No single league has dominated boys basketball in the state like the Metro League, and this year looks no different.
Bill Liley wasn’t sure if he’d ever prepared a team better than that night early last season.
Liley, in his first season at Eastside Catholic after spending four years at Class 1A King’s, had prepared his group like it was a state tournament game, and it showed.
Playing against Franklin, one of the Metro League’s traditional powers, the Crusaders rushed out to a 32-16 halftime lead. Then Liley and his team experienced some sobering reality.
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Franklin hit “the switch,” Liley calls it, and stormed back for a three-point win. As the game ended, Liley turned to his assistants, all of whom previously coached with him at King’s.
“Welcome to the Metro League,” he said.
The same sentiment might be shared in the Class 3A state tournament, which begins Thursday at the Tacoma Dome. Four Metro teams are in the eight-team field. Two — top-ranked Lakeside and No. 2 Rainier Beach — are favorites to make it to the championship game.
No league has dominated high-school basketball in the state like the Metro League, and it’s not even close. In the last 20 years, Metro teams have won 15 Class 3A state titles. In the last 13 years, the league has claimed 10 titles, including eight straight (2002-09).
“There’s a reason that the SEC does so well in the BCS,” Mountlake Terrace coach Nalin Sood said, “and it’s because they don’t have nights off. That’s the Metro League in high-school basketball.”
This season is no different. Rainier Beach added transfer Shaqquan Aaron, a 6-foot-7 junior committed to Louisville, to a team that returned nearly all of its key pieces from last year’s state-title team.
Lakeside hadn’t made the state tournament since 1991, but the Lions returned juniors Tramaine Isabell (19 points per game) and D’Marques Tyson (14 ppg) and are one of the state’s hottest teams. Lakeside has won 12 of its last 13 games.
No. 10 Seattle Prep, which needed to win three loser-out games to reach the Tacoma Dome, might have the best player in the tournament in 6-foot-6 Nevada signee D.J. Fenner, who averages 28.2 points.
And there’s this: O’Dea, a state-tournament team each of the last four years, didn’t even make it out of districts this year. No. 8 Franklin, one of Metro’s most successful programs, hadn’t been to state in three years before returning this season.
“That’s the one advantage that we have: We just keep each other just so game sharp,” Rainier Beach coach Mike Bethea said. “When you come out of that, you’re ready to go. Either you’re ready to go or the wheels done came off the cart.”
There are a number of reasons for Metro’s postseason success, but chief among them is that Metro teams often feature some of the state’s best players. League alums Peyton Siva (Louisville), Nate Robinson (NBA), Spencer Hawes (NBA), Steven Gray (Gonzaga) and Lodrick Stewart (USC) have all been voted state tournament MVP. And that’s only in the last 11 years.
But it’s more than that. Rashaad Powell, a former standout at Renton and now an assistant coach at the school, remembers heading into the first game of the 1997-98 season against Rainier Beach.
Renton’s interim coach spent much of the preseason talking about how great Beach was, how talented Jamal Crawford was and how good his supporting cast was. In other words, he hyped up the Vikings to his own team.
That same reverence can come into play at the state tournament. One longtime basketball observer has had multiple coaches tell him that they’ve had to reel their teams in after watching Metro teams play before them at the state tournament.
“I think a lot of the times Metro teams win on the fear and mystique or in warm-ups,” Powell said.
Three of four Metro teams play in the same half of the bracket, which virtually guarantees one Metro team will make it to the championship game again.
If that happens, it will only add to what history has proved: The Metro League rules supreme this time of year.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org