
The Gators will take on the Eagles at 7 p.m. Friday at Decatur.