The two prep stars are scoring almost at will after putting in a lot of work in the gym.
Zach LaVine, Bothell’s outgoing 6-foot-4 shooting guard, keeps close tabs on some of the area’s top scorers. Most are friends, or at least guys he’s played against for a number of years.
But there’s something else to his interest. At week’s end, LaVine was averaging 27.8 points per game, unofficially second-most in the Seattle area. The only guy ahead of him, Seattle Prep’s 6-foot-6 D.J. Fenner, is a longtime friend and someone LaVine checks on after every game.
One of the more entertaining subplots in this boys basketball season is unfolding between LaVine and Fenner on separate courts, on separate nights. The two are both Division I bound — LaVine to UCLA, Fenner to Nevada — and both have elevated their play to new levels this year.
Neither has gone a game without scoring at least 20 points and, while their teams won’t meet this season, they’ll go back and forth for the city’s scoring title.
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“He’ll have three games with back-to-back-to-back 30-point games, and it’s like, ‘Dang, it’s hard to compete with this guy here sometimes,” LaVine said. “But then I go out and do the same thing.”
LaVine averaged 25.6 points per game as a sophomore, when his Bothell team finished 4-16. But this year, LaVine is surrounded by Idaho-bound Perrion Callandret and Josh Martin, a 6-foot-8 junior with a UW offer.
Still, LaVine’s scoring has increased for No. 1 Bothell, even though he’s taking fewer shots and playing fewer minutes.
“I saw early on he was a natural,” Bothell coach Ron Bollinger said. “I wouldn’t want to turn him into a robot or program-type player because he’s not. You don’t see those natural players too often.”
LaVine often plays like he’s out on the blacktop — hitting crossover jumpers, pulling up for three-pointers, dunking after slicing through the lane — but his game is far more refined than it often appears.
“If you really watch Zach’s footwork, you realize how much time he’s put in,” Issaquah coach Jason Griffith said. “He’s not just rolling the ball out. It’s like watching those world-class swimmers that don’t even look like they’re trying.”
At the end of one practice this year, when most players were leaving the gym, LaVine nonchalantly dunked after first weaving the ball between his legs in midair. And in games, he has been known to frequently open fire from NBA-level three-point range or hit guarded shots falling away from the basket.
“That’s what makes him amazing,” Griffith said. “You look at his shot selection and, any normal kid, you’d be like, ‘What are you doing?’ You pick 99.9 percent of high-school kids and you’d be like, ‘That’s a bad shot.’ But for him, it’s a good shot. And sometimes it’s a great shot.”
LaVine has spent “ridiculous hours” working with his dad, Paul, on harnessing all facets of his game. One drill has LaVine shoot a heavy ball before switching to a lighter one to improve his range.
But many of his shots surprise him when he sees them on film or YouTube. It’s not that he goes hunting for 28-footers of fade-away jumpers, he says. If he sees a defender guarding with his hands down or sagging back, it just feels natural to let it go.
“It even sometimes amazes me; like, ‘Why did I shoot that shot?’ ” LaVine said. “But in the game, it just feels so effortless.”
Which is another big part of his game: LaVine doesn’t think he can be stopped. It’s a genuine confidence — a swagger — possessed by most scorers, but LaVine makes it endearing.
Ross Bowers, a sophomore at Bothell, is often tasked with matching up against LaVine in practice. He said he has found only one method to limit LaVine.
“Fouling him is a good way,” Bowers said. “That would be my best advice. Or just pray that his jumper isn’t on that day. Any shot he takes is a high-percentage shot just because he’s the one shooting it.”
Lakeside coach Tavio Hobson has faced LaVine’s Seattle Prep counterpart, Fenner, once this season and watched him in person at least twice. Hobson’s biggest takeaway seems a bit backward: Fenner is more dangerous this season because he’s giving up the ball more.
“I’ve always known he had the ability,” Hobson said. “Everyone has. What D.J. has done this year is he’s embraced the idea of being a team player.”
Hobson said Fenner is quick to give up the ball, sometimes passing up decent shots three or four times before getting the ball back for a better one. It requires a certain maturity, a mutual trust, between a scorer and his teammates.
Fenner is a thinker in games, more self-aware of his shot selection. During halftime at Eastside Catholic, he thought about his shots and decided he wasn’t taking good looks. He scored 28 points after halftime.
When he needs to take a game over, he has done so, but he doesn’t often take shots just to take them. That, in turn, has made him much tougher to defend.
“I feel like his teammates think D.J. is free to score all he wants because he does all the other stuff they’re doing,” Seattle Prep coach Mike Kelly said. “He’s become a complete basketball player.”
Kelly and his coaches challenged Fenner to become a better rebounder, and he responded. In the team’s three tournament games in California around Christmas, he averaged nearly eight rebounds.
Like LaVine, he has also sharpened his scoring arsenal. He has always had a mid-range game, the ability to drive and the touch to knock down three-pointers. But now he can go to any of them in any situation.
Fenner’s biggest moment came in Prep’s signature win — a 59-57 upset of then-nationally ranked Rainier Beach. In the third quarter, when Beach built an 11-point lead, Fenner had missed all five of his shots and had just three points.
With his confidence in jeopardy, Fenner’s younger teammates urged him to end the night with a big fourth quarter. He scored 16 points and, perhaps most telling, took 10 of Prep’s 13 shots.
“For a second, I was like, ‘We may be down and out,’ ” Fenner said. “But that was one of those things where I saw my growth as a leader. My confidence was down. Next thing I know my teammates and coaches are getting me going. I just couldn’t finish like that.”
He finished the game with 28 points. That same night, LaVine scored 35.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or email@example.com