RaeQuan Battle ran off a screen and cut toward the hoop to receive a backdoor lob. The pass was high and wide, but it didn’t matter.
The 6-foot-5 Marysville Pilchuck basketball star leaped into the air and almost seemed to defy gravity, reaching back with his right arm fully extended to snag the ball and throw it down for a sensational one-handed alley-oop slam.
“The dunks that he’s doing, it’s the stuff you see (in college) and in the NBA,” Tomahawks coach Bary Gould said. “It’s just crazy.”
That SportsCenter-worthy jam last month against Archbishop Murphy was the type of highlight-reel play that’s become commonplace for Battle this season. With a smooth shooting stroke and freakish athleticism, the recent University of Washington signee has unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers and high-flying dunks while lifting Marysville Pilchuck atop the Wesco 3A standings.
“He’s so innately gifted, it’s unbelievable,” Gould said. “(He’s) by far the most spectacular player that’s ever played at Marysville Pilchuck.”
Battle, a four-star shooting guard, is a highly regarded prospect who’s ranked by ESPN as the No. 93 senior recruit in the nation and the No. 4 senior in the state.
He’s also a proud Tulalip Tribes member who’s believed to be the first from his tribe to receive a Division-I college basketball scholarship.
“He’s another star in all of our eyes, and we love to see him do good things,” said Tulalip Heritage boys basketball coach Cyrus Fryberg Jr., who coached Battle at the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club when he was younger.
“It’s big for the community,” he added. “It’s huge for the younger kids to see that happening and that it’s possible for any athlete out there if you put hard work in.”
Battle, who lives with his family on the Tulalip Reservation, has a large following of tribal members who attend Marysville Pilchuck home games to watch him play.
“There’s so many tribal members that come out and watch him,” said Battle’s mother, Jacqueline. “He just lights everybody up. The second he touches the ball, everybody is like, ‘What is he going to do?’
“It’s so amazing and such a blessing. He really brought our tribe together. We have fusses and fights with family and friends, but when they know he’s going to play, everybody comes together.”
‘Playing for my loved ones’
Battle has always worn the No. 21 in sports. It’s the same number Jacqueline, a 1992 Marysville Pilchuck graduate, wore when she played basketball for the Tomahawks. She was nicknamed “Sparkplug” and known for her pinpoint shooting ability.
Like mother, like son.
“I get my shooting from my mom,” Battle said.
In fact, it was his mother who helped kickstart Battle’s love of the game in third grade by nudging him to compete in a Native American basketball tournament on the Lummi Reservation.
Prior to that, Battle hadn’t played much basketball and saw himself as a football player. But that changed after his team won the Lummi championship and Battle was named the tournament’s most valuable player. The following year, Battle began playing organized hoops for the first time with the Marysville select program.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I’m actually good at this sport,’” he said.
As Battle delved into basketball, his mother often took him to the gym and put him through training sessions. Some of the drills were passed down from his grandfather, Arthur Williams, who played basketball for Marysville High School.
“I would shoot and then sprint after it, and then wherever the ball landed, I would shoot it again,” said Battle, describing one of the drills. “I would get used to shooting around the fourth quarter and crunch time, so I wouldn’t be tired in those types of situations.”
As Battle developed his game on the hardwood, he faced personal tragedy off the court.
“I’ve been to way more funerals than any kid should,” he said. “I’d already been to 15 to 20 as a seventh-grader.”
The loss of his cousin, Lateesha Jack, was particularly difficult.
Jacqueline, a single mother, helped raise Jack alongside Battle and his four brothers. Jack played basketball for Tulalip Heritage and was one of Battle’s biggest fans at his games. Though technically a cousin, Battle referred to her as his older sister. In 2013, she died by suicide.
One way Battle coped was by immersing himself in hoops.
“All of that frustration and anger and hurt, he took it out on the floor,” Jacqueline said. “He literally put the work in to avoid the dark (and) the hurt.”
“I’m playing for them — for my loved ones,” Battle added.
From talented freshman to record-breaking senior
Battle’s supreme talent was evident as a freshman at Marysville Pilchuck, when he worked his way into a starting role on a senior-laden varsity squad. He followed that with standout sophomore and junior campaigns, leading last season’s team to the Class 3A state regionals and the program’s first district title in nearly three decades.
Over the course of his prep career, Battle also has played for high-level AAU programs. He particularly excelled last spring on the national AAU circuit, averaging 11.8 points per game for Seattle Rotary while competing at various locations across the country as part of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.
Battle had been on the Huskies’ radar since he was a sophomore, but he received a surge in recruiting interest after his EYBL performance. Washington offered Battle a scholarship last May, and he committed to the program soon after.
“UW was always in the back of my head before they even knew who I was,” Battle said. “My family loves Washington. If you go to their house, you see purple and gold everywhere.”
Battle was suspended for the Tomahawks’ first two games this season after violating a team policy. But since returning to action, he’s built off his strong offseason with an exceptional senior campaign.
Battle entered Friday night averaging 24 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while shooting a scorching 60 percent from the field for first-place Marysville Pilchuck (11-3 overall, 8-0 Wesco 3A). He’s showcased an array of acrobatic dunks — windmills, alley-oops and putback slams — and seemingly limitless range with pinpoint shooting from beyond the arc.
“His ability to shoot the basketball is very, very special,” Gould said.
Battle’s most incredible performance came in a 55-53 win over Edmonds-Woodway on Dec. 14, when he scored a school-record 43 points, grabbed 23 rebounds, blocked five shots and drove for the game-winning layup as time expired.
“I knew I had a lot of points,” he said. “I thought I had at least like 30 or something. (But when) my two brothers came up to me and said, ‘You just broke the record,’ I was like, ‘What?’ … I was really emotional after that.”
Gould also praised Battle’s work ethic.
“When your best players are your hardest workers, then you have something special,” he said. “I mean, he could coast and still look better than everyone here. … That’s just the reality of where he’s at athletically. But he works really hard and goes through at full speed.”
‘I want to show that we are strong’
Battle has spent countless hours in the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club over the years.
It’s where he first began playing basketball. It’s where his mother works, and where he spent three summers working. And it’s where family, friends, coaches and numerous tribal members converged on a weekday morning in November for Battle’s national signing day ceremony.
“That gym means a lot to me,” he said. “A lot has happened in there.”
During his time at the club, Battle has developed a bond with the tribe’s youth. Some treat him like a celebrity, asking for his autograph or a photo with him.
“Even before I was playing basketball, they would come up to me, just because I was really tall,” Battle said. “When I was working there during the summer, I would help them with basketball (and) show them dunks, … and they were just amazed. They come to my games today and watch me and support me, so it really means a lot.”
Gould said he believes Battle’s widespread support from the tribe stems in part from the type of person he is.
“He’s going to go to UW next year and there’s going to be a bunch of kids that are as good at basketball as him, but I don’t know if they’re going to be as good of humans as he is,” Gould said. “His mom has just raised him right. He’s respectful and he’s kind.”
With his platform as a basketball star, Battle said he hopes to pave a trail and inspire other tribal members to persevere through adversity and pursue their dreams. That includes his 9-year-old brother, who Battle said “follows me everywhere” and wears a No. 21 jersey to Tomahawks games.
“We have struggles,” Battle said, “and I want to show that we are strong enough to get through those struggles and achieve what we want to do.”