ARLINGTON — After a fifth-place finish at last year’s 4A state tournament, the question surrounding the Arlington boys basketball team entering the 2013-14 season was how would it respond playing without star Terry Dawn.
After 23 games, the Eagles have answered that question loudly and clearly. Arlington won 20 of those 23 games and faces Kentridge tonight in a state-regional game at Kent-Meridian High School with the winner advancing to the Tacoma Dome for the state quarterfinals.
Dawn was one of the state’s most dangerous scorers, but his teammates that remained have picked up the slack. Seniors Kaleb Bryson, Noah Jones and Bradey Brummel have all been looked to at one time or another for a big basket with a game hanging in the balance.
The process of learning how to deal with losing such a great player began in the summer and was reiterated by head coach Nick Brown in November when the school-season began.
“I told them our first practice, ‘We’re missing 25 points per game,’” Brown said.
While many outsiders might have thought the Eagles would struggle without Dawn, it never showed on the court and the reason is simple: they didn’t have a choice.
“We knew we had to because Terry was graduating,” Bryson said. “We knew we had to step up and be ready.”
And they have been — all season.
“We miss Terry,” Brown said. “Terry was phenomenal and we love Terry, but these guys said it was time to move on and here we are.”
It’s not like the Eagles learned how to survive without Dawn overnight, there were growing pains along the way. The biggest challenge was figuring out which player the ball needed to go to in the big moments.
“It’s one of our strengths and one of our weaknesses that we don’t have that clear go-to kid this year,” Brown said. “I think for us sometimes it’s a little confusing about where we’re going to go and I think for defenses it’s confusing.”
Just like his players had to adjust, so did Brown. He came up with a new strategy when, one that wasn’t normal for a coach who traditionally always likes to be in control
“I will look at two things,” Brown said. “I will look at what’s been happening in the game, but I will also ask them.”
Involving his players in big decisions like that has paid off. Many times they know just who should get the ball and they aren’t afraid to give Brown their opinion.
While many wondered what the Eagles would be without Dawn, Dawn never had a doubt.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Dawn said. “I’m still in contact with all the guys and not one bit of it surprises me because I knew they were fully capable of doing this. It’s just like last year, it was nice for me to be on the team, but they didn’t need me per se. They were fully capable of doing everything themselves and they’ve been playing together for a long time and they would have been just fine.”
Arlington’s group of seniors started together in fourth grade and when they got to high school that experience immediately started to pay off. As freshmen they didn’t lose a game. As sophomore they lost just one. And everyone has seen what they’ve done the past two seasons on varsity. In their high-school careers, these seniors have lost less than 10 games.
“People don’t realize that,” Brown said. “That’s pretty impressive.”
Another reason for the Eagles sustained success is the experience they have gained over the past two seasons. Dating back to the beginning of last season, Arlington has lost eight games. Five of those losses have come to Wesco-rival Jackson. Two of the others have been to Garfield, which beat Arlington to place third at last year’s state tournament, and Stanwood. The Spartans, who at 22-1 are the No. 2 ranked 3A team in the state, topped the Eagles in the fourth game of this year’s regular season.
Basically, the Eagles seldom lose — and if they do, it takes one of the best teams in the state to pull it off.
The conclusion isn’t hard to draw. In the past two seasons, the Eagles have become one of the best teams in the state themselves.
“We really feel that Jackson is probably the best team in the state,” Brown said. “You have Garfield and you have Jackson. Yeah, (Jackson) got us, but we’re playing with them. We’re still in the gym, we didn’t get destroyed. We got beat handily, there’s no question, but we feel that we can play the best team in the state. We just feel like we belong in the mix. I don’t know where in the mix, but we belong in the mix.”
The Eagles will go a long way toward answering that question tonight. Kentridge, the Eagles’ regional opponent, comes into the game with a record of 26-1.
“We all realize 26 wins is 26 wins,” Brown said. “There is no question we have great respect for them and we know they’re going to be good.
Playing Jackson five times in the past two seasons certainly has helped prepare the Eagles for Kentridge and the challenges to come should they advance to the Tacoma Dome, but the fact remains the Eagles have yet to find a way to beat the Timberwolves which may be why some are hesitant to mention the Eagles among the state’s truly elite.
In the five meetings between the two teams, Jackson has won each meeting between the two teams by at least 14 points.
“I take a lot of it on myself as a coach,” Brown said. “They’re big kids and they’re strong kids and they’ve got our number. I’m trying to find ways to get them and I just haven’t been able to. My hat goes off to them. Not many other (teams) have been able to figure it out either.
“I’m ready for (Dan) Kingma and (Jason) Todd to graduate,” Brown added with a laugh. They’re great kids and they’re good players and it’s hard to stop them.”
Before the Eagles can even think about getting another shot at Jackson, they first have to get by Kentridge tonight and punch their ticket to Tacoma.
“We want a spot and we feel like we deserve it and we’re going to go try and get it,” Brown said.
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When: Today, 8 p.m.
Where: Kent-Meridian H.S.
Records: Arlington 20-3; Kentridge 24-1
AP rank: Arlington 5th; Kentridge 4th
Scoreczar rank: Arlington 9th; Kentridge 6th
Key wins: Arlington—Union, Edmonds-Woodway (twice); Kentridge—Wilsonville (Ore.), Columbia River, South Kitsap, Todd Beamer, Bellarmine Prep.
How they got to regionals: Arlington lost to Jackson in the District 1 championship game to earn the District 1 No. 2 seed; Kentridge lost to Todd Beamer in the championship game to earn the District 3/4 No. 2 seed.
Players to watch: Arlington—Noah Jones, P; Kaleb Bryson, G; Bradey Brummel, G; Kentridge—Jawan Stepney, G; Keasean Kelly, G; Danny Torlai, F; Joe Wainhouse, P; Christoph Adams, F; Deon Thomas, G.
Breakdown: First off, Arlington must contain Kentridge’s Stepney, who dropped 40 points on Tahoma earlier this season and was named the South Puget Sound League North MVP. The 6-foot-3 is a playmaker that can score from all areas of the court and helped the Chargers get off to a 24-0 start this season. But it wasn’t all Stepney. A trio of big men, Wainhouse, Adams and Hussayn Ford, all 6-foot-4 and above, have helped control the paint for Kentridge and guard Kelly has been the jab to Stepney’s uppercut. The Eagles aren’t as deep as Kentridge and they only have one player over 6-foot-4. But Arlington prides itself on its tough-as-nails defense, which is spearheaded by guard Bradey Brummel. If the Eagles’ defense can slow down Kentridge and Noah Jones can be counted on to score from inside, Arlington has a shot to return to Tacoma.
Prediction: Kentridge, 65-62