Led by unique co-coaches and a senior Seamount MVP who didn't play as a freshman, Renton travels to the Class 2A state boys tournament in Yakima.

RENTON — Jonathan Patterson didn’t play basketball his freshman season at Renton High School. It wasn’t by choice.

Patterson, now a generously listed 6-foot-2 senior forward, tried out as a freshman but didn’t make varsity or junior varsity. And because the Renton School District had cut C teams for budgetary reasons, Patterson had nowhere to turn.

After that season, though, Renton assistant coach Rashaad Powell invited Patterson to play in the team’s spring league.

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“He could barely walk and chew gum,” Powell said. “Couldn’t shoot a shot, couldn’t shoot a free throw. But he worked incredibly hard, like the hardest-working kid that has ever come through the program.”

Opposing coaches voted Patterson the Seamount League MVP this season, and his 14 points per game are a big reason why Renton heads into this week’s Class 2A state tournament at Yakima’s SunDome 23-2 and ranked No. 2.

Patterson is an embodiment of the Indians: a grinder who made a big leap this year. Renton went 10-14 last season, played so-so in the summer league and went 1-8 in the fall league.

Powell’s reaction? “This is not going to be good,” he recalled.

On the first day of practice, Powell looked around at his undersized group. Patterson would play inside for the Indians. Lavelle Smith, another senior, had the athletic ability but was still trying to put it all together during games. Justin Pienh could knock down three-pointers.

There were pieces, but his team would have to embrace its identity. The message: The sum has to be better than the parts.

“We don’t have the biggest team,” Powell told his guys that day. “There’s not anybody coming to the rescue. There’s no cavalry coming. This is what we have. This is what we’re going with.”

The knock against the Seamount League is often that it doesn’t prepare teams for the challenging games in the state tournament. So the Indians loaded up their nonconference schedule with six games against Class 4A or 3A teams.

They won all six.

“All of those games prepared us for the Lyndens, the Clover Parks, the best teams in 2A,” Powell said.

Renton’s coaching dynamic is also unique. Rick Comer, the longtime coach of Renton who has more than 300 career wins, still technically holds that title. But Powell, a former player under Comer, often barks instructions.

“He’s like the head coach,” Comer said. “I used to be that guy, but now he’s that guy.”

The setup works: The Indians didn’t lose until the final game of the regular season, when Kennedy Catholic knocked off then-No. 1 Renton. The loss, Comer said, refocused his group.

Now Patterson and the rest of the Indians will look to complete their turnaround season — and careers — with a deep run in the state tournament.

Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or jjenks@seattletimes.com