State-title contenders laden with Division-I talent clash for bragging rights at the annual tournament in a meeting that almost didn't happen.
There is only one place to truly settle a debate regarding basketball supremacy, and that place is the court. Unfortunately, if high schools reside in different classifications, those matchups rarely materialize (think Skyline-Bellevue in football this year).
But at the King Holiday Hoopfest on Monday, at 4 p.m. in the Royal Brougham Pavilion at Seattle Pacific University, the consensus preseason favorite in 4A, Bothell, will play the consensus preseason favorite in 3A, Rainier Beach, in the most appetizing regular-season game of the year.
Beach coach Mike Bethea said this might be the best team he’s had in nearly 20 years. Bothell coach Ron Bollinger said this is the best group he’s ever had.
“The guys had this one circled for a long time,” Bollinger said.
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“Our kids have been looking forward to this ever since I told them,” Bethea said.
If you were looking for an ideal high-school basketball matchup, you could do worse than Bothell vs. Beach. The Division-I talent, the state rankings, the national attention (both have been featured in top-25 polls nationally) is all there.
In fact, there’s a chance this game could serve as a de facto state championship game down the road if the Vikings and Cougars are able to secure state titles in their respective classifications this season.
The two teams played in the offseason and ended the game in a 20-20 tie.
“If things pan out the way we’re both hoping they do — if we’re fortunate enough to win it and they’re fortunate to win it — if we beat them,” Bethea said, “there would be no doubt who the best team is.”
This game wasn’t originally supposed to happen. Beach was set to play Seattle Prep in the Holiday Hoopfest, but Bethea looked at all the talent returning for both teams and decided to see if a game could be worked out.
Rainier Beach and Bothell started the season with targets on their backs, the usual attire for teams favored to win state championships.
The Cougars, the No. 1 team in 4A, returned one of the area’s — if not the region’s — premier scorers in UCLA commit Zach LaVine. They also returned Perrion Callandret, the blazing-quick guard bound for Idaho, and added the only missing piece to their puzzle before the season: 6-foot-8 junior Josh Martin, a UW target who transferred from Seattle Prep and gave Bothell an inside presence.
The Vikings, on the other hand, returned nearly all of last year’s state championship team, except for graduated guard Anrio Adams, now at Kansas. In his place stepped 6-foot-7 guard Shaqquan Aaron, a transfer from California who counts Louisville and Syracuse as suitors.
Here’s the most appealing part: Chances are good that Aaron and LaVine end up guarding each other for long stretches during the game.
Aaron and LaVine are plenty familiar with one another. The two played against each other in an Adidas Nations game featuring the best players in the classes of 2013 and ’14.
They are also two of the most potent and sought-after scorers in the Pacific Northwest.
LaVine is the area’s second-leading scorer at 28.6 points per game. Multiple coaches have left the court thinking their team defended him well only to see 30 points next to his name in the box score.
“We haven’t played against a caliber of player as Zach LaVine,” Bethea said. “Let’s just be real. All the hype, it’s definitely not hype.”
Said Aaron: “He’s a slasher and a shooter and can score from anywhere.”
The Vikings counter with Aaron, a junior who has settled into his own the past few weeks. Aaron said he is more comfortable with his teammates and role, and it’s showing. This month, he is averaging 28.3 points per game and has scored more than 30 points three times.
“Unbelievable talent,” Bollinger said. “He’s such a good shooter from anywhere on the floor.”
Said LaVine: “He kind of plays like Kevin Durant to me.”
From a wider perspective, both teams are viewing this as a test before the playoffs.
Bothell has won all 15 of its games but hasn’t faced a team like Beach to date. The Vikings lost three games earlier this season and are eager to show they’ve come a long way since.
“This is our first preview of what state is going to be like, playing a high-caliber team,” Bethea said. “It’s kind of like playing in the state championship game.”