LYNNWOOD — It is an overstatement to say that the success of the Meadowdale boys basketball team rests on the shoulders of Jake Linton and Danny Hagen.
But at least to start the season, the defending Western Conference South Division champions will look to their pair of seasoned seniors to shoulder the load for a team that isn’t young but lacks varsity experience.
Linton, a first-team, all-league guard, is the lone returning starter from a Meadowdale squad that is coming off back-to-back sixth-place finishes at the Class 3A state tournament. Hagen was a key reserve, who saw plenty of action.
The rest of the lineup remains somewhat in flux at the moment as third-year coach Chad McGuire and his staff are waiting to see who starts to set themselves apart from the pack of players.
“We’ve had some good competition to see who’s going to fill out the rest of the starting lineup, good competition in terms of who’s going to get significant minutes this year, which is kind of exciting,” McGuire said. “The last couple of years we’ve had a good crew. We’ve known what we’ve had and now with a lot of those seniors gone … there’s an opportunity for people we have on the team this year who have been waiting.
“It’s a chance for them to step up and show what they have.”
Seniors Jordan McGinnis and Demetri Huffman saw limited playing time last season and appear ready to assume larger roles this season.
McGuire expects there will be a bit of an adjustment period for some of the varsity newcomers but expects the players to figure things out relatively quickly.
“I’m excited about the new challenges,” said McGuire. “We have guys who are ready to fill those roles.”
Hagen appreciates the attitudes of his new teammates.
“Sometimes you’re worried that players aren’t going to care but the team cares about getting better,” Hagen said.
McGinnis and Huffman practiced all year with the varsity squad last season, so they faced solid competition.
“I think they’re ready,” Linton said.
Linton, who averaged a team-high 15 points and six assists a game last year, also faces some new challenges.
McGuire expects every team in the Western Conference South Division to key on Linton and how the 5-foot-11 senior standout responds is going to be critical for Meadowdale.
“It’s going to be more difficult for him to get off shots,” McGuire said. “He knows he’s going to be able to rely on his other teammates to score and he’s not going to force things … he may not score 20 a game. He may, but he’s a smart enough basketball player to adjust to what teams are going to do.
“He’s looking to set up his teammates to score more so than the past years.”
In the past when teams have tried to take Linton out of the game, he could always dish the ball off to someone else. McGuire expects that will be the case this season as well but he isn’t sure who those go-to players are right now.
Linton is confident his teammates will step up when the time comes.
“We’ve got a lot of younger guys out here who haven’t played varsity,” Linton said. “It’s going to be tough for them at the beginning but I think we’ll be fine.”
Hagen also will draw a lot of attention from the opposition, McGuire said.
The Mavericks lost some significant height and Hagen will need to be strong on the inside.
“He’s playing with energy and he’s a lot stronger,” McGuire said. “He started lifting a little bit in the summer and in the fall. He’s strong … he does a great job of finishing.”
The last two years the Mavericks possessed decent height but this year they’ll be going with a smaller lineup. The days of relying on one or two players to grab the majority of rebounds are over.
That means all five players on the court are going to help out.
“We’re not that big,” Linton said. “We’re going to have to be like the Sonics. Everyone has to hit the boards, myself included. Every guy on the team has to. If we don’t rebound, it’s going to be a long year.”
Linton and Hagen both recognize that as the only returning seniors with significant experience they will be expected to provide more leadership and they are ready to assume those duties.
“There’s going to be a lot of responsibility on Jake and Danny initially because they’re the veterans,” McGuire said. “They’ve had the minutes. They know what it’s like. They know the intensity level and they know how well you have to execute defensively and offensively because they’ve been there.”