Could this be the year King’s is knocked off the throne it has occupied in Cascade Conference boys basketball?
The Knights have won conference titles in all four years of the league’s existence but this year’s team, while talented, lacks the star players its had in recent years while it goes up against stiff competition.
“I think our league is getting better,” Liley said. “I think those guys feel it may be their year to get us.”
Still, it may be unwise to undersestimate the Knights. King’s placed fifth at state last year, after going 14-0 in the league and 23-6 overall. The Knights have won 28 straight league games.
The conference’s Most Valuable Player from last season, Erich Fuhlendorf, is playing for Warner Pacific in Oregon along with former King’s teammate Biniam Tadele. Also graduated is 6-7 center Dylan O’Neil one of the top big men in Class 1A. Before that 6-10 center Charlie Enquist, now at Washington State, led the Knights to league titles and deep postseason runs.
“We were definitely blessed there for a couple years,” said coach Bill Liley, who permanently took over the head job last offseason.
But a team with fewer standouts might work to the Knights advantage with different players stepping up to contribute to the team. The players take pride in the winning tradition at King’s and hope to add a fifth league title despite expected challenges from teams like Sultan, led by star guard Jordan Nicholes, and up and coming teams like Archbishop Murphy and South Whidbey.
Liley believes the Knights will score plenty of points but the big question is how well they will rebound.
Last year, the 6-7 O’Neil dominated the boards for King’s averaging 13 boards per game. But this year everyone will have to step up and crash the boards, not just one player.
That goes for the offense as well.
“It will be balanced,” starting point guard Alex Mar said. “We could get a different leading scorer every night.”
Mar, who stands about 5-7, has been a backup the last two years. He’ll have an opportunity to fully show off his quickness, ball-handling skills and passing ability this season.
“He’s been waiting his turn patiently,” Liley said. “He puts us in position where teams have to think twice about pressuring us.”
No returning players for the Knights averaged double figures last year. Third-year varsity player and co-captain Nick Hardy, averaged about 7.5 points last year, starting forward Karl Clocksin averaged seven points, starting forward Kyle Talbot averaged five points and Mar averaged 5.5 points.
The Knights leading scorer may be forward Ryan Hoff, who swung between junior varsity and varsity last year.
“He’s worked really hard this summer to get where he is now,” Hardy said.
Off the bench King’s has 6-1 forward Sean Brugger, 6-2 forward Zack Berg and 6-2 forward Zach McDonald.
Should King’s advance to the tri-district tournament, it will face some experienced and talented teams including Meridian, Vashon Island, Cascade Christian and Bellevue Christian.
“We prepare like we’re going to play against Vashon tomorrow,” Liley said. “If we can get stops and rebound we’re going to be pretty good.”