SEATTLE — Parking outside of Mike Martin Gymnasium and bleacher seating inside the intimate setting on the campus of King’s High School, a small private Christian school nestled in a Shoreline neighbor, was at a premium on Saturday afternoon for the matchup between King’s and Cashmere.
This wasn’t your average non-conference 1A girls basketball game.
For many, it was their only chance to watch one of the state’s all-time great basketball players, Cashmere senior Hailey Van Lith, live and in the flesh.
Van Lith, the No. 8 overall recruit in the class of 2020 according to ESPN and a University of Louisville commit, poured in 39 points and added six assists and six steals to lead Cashmere (16-0) to a 65-44 win over host King’s (13-4).
It was the only time Van Lith would play a game in the Puget Sound region this season.
“I think we kind of expected a big crowd and some big hype,” said Van Lith, the reigning Gatorade state basketball player of the year. “We love to feed off that and we love big crowds. We executed really well, did what we did good and got it done.”
Van Lith’s statewide profile has risen considerably in the past couple of weeks, just in time for the showdown with King’s. Los Angeles Lakers and NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who trained Van Lith in the summer, went to Cashmere to watch the Bulldogs dismantle Medical Lake, 63-27, on Jan. 11. On Thursday, Van Lith was named a McDonald’s All-American.
The buzz was so palpable that the crowd for the junior-varsity game was nearly full to ensure seating wouldn’t run out, Food trucks were brought in for extra concessions.
2 minutes to go in the JV game and crowd is already almost full at King’s HS for the showdown between Knights and Cashmere.
McDonald’s All-American and @UofLWBB commit Hailey Van Lith set to take on the Knights at 3:30ish.
— Josh Horton (@JoshHortonEDH) January 25, 2020
King 5, Seattle’s NBC affiliate, and popular basketball video production outlets such as SLAM magazine and Overtime were also in the building to see Van Lith.
Along with the packed house, Knights’ head coach Dan Taylor surmises Saturday was a first for a girls basketball game at King’s.
“That was pretty electric,” he said. “I would say there were at least 20 or 25 of my friends and fellow coaches that brought their own players just to come to this game. It brought a fan base that we wouldn’t normally have.”
Van Lith didn’t take long to get the show started. The King’s student section, aligned across from Cashmere’s bench on the East end of the gym, deserves part of the credit — or blame, depending on who you’re asking — for that.
After an early traveling violation, Van Lith’s only turnover of the game, the King’s students chanted, “overrated.”
It clearly got a rise out of Van Lith, who exploded for 30 first-half points on 14-of-21 shooting.
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Van Lith said, “but it just hurts them because that (fires me up) when people chant that. But yeah, I loved it and it was a fun crowd and it was a fun game.”
The definition of shooting your shot. pic.twitter.com/OE8UgI5MNa
— Josh Horton (@JoshHortonEDH) January 26, 2020
Junior forward Mia Flor led the Knights with 11 points and junior post Samantha Skaggs added 10.
Grace Hammond chipped in 17 points for the Bulldogs and sunk a game-high five 3-pointers.
All things considered, Taylor wasn’t despondent about his team’s effort defensively. In fact, he rated his defensive game plan and execution as a 7-out-of-10, as Van Lith — although she perhaps took her foot off the gas pedal — was held to just nine points and the Knights outscored the Bulldogs 22-21 in the second half.
“I thought our girls came out and handled the pressure better than I thought they would,” Taylor said. “We came out and battled from the start, some shots didn’t fall and Hailey got loose. The rest was history.”
Playing in high-octane environments and against top-flight competition is something a young King’s team, with just two seniors on the roster and no senior starters, can grow from moving forward, Taylor said.
“This is going to build their confidence, just knowing that they can hang with these teams and they can be on the same court as these teams and caliber of players,” Taylor said. “I was actually really proud of our performance because we could have easily unraveled. … We just gave it our all and that’s all I asked of our girls.”