Jason Todd thought it was a joke.
When a teammate ran up to him at lunch to inform him he had just been named the top high school basketball player in the state, Todd just laughed.
It turns out it was no joke. Todd, The Herald’s All-Area boys basketball player of the year, was named the 2012-13 Gatorade Washington Boys Basketball Player of the Year Thursday morning.
“I came into lunch and sure enough (Timberwolves teammate) Dan (Kingma) told me,” Todd said. “He just came up and gave me a hug and said, ‘Congrats bro.’ Throughout the day I got a lot of love from teammates and friends that knew. I’m just trying to soak it in. … I was kind of shocked. I thought it was a joke. I was like, ‘Let’s be honest.’”
The award, which according to the press release “recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character,” is determined by a media advisory board.
“State player of the year is a pretty big honor,” said Jackson head coach Steve Johnson. “… To be recognized by a legitimate body of the state player of the year for all classifications is pretty big.”
Todd averaged 21.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 steals during his junior season, while helping lead Jackson to a 26-1 record and a berth in the 4A state championship game, where the Timberwolves lost in a 60-56 thriller to Curtis. The 6-foot-5 guard/forward severely injured his ankle in the game, but continued to play and help Jackson erase a 12-point deficit.
Off the court Todd, whose ankle is still in a walking boot, has a 3.60 grade point average and serves as a youth basketball instructor.
“Jason Todd is a true definition of a student athlete with exemplary character,” said Cory West, the Kamiak head coach in the press release. “What impresses me the most is his ability to play all five positions at the high-school level. He can run the point comfortably, he has worked in the offseason to develop a better outside shot that he can hit consistently in order to play the two or three spot and he can play on the block because he is so strong and finishes under the basket. … He is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams at the high-school level.”
Past winners of the award include Union’s Jordan Chatman (2011-12), Gary Bell Jr. (2010-11, Kentridge), Abdul Gaddy of Bellarmine Prep (2007-08), Spencer Hawes (Seattle Prep in 2005-06) and Snohomish’s Jon Brockman in 2004-05.
“If you take a look at the list of guys that are on the list for the state of Washington … it’s a pretty good list to be a part of,” Johnson said.
One of those past award winners is a strong source of inspiration for Todd.
“It’s a true honor. There’s nothing more you can say,” Todd said. “Those guys are class acts. What they did, not only in high school and college, but the pros too. They’re guys we look up to. Especially Brockman. He’s a guy I model my game after. He works so hard and is always in there battling under the boards, doing the dirty work.”
Todd is the first Jackson basketball player to win Gatorade Washington Player of the Year honors. The Timberwolves’ Travis Snider won the award for baseball in 2006.
Johnson said Todd was a great choice for the award. He was even more impressed the Jackson junior beat out others in a strong field of athletes that included Bothell’s Zach LaVine, Tucker Haymond of Garfield and Seattle Prep’s DJ Fenner.
“I think he’s deserving,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of great players and a lot of great seniors. Given their criteria — basketball, community service and the academic element in there – he’s a great choice. There were some great seniors in Levine and DJ Fenner and the guy from Garfield (Haymond). There are a lot of great players.”
Todd was incredibly surprised he won. He found out he was nominated one night while talking to his father and thought that perhaps the Gatorade Player of the Year award could be a personal goal for next season.
It turns out Todd’s ahead of schedule.
“Just being nominated with this group was a shock to me,” Todd said. “My dad mentioned it one night and I was like, ‘OK. That’s pretty cool.’ I thought it would be a good goal for next year.”
Johnson and Todd agreed that individual awards also demonstrated team success. Johnson said that recognition of a member of the Timberwolves shows how hard the whole team worked this past season.
“I’m happy for him and I’m happy for the program,” Johnson said. “… I’m also happy for the team. A lot of those individual awards do reflect the prominence of the team.”
And Todd was quick to dole out praise to his teammates, without whom he said the award wouldn’t be possible.
“It really is an honoring thing and I’m blessed to be a part of it,” Todd said. “But none of this happens without my teammates.”
Johnson isn’t worried about how Todd is going to top his junior season next year. He’s excited to see what a determined, focused Todd can help Jackson accomplish in his final year as a Timberwolf.
“I’m not worried about a (drop off),” Johnson said. “I think he’s a pretty driven, focused humble guy. He’s hard-working kid who deserves a lot of credit.”
As for Todd, he only sees one way to exceed his junior campaign.
“There’s only one way to top it,” Todd said. “That’s to bring a state championship to Jackson. That was our goal this year. We weren’t quite able to do it, but that’s our goal next year.”