After a lopsided home-court loss Thursday night, Auburn discovered two things this early in the boys basketball season.
Heralded Federal Way, the 4A state runner-up a season ago, and its national five-star recruit, Jaden McDaniels, are as good as advertised.
And Auburn – a young, never-quit group that vows to make a playoff run – has plenty of work to do.
“We got a taste of what high-level basketball looks like and what we are hoping to get to some day,” said coach Ryan Hansen, following the Trojans’ 99-59 loss to the Eagles in a North Puget Sound League Olympic Division game at Bob Jones Gymnasium. “We do have a young roster with one senior. With our young roster, we’re going to continue to get better as the season progresses, with the more experience these guys get.
“And that’s the idea: come February, March, you’re playing your best basketball.”
The Eagles, for now, are playing good basketball.
McDaniels, an explosive 6-foot-11 senior forward courted by several major colleges including Washington, scored 41 points to fuel the runaway win.
Federal Way, ranked 20th nationally in the latest Xcellent 25-MaxPreps Writers’ Poll, improved to 3-0. The Eagles are scheduled to play Lawrence Woodmere Academy (N.Y.) on Sunday in the inaugural Battle in the Apple Showcase at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Isaiah Dunn, a 6-5 senior, led Auburn (1-1 division, 3-1) with 23 points.
True to its nature, Federal Way used full-court pressure to force turnovers that fed a counterattack, opening an 18-point lead late in the first half. The Trojans closed to within nine points, but McDaniels and Jalen Womack stuck back-to-back 3-pointers to restore the Eagles’ lead to 46-31 at the break.
“We came out a little shell shocked, I thought, for the first four or five minutes of the game,” Hansen said. “We settled in pretty well, made a run … then they hit those two 3s and pushed it back up.
“I’m proud of the guys in the way they competed. They never gave up and played hard.”
Federal Way went on a 15-3 run to open the third quarter and put the game out of reach.
Even in victory, coach Yattah Reed saw some flaws.
“I didn’t like our defense,” Reed said. “Tonight we had some careless turnovers. But the thing I liked about it is they responded to what I was telling them to do. We’re an unselfish team, but we have some stuff to work on … on the defensive end of the floor.”
McDaniels was spectacular at times, scoring on jumpers, drives and breakaway jams. He also had five blocked shots. He sat out the last seven minutes of the game.
“He’s a special player,” Hansen said. “You don’t see a player like him come around very often. The last player that I saw play with that ability was Marvin Williams at Bremerton.”
Williams, a two-time Associated Press Washington Player of the Year, went on to play one season at North Carolina in 2004-05, helping the Tar Heels capture the NCAA championship. A Charlotte Hornet, Williams is in his 14th NBA season.
As one of the nation’s most coveted players in the class of 2019, McDaniels has a chance to do big things this season.
“Everybody sees his skills. They come to see him play, but he’s something more than that. He’s a great kid,” Reed said. “It’s his humility. He’s very, very humble, and to see him grow, not just his game but as an individual and a leader, is what I think makes him dynamite.”
Dunn and others tried to slow down McDaniels.
“Nobody is around his height, so … nobody else can do anything with him,” Dunn said. “I’ll give him props. He did good.”
For Federal Way, 6-9 Tari Eason scored 16 points, and Womack and Jaylen-Wes Williams each had 11.
For Auburn, 6-3 freshman Kaden Lewis came off the bench to scored 12 points, 5-9 freshman guard Dae’Kwon Watson had 11, and 6-3 sophomore guard Amar Rivers finished with eight.
The Trojans have six freshmen and four sophomores on the roster. They lost standout playmaker Pa’Treon “Joosey” Lee to graduation. Lee is playing at Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho).
Auburn has room to grow.
“We’re just a team that will go out, play hard and just fight for every shot … just come out intense and work for everything,” Dunn said.
“It’s different (this season), but we have a lot more team chemistry and a lot more guys willing to sacrifice everything.”