More high-school players than ever can dunk, altering the game in multiple ways.
The ball bounced right to Bothell guard Perrion Callandret, and he knew exactly what to do with it.
Callandret and his boys basketball teammates trailed Issaquah High School by three at halftime after a sluggish first two quarters.
But in the third quarter, Issaquah turned the ball over eight times, which led to four Bothell dunks.
Including one monster finish from Callandret.
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After a missed three-point attempt, Issaquah’s Ty Gibson grabbed the rebound. But as he started to fall out of bounds underneath his basket, he threw the ball away. It found the hands of Callandret, a 6-foot-2 guard who took two steps and quickly ascended. Jake Henke, Issaquah’s 6-6 forward, slid over to contest the shot. Callandret rose, his waist reaching Henke’s head, and threw down a vicious one-handed dunk.
The Bothell student section exploded off the bleachers. One man in the crowd grabbed his head in amazement. Another student got up and excused himself, like he suddenly had to throw up. Issaquah never threatened again.
“You could see the confidence in our kids drop immensely,” Issaquah coach Jason Griffith said. “I’ve seen some phenomenal dunks, and it was probably the best I’ve ever seen. He almost — almost — jumped over him.”
No single play in high-school basketball can change the course of a game like a dunk. No play can generate such a reaction, both from the crowd and other players. And no play might have a bigger effect on playoff games this week and beyond.
“A dunk can fuel the whole fire,” Callandret said.
A dunk, at its most basic level, is only two points. Basketball purists will drill this point when railing against the dunk: No matter how spectacular it may be, no matter how much the crowd reacts or the backboard shakes, it counts the same as a layup.
In interviews throughout his life, when asked what changes he would make to the game, legendary UCLA coach John Wooden almost always answered, in part, “I would abolish the dunk.”
And yet, much to Wooden’s dismay, the dunk is only becoming more popular and prevalent in high school. The best dunkers now aren’t any better than the best dunkers 20 or 30 years ago, longtime coaches in the area generally agree.
There are just more of them.
“Nobody is reinventing the wheel,” Jefferson coach Kyle Templeton said. “But, and I know this sounds dumb, there are way more of the secondary dunkers than there used to be.”
Which is to say more kids can dunk now than ever before.
On Templeton’s team, three starters can regularly dunk, including 5-11 guard Daniel Park and 6-1 Daryon James. The Raiders have thrown lobs to both.
Templeton has four plays designed to set up a lob pass for a dunk, and he’ll run at least one a game. That’s not to say a lob opportunity unfolds that often, but Templeton calls for one whenever his team embarks on a run.
“If we think we can put a team away, even in the second quarter, with a big lob,” he said, “we’ll do it for sure.”
Yet there’s more to it than that for Templeton, who coaches one of the best dunkers in the South Puget Sound League in 6-7 forward Deonte Anderson.
“Part of it is because the kids like it, and if that’s going to help get them to play a little harder, I’m OK with it,” Templeton said. “But also, there’s no more successful shot. Some of the old-timers think it’s showboating, but it’s no different than running a Princeton backdoor cut. It’s still going to take a good pass and a good finish. The finish is just done in a more explosive, exciting way.”
High school provides the perfect ingredients for dunks to become game-changers. For starters, high-school players are more emotional and more reactionary to the game’s ups and downs. The other part is, dunks are still rare enough in high school to stir genuine excitement.
A three-pointer at the end of the shot clock may be more deflating, but a dunk is the game’s greatest spark.
A prolific dunker such as Callandret, Franklin’s Patrick Ball or Seattle Prep’s D.J. Fenner can subtly alter a game by reputation alone. A highflying dunk is often available online within hours and gets shared through the high-school basketball community on Twitter and Facebook.
“In the back of a kid’s mind, you’re going to guard Perrion, and you’ve seen some of that stuff,” Ballard coach Billy Rodgers said. “That gives a kid a psychological advantage.”
Said Franklin coach Jason Kerr: “The guy defending the ball isn’t thinking about it, but the help defender might be a little more hesitant to take a charge on a guy that dunks in traffic. And there’s a difference between the breakaway dunker and the D.J.s, Patricks and Perrions that will try to go right through people.”
Ballard needed a spark. The Beavers found themselves in a dogfight against Skyline a month ago and were flat. All game, they had either trailed or clung to an uncomfortably small lead.
With the final seconds of the third quarter ticking away and Ballard leading by one, forward Seth Berger caught the ball at the top of the three-point line.
He dribbled twice, squared up to the basket and cocked his right arm back for a dunk as the buzzer sounded.
“That was an emotional play,” Rodgers said. “I think the kids were looking for something, and he provided that.”
Ballard went on to outscore Skyline 16-9 in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers and his assistant coaches have prodded the 6-7 Berger, who has signed with UMass, to be more aggressive. They’d rather have him attack the basket than settle for an outside shot.
One way for Rodgers to emphasize that point is by championing Berger to dunk. A missed dunk, under some coaches, can lead very quickly to a seat on the bench. Rodgers doesn’t mind.
“He may miss the dunk,” he says, “but I think the statement has been made in some regard.”
The dunk, as much as any play in basketball, is often a reward for aggressiveness. Coaches encourage their players to attack the basket, to do so assertively, and few things capture that essence better than a drive and dunk.
The upshot can also be jarring. Some dunks fade away and get lost in the shuffle, particularly if the other team answers immediately with a bucket.
But other dunks lead to a ramped-up effort on defense, which can lead to steals and defensive stops. High-school basketball, because games last only 32 minutes, is often won or lost on momentum. The team that best harnesses momentum tends to win, and a dunk can be like a can of Red Bull.
“You see it on defense,” said Franklin guard Arell Hennings, who has felt a momentum swing after a dunk by his teammate, Ball. “All of a sudden, everybody is up in their man, pressuring the ball, in the passing lanes and denying. It’s a big help there.”
The season’s dunking showcase came at the King Holiday Hoopfest, when Rainier Beach and Bothell clashed in one of the most anticipated games of the season.
Between the two, more than 10 players were capable of dunking. The game featured 10 dunks by five players, and one longtime high-school basketball observer said the game had “six of the sickest dunks you’ll see in high school.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Rainier Beach’s 6-7 guard, Shaqquan Aaron, found himself alone for a breakaway and pulled the ball back as far as he could before hammering it in. Moments later, a red mark formed about six inches above his wrist — the spot where his arm slammed against the rim. He had jumped so high and dunked so hard, in fact, he couldn’t shake hands after the game.
Bothell is ranked No. 2 in Class 4A. Rainier Beach is ranked No. 1 in Class 3A. Both will compete for state championships this year, and both will likely swing a game with a dunk along the way.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime situation with the guys on our team,” Bothell coach Ron Bollinger said. “They can instantly turn the momentum in a game for us. If we’re playing just OK, all of a sudden we get a dunk, and we’re on an 8-0 run.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org