By David Krueger Herald Writer
This year’s Jackson squad has a lot of familiar names for Timberwolves basketball fans, and it’s not just because Jackson only graduated four seniors last year.
A family pipeline — or, rather, five families — has helped lead the Jackson boys team to sustained success. Five current Timberwolves had older brothers play at Jackson High School, and lead the Timberwolves to success in the past, while giving their younger brothers something to aspire to as they head to the state tournament this week in Tacoma.
“It is kind of cool. Now that I think about it that is kind of crazy to have five guys on the roster with older brothers (that played at Jackson),” said Timberwolves’ head coach Steve Johnson. “I think the main thing is it just makes the connections that much deeper. The pride and the tradition is passed on even more so.”
Johnson, who came to Jackson 11 years ago from Woodinville, has led Jackson to three straight district titles and four consecutive appearances in the 4A state tournament. A big part of the reason for the Timberwolves’ success comes from five families: the Todds, Waites, Graffs, Kingmas and Ozunas.
To listen to Jackson coach Steve Johnson and players Jason Todd and Dan Kingma talk about the upcoming state tournament, click here.
“The five sets of brothers we have right now, the parents are all incredibly supportive and do a lot for the program,” Johnson said. “I’m lucky if you have one kid on the team with parents like (these players’) for one to three years. But here it’s been five or six years.”
It’s not just supplying the team with skilled players. The families have also helped out with vary aspects of the Jackson program, including the booster club and helping out on game days.
“It’s a lot of things,” Johnson said. “Helping the booster club, some parents have coached in the feeder program and helped drive kids to camps. You name it. I could go on and on. But all of those parents have been involved in a variety of little things. But when you add them up they’ve been pretty big.
“All five of those families definitely have been people that have put in time and helped taken the program to another level.”
It’s culminated in a fourth straight trip to the Tacoma Dome for the Timberwolves this season. The five younger brothers — juniors Dan Kingma, Jason Todd, Riley Waite and Jacob Ozuna and senior Kyle Graff — have led Jackson to a 24-0 record, making them the only undefeated 4A team in the state heading to Tacoma.
The Timberwolves hope to improve on last year’s quarterfinals finish, a 66-65 overtime loss to Union. Jackson has one win in its last two trips to the Dome.
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Still, despite their perfect record and No. 3 ranking in the last Associated Press poll of the season, Jackson is staying focused on its quarterfinals game against No. 4 Central Valley.
“We haven’t taken anything lightly,” said Kyle Graff, who is one of two seniors on the Timberwolves’ roster. “We’re not looking past our opponents.”
Added Blake Ozuna: “We’re anxious to get on the court and show everybody what we’ve got.”
All five younger brothers — as well as older brothers Trevor Waite and Andrew Graff — were in Tacoma last year. The younger Waite wants to improve on last year’s finish, in part, to honor his brother.
“It gives me motivation to try and play hard for him,” Riley Waite said. “I want to continue the legacy.”
Jason Todd, one of nine juniors on Jackson’s team, said he talks to his older brother Ryan, who plays for Seattle Pacific University. The elder Todd, along with Dan’s older brother Brett, was a member of the 2010 Jackson team that finished second at state, the school’s best finish.
“I talk to him about that year,” Jason Todd said. “He’s been there. He’s done it. You learn what you can from them.”
All of the older brothers said they talk to their younger brothers regularly. Trevor Waite, who is on hiatus from Brigham Young University, communicates a bit less frequently with Riley now, while on a two-year mission in Mexico.
Ryan Todd, who trained with Jason during the summer, said that he mostly talks to his brother about what to do in specific situations. One situation that comes up a lot: the state tournament.
“We’ve talked about that before. And I think the biggest things we’ve communicated is what an unreal feeling it was to be in that situation,” Todd said. “I think Jason saw. He was there for the games. He saw what a great experience it was for the guys, and what we were able to do and I think he wants that. He saw what we were able to accomplish and wants to make a run deep in the state tournament like we did.”
Andrew Graff, now a freshman at Washington State University, just wants to make sure Kyle gets the most out of his final high school basketball season.
“Since it’s his senior year just leave it all on the court,” Graff said. “Don’t have any regrets. I want them to go all the way this year. Finish off what we started.”
Blake Ozuna’s older brother Jacob and Drew Eisinger, who also had a brother play for Jackson, were on the 2006 Jackson team that was the first team in school history to place at the state tournament. The two talked to the current team before the district championship game against Arlington, looking to motivate the younger Timberwolves by talking about how much fun state was and how you just need to enjoy every moment on the court.
They also tried to rile the team up a little bit.
“There’s always talk between us former players of how the teams would match up,” Jacob Ozuna said. “And I think we kind of kick around that idea for fun, hoping that they use that for motivation. That it gets around to them and they hear that we think we would beat them so that they take that and use it as motivation to place higher than us. This is a golden age for Jackson basketball. It’s all fun and great to talk about, but I think all of us hope they use it to set their own bar and make their own history.”
Jacob Ozuna said that his younger brother swept the floor at the Tacoma Dome between games in 2006.
“I remember the big smile on his face as he was sweeping the court while we were warming up,” Ozuna said.
Johnson said “it will be weird” to not have a younger brother on the roster when they’re all gone. Fortunately for the Timberwolves, he has one more season before he has to worry about that.
“That’s it. These are the oldest brothers,” Johnson said. “There’s no more. They’re all the youngest in the family.”
Brett Kingma, who is currently sitting out the 2012-13 season after transferring to Washington State from Oregon, has kept tabs on the Jackson teams since he graduated, and believes this year’s squad could be the strongest Jackson team yet.
“I think Jackson is under a constant progression, and I think now they have the best team they’ve ever had, being 24-0,” Kingma said. “I think they have all the tools now to do well in state.”
The younger brothers — including Dan Kingma — know they still have a long ways to go to top the Jackson teams of the past.
“He got farther,” Dan said of Brett’s 2010 squad. “I don’t have anything on what he’s done.”
Four of the elder brothers — Todd, Kingma, Ozuna and Graff — all hope that come this weekend, the Jackson team does something none of them could do. Get the first state championship in Timberwolves’ basketball history.
“I would love to see Jason win a state championship. I would certainly be a proud big brother,” Ryan Todd said. “(The 2010 season) was the best finish in school history but there was a good team a few years back. I’m not too concerned holding onto the title of best finish. I think it’d be awesome for Jackson basketball to win a state championship and I think they could.”