Drew Bryson, the new Arlington boys basketball head coach, at Arlington High School on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Drew Bryson, the new Arlington boys basketball head coach, at Arlington High School on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Arlington taps alum Bryson to continue boys hoops tradition

The former Eagles star succeeds Nick Brown as Arlington’s head coach.

Drew Bryson didn’t immediately show a strong interest in basketball during his childhood.

His father, Jeff, coached at Darrington for 17 seasons and helped bring the Loggers to 10 state tournaments, where they won the Class B state championship in 2003 to go along with nine, top-eight finishes. And Bryson’s two older brothers, Marcus and Kaleb, played for Arlington High School, Kaleb being a junior when the Eagles placed fifth at the 2013 Class 4A state tournament.

But the sport didn’t turn Bryson’s crank until one day when he was about 8 years old, and “something just clicked.

“I just decided I wanted to get better, and I became obsessed with it,” said Bryson, who is taking over as Arlington’s new boys basketball coach. “I was one of those kids that wasn’t watching cartoons or kids shows. I was watching SportsCenter reruns. I loved the stats (and) debates about the NBA. And from then on, it was just a huge passion of mine.

“I stopped playing other sports when I got to high school just to focus on basketball and play it year-round,” he continued. “When I got to high school, I started to look into coaching boys and girls club teams. And I would get more interested in the conversations that my dad would have with the coaching staff. … I definitely was trying to soak up how to be a coach and all that stuff, and that was definitely something I knew I’d want to do once I finished my playing career.”

Now Bryson is getting his shot at his alma mater. In April longtime Arlington coach Nick Brown stepped down after leading the Eagles for 18 seasons, so the head job became available. Bryson, who was on Brown’s staff, was promoted to head coach in May to carry on the Eagles’ successful tradition.

“From his freshman year, I knew he was going to be a coach,” Brown said. “We talked when he was in high school, and I said, ‘Someday you’re going to be with me.’ … You can see (players like Drew) are headed to being a coach someday. Sooner or later, it’s just going to happen. It wasn’t a matter of how, it was just a matter of when.”

Bryson’s father left Darrington to coach alongside Brown at Arlington in 2008, and Bryson spent his middle school days observing the two on the sidelines, as well as his brothers on the court.

Bryson also remembered watching one of his favorite players, Terry Dawn, who still is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,205 points. And across the country on TV, Bryson continued to watch another one of his inspirations, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough, who motivated him to improve his game so that he could earn a college scholarship to play at a four-year institution.

Brown fondly remembered Bryson’s competitive nature at the summer Arlington Eagles boys basketball camps. Though only an elementary schooler, Bryson let those around him know how he felt when he poured his heart and soul into a game but didn’t get the result he wanted.

“He cried, pout, whine, get mad, frustrated, and I used to get mad at that,” Brown recalled. “But looking back on it, some of those players that were like that at camp were some of my best competitors. It showed me those kids want to win really, really bad. And that’s the mentality that I think helped (Arlington). … When Drew did it, I knew he was going to be a special leader.”

Bryson starred as a player at Arlington from 2013-17. He was a two-time All-Wesco first-team selection, and as a senior he was the Wesco 3A Player of the Year. Bryson finished his high school career with 1,190 points, which is third in school history, and he accomplished his goal by playing collegiately at Simon Fraser University and Northwest University.

Bryson was a team captain in high school and college, and his coach at Simon Fraser, Steve Hanson, said one of his “special traits was he kept everything light.

“Things can get dark and heavy when you’re in tough games or in tough situations, and he knew when to crack a good joke and get guys smiling when it seemed like a stressful moment,” Hanson said. “We’ve always had the saying, ‘Athlete-led teams are a lot better than coach-led teams.’ And I think that really resonated with him when he got into his junior season like, ‘This has to be my team. I have to do more than coach is asking me to do.’”

This past season Bryson served as Brown’s defensive coach, helping Arlington advance to the round of 12 at the Class 3A state tournament. Playing under the Tacoma Dome lights was something Bryson never experienced as a player. But as a coach Bryson demonstrated he could manage the responsibilities of a team, which made the argument for Brown’s replacement more convincing.

“He doesn’t need a lot of my help, but it’s nice that he wants to hear it,” Brown said. “I love being able to share with him anything I got. But he’s going to be past that point pretty quickly. … Drew is going to do it his way. … And that’s cool because I can see my influence on him, but it’s also he’s making his own decisions.”

Bryson said he remembered the time he was in grade school, ready for the day he would don an Eagles jersey, and he wants to continue that tradition, which Brown built at Arlington.

“I see the program beyond just our high school team,” Bryson said. “That’s the nice thing about being in a town like Arlington. We’re a one-high-school town. Our AAU team feeds straight into our high school, and so we know what kids we’re going to get. … It’s really cool to be able to talk to those kids at basketball camps, see them at our games. And that’s where the culture starts. It doesn’t start when they’re freshmen. It starts when they first play basketball and put on an Arlington jersey, whether it’s boys and girls club or whether it’s through our feeder program.

“I was pretty happy with my high school career. I learned a lot. I got to play for an amazing coach. I got to play for my dad. And I had some amazing teammates throughout the years,” Bryson added. “Overall, I loved Arlington basketball. It’s part of the reason why I came back. … It’s definitely where my heart was, and so it was an easy decision to come back here and start coaching.”

In November, Bryson will not only have Brown as a mentor off the court, he’ll also have his father at his side, forming a battle-tested, father-son, one-two punch team.

“My dad has always been one of my heroes. He’s a great coach. I’ve learned a lot from him. … I don’t know how many coaches in Washington can say they have a state champion as their assistant, so he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to my staff,” Bryson said. “As a father-son duo, it’s just a special experience to be able to have. Whether we go 0-20 or 20-0, either way we’re going to do it together.”

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