By Casey Olson, Mirror sports editor
I’m going to ask a rhetorical question, so please bear with me.
Are there more freshmen making impacts in high school basketball than in years past?
The answer is a resounding, “Yes.” And, like a true rhetorical question, I asked it just so I could tell you the answer. After all, that’s kind of the point of a rhetorical question, right?
It used to be the rarest of rare occasions when a sophomore would crack the starting lineup on the varsity basketball team. Nowadays, a sophomore is considered a grizzled, old veteran, especially in Federal Way.
Take the Federal Way High School girls basketball team, which currently sits in second place in the South Puget Sound League North Division. The Eagles are currently starting three freshmen and have a fourth ninth-grader on the roster.
Take the Decatur Gators boys, who have been ranked as high as second in the state, and currently lead the rugged SPSL North Division. Freshman Jerron Smith has started every game for the Gators and is averaging nearly nine points. In his first game as a high school player, the 6-foot-3 Smith scored a team-high 22 points and has been in double figures five times. Fellow freshman Terrell Williams, a 5-10 guard, is also getting some playing time.
And over at Beamer, freshman guard Napa Mefi is averaging six points a game for the Titans. Included in the production was 16 points against Curtis and 17 in a big win over Spanaway Lake on Jan. 11.
Not too shabby for 14 and 15 year olds. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I was even sporting any arm-pit hair as a ninth grader, let alone ready to play hoops in the South Puget Sound League.
So why are so many freshmen making such impacts on the basketball court?
There are a number of factors that have led to ninth-graders ascending into solid players right out of the shoot.
Obviously, the biggest no-brainer that is enabling freshman in Federal Way to make such immediate impacts on varsity rosters is the fact that ninth-graders are now part of the student body.
Like most other school districts around the state, Federal Way has done away with the junior high system, which had seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders attending one school. The district now employs the 6-7-8 middle-school model. This means freshmen can now turn out for sports that they couldn’t do before.
However, no one will argue the fact that they current freshmen basketball players are just flat-out better than kids were a decade ago.
Back in the 90s, this sort of thing would have been extremely rare. A freshman on varsity was all but unheard of. But now there’s so much competition out there that basketball players are taking it to another level, as far as work ethic and wanting to be great goes.
And when they enter high school, they have played a lot more basketball than in years past. The rise of the AAU programs across the nation and, especially, in the Puget Sound area, has athletes playing basketball year-round.
This is the increasingly influential traveling-team circuit, where squads of teenagers spend the spring and summer rolling across the United States to play tournaments against the best talent the country has to offer. At these events the competition, especially between elite players, is intense.
Another factor is the ever-increasing number of high school kids specializing in one sport and that seems to be more a trend in basketball.
Specialization is the result of increased competition for playing time and athletic scholarships. Parents and coaches often encourage this practice, thinking it will lead to future athletic success.
But, whatever the factors are, the young basketball players in Federal Way are fun to watch and will be for three more years.
Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, email@example.com