By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — The Mountlake Terrace boys basketball team must feel like Christmas came a little early this year.
After graduating seven seniors from a squad that advanced to the Class 3A state regional tournament last year, the Hawks appeared to be headed for a bit of a rebuilding season.
Four of those seven seniors are playing college basketball, while two are playing college football.
“It was an incredible senior class,” said Mountlake Terrace head coach Nalin Sood. “You don’t replace that overnight. It’s hard to replace that character, that kind of toughness and confidence.”
Two returning varsity players – junior guards Blake Fernandez and Marquis Armstead – figured to be the cornerstone of the rebuilding efforts.
But during the offseason the Hawks added a third player into the mix and in the process became the league favorite, at least in the eyes of many of the Western Conference 3A coaches.
Senior Ryan Shannon, a first-team, all-league forward from Marysville-Pilchuck High School, transferred to Mountlake Terrace earlier this year. Shannon averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots during his junior season with the Tomahawks.
Mountlake Terrace was picked to finish first in the league in a recent coaches poll, no doubt in part to the arrival of Shannon.
Shannon, who played with his new teammates in a fall league, said he is feeling comfortable with his new team. Shannon’s experience with select teams also has eased the transition.
“I played a few years with AAU (Amateur Athletic Union),” said Shannon, who recently signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Montana State University. “You have to jump in with new guys. This is almost like that.”
Fernandez likes what he’s seen of his new teammate. The Hawks plan to be an athletic team that runs up and down the court and tires out the opposition, Fernandez said.
“He’s a tall guy that can move real fast,” Fernandez said of Shannon. “He fits perfectly into our offense.”
Sood agrees and appreciates that Shannon has stepped right into a leadership role with the young Hawks.
“He’s very coachable,” Sood said. “He’s very humble and a very confident basketball player.”
Shannon admits he’s more of a leader by example.
“I’d like to see him be more vocal,” Sood said. “He’s been a tremendous leader by example in terms of work ethic, effort and attitude. He’s very positive with his coaches and his teammates.”
For now, Fernandez is helping to point the way for some of his younger teammates as they prepare for their first season of varsity ball.
A recent visitor to the Mountlake Terrace practice commented to Sood that Fernandez seemed to command his teammates’ attention.
“He looks you in the eye and communicates with his teammates,” Sood said. “He’s a leader out there.”
Last year Fernandez may have had to defer to the talented senior class but this definitely is his basketball team, Sood added.
“Blake worked very hard in the offseason,” Sood said. “He has a lot of confidence. He’s the quarterback of the basketball team.”
The new players need to be ready physically for the demands of varsity play.
“Varsity is a lot of physical play,” Fernandez said. “We just want to make sure everyone on the team is tough because it’s going to get rough when the season comes around.”
Armstead brings multi-dimensional skills to the court. Sood noted that he’s a solid 3-point shooter and also can drive to the basket. The Hawks relied on his defensive prowess last year.
“We put him on the other team’s best player,” Sood said. “When I didn’t, he did not like that.”
Two other players Sood is looking to step up their games are senior center Coby Russell and sophomore center forward Greg Bowman.
Sood sees Russell as a strong inside presence who will allow Shannon to shoot from the outside. Bowman may be young but has as much potential as any player on the roster, Sood said.
The fall league saw different players take the lead on offense.
“We have a lot of depth,” Fernandez said. “We can all score. During our fall league the highest scorer could be any one of our players.”
The lack of returning varsity experience has meant Sood and his coaching staff aren’t as far along as in previous seasons.
“It’s something I expected,” Sood said. “I don’t know what the beginning of the season is going to hold for us.”
The younger players, however, were more than interested spectators last season of what the seven seniors accomplished on the court and at practice.
“They saw it every day. I hope they can replicate it,” Sood said.
Shannon has high hopes for Mountlake Terrace
“I think we can go deep into March,” he said. “I can see us definitely in the state tournament.”