Mike Bethea has a chance to do something no other coach in Washington history has done: Win six state basketball championships.
Mike Bethea didn’t want to be the boys basketball coach at Rainier Beach High School.
After Francis Williams resigned in the middle of the 1993-94 season, Bethea, an assistant at the time, became the team’s interim coach. But he made it clear that he didn’t want to become head coach.
“I went in to talk to Bob Johnson, the athletic director, and the principal and said, ‘I’ll get this thing through the end of the year and then I’m done,’ ” Bethea said. “And then later, Bob put it in the paper that they named me the head coach and said to me, ‘Well, you explain to the papers why you don’t want to take it.’ That’s how it all started.”
Bethea has been head coach ever since, and as his second-ranked team prepares to play Seattle Prep in the state quarterfinals Thursday, he has a chance to do something no other coach in Washington history has done: Win six state basketball titles.
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Bethea and the Vikings won No. 5 last year and are the favorites to repeat.
Ray Ricks, at 2B Northwest Christian (Colbert), also has five titles and his team is in the state tournament this year. O’Dea coach Al Hairston won five titles at Garfield, but O’Dea isn’t in this year’s tournament. Former O’Dea coach Phil Lumpkin also won five with the Irish.
Mountlake Terrace is in the boys tournament for the second consecutive season, and the Hawks hope a more difficult nonconference schedule pays off.
Terrace beat an athletic team from Fairfax of Los Angeles, and lost by a point to Lincoln of Tacoma, the Hawks’ Thursday opponent.
“What it really came down to last year was we just hadn’t seen the athleticism that you’re going to see from some of the teams in the final eight,” Terrace coach Nalin Sood said. “You just can’t simulate that in practice or on video or typing it on a scouting report.”
Sometimes, coaches hold their breath when their opponent is determined at the state-tournament draw.
Not Cleveland’s Stephenie Wheeler-Smith.
“I’m down for whatever and whoever,” she said Sunday. “Our girls are really excited to be where they are. They’ve worked extremely hard and they’re just excited to be here and to leave with a different result than we had last year.”
The Eagles lost in last year’s semifinals to Franklin, before finishing third by beating University of Spokane, their quarterfinal opponent Thursday.
The keys are simple, according to Wheeler-Smith.
“We just have to come out and play hard and play smart and have fun.”
Nothing like beating last year’s champion, and this year’s No. 1 girls team, to build confidence. That’s what Bellevue did at regionals, eliminating Prairie. So, the fifth-ranked Wolverines are comfortable with where they are in the bracket, opening against No. 7 Glacier Peak.
“We feel pretty good about where we are,” Bellevue coach Leah Krautter said.
A win Thursday could mean a semifinal showdown with No. 2 Cleveland.
“It’s a good challenge, if we get there,” Krautter said.
• Seattle Prep and University are the only 3A schools to qualify both boys and girls teams to the quarterfinals.
• Prairie is out of the girls’ tournament for the first time since 1997. The Falcons have won a record six state titles with six second-place finishes as well.
Times staff reporter Sandy Ringer contributed to this report.