Thomas Jefferson's boys basketball team hasn't been to the state tournament in its 45-year existence. Coach Kyle Templeton thinks he's getting closer to ending that streak.
There are 147 cardinal and gold banners hanging on three walls in Thomas Jefferson’s gym. Each is embroidered with a year, a sport and that sport’s accomplishment.
In the corner hang three banners marked “boys basketball” — the only three banners for that sport. The most recent one is from 1974-75, when the Raiders were league champions.
“I’m 36 years old,” says Jefferson coach Kyle Templeton. “That’s before I was even born. It’s just crazy that that could be true. We’re the oldest big school that’s never officially made the state tournament. How is that even possible?
Templeton is not only the coach at Jefferson in Federal Way, he’s also a self-proclaimed warden of the city’s basketball history.
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His dad was the branch manager of the local Boys & Girls Club, and most of Federal Way’s top players filtered through. Templeton became a record keeper of sorts, keeping tabs on where players went and how their teams fared.
Today, as the Raiders finish a light midweek practice, basketball history is once again the topic du jour. At 7-5 overall and 6-3 in SPSL play, the Raiders sit in third place in the North Division, two games back of first.
At most schools, a modest start. At Jefferson, it’s nearly uncharted territory.
In Jefferson’s 45-year existence, the Raiders have never officially made the state tournament in basketball (The school did play in the 16-team regional tournament in 1974, which was considered the state tournament at the time.)
The Raiders haven’t won a league title in more than 35 years and haven’t made the West Central District tournament in more than 25 years. In fact, the last time Jefferson posted a winning record was 1995, Templeton’s senior year.
“I’m sure it sounds ridiculous,” Templeton, the fourth-year coach, said, “but I just don’t want to screw it up.”
When Templeton transferred to Jefferson from Federal Way during his junior season, classmates mockingly asked if he was going to play tennis or soccer.
“People thought I was a total idiot,” Templeton said.
That was 1994.
When Deonte Anderson transferred to Jefferson from Federal Way before his junior year, he didn’t know much about the basketball program.
“I just thought about what everybody else on the outside was talking about,” Anderson said. “T.J. sucks.”
That was 2012.
Templeton was the JV coach at Beamer the first two years the school was open. During his second season, Beamer went to Jefferson and beat the Raiders handily, winning by more than 10 points.
“Those types of games happen quite a bit,” Templeton said.
It also wasn’t uncommon for Jefferson to go to Federal Way, one of the league’s most successful teams, and lose by 50 points or more.
The Raiders excel in what are generally called “nonrevenue sports” in college — swimming, cross country, soccer, tennis. But the school hasn’t won much in basketball or football. When Jefferson’s football team made the playoffs in 2011, it was the first time in school history.
In basketball, the Raiders have historically been thinned by transfers who opted to attend more established programs. Plus, Jefferson plays in one of the state’s most competitive leagues.
Eight SPSL teams have played in the 4A state championship game in the last 10 years. Four have won it.
Said alum and former Jefferson coach David Hunter: “There just hasn’t been a lot of talent there through the years.”
Templeton attacked Jefferson’s losing history head-on, even before he was coach.
The first time he interviewed for the job, he brought one of the many programs he has collected from the state basketball tournament and tossed it on the table in front of the committee.
“We’re going,” he said. He didn’t get the job then, but two years later, he reapplied and knew it was his.
This year, on the first day after basketball tryouts, Templeton gathered his new team in a classroom.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” he told the players. “We’re a good team, we’re going to start playing well and I guarantee you we’re going to start getting media attention. Because every media outlet loves an underdog story.”
Senior Josh Duckworth looked around at his teammates that day and decided Templeton was right.
There was Daryon James, a 6-foot-1 senior who leads Jefferson at 19 points per game. There was Daniel Parks, a 5-foot-11 senior who is a lockdown defender. There was Duckworth, who transferred from Federal Way before his junior year and is now making 45 percent of his three-pointers.
And there was the 6-foot-7 Anderson, the other Federal Way transfer, who provided the Raiders with the size their roster lacked. He’s averaging 13.6 points per game.
“In the past we had three or four SPSL guys,” Templeton said. “Now we’ve got seven or eight.”
There’s something else. For years Jefferson expected to lose. The Raiders went into certain games knowing how it would turn out.
“Our attitudes have changed a lot,” James said. “We would always try to be positive before, but we would usually know when we were going into a loss. Not this year.”
Jefferson hasn’t overturned history yet. There’s still a lot of season left, although the schedule does break in the Raiders’ favor: Of their final eight games, six will be played at home in front of a student body suddenly finding more reason to support basketball.
“I don’t want to let them down,” Anderson said. “They have high hopes now, and I don’t want to let them down.”