Even his coach's long-standing KingCo scoring record seems within reach of the superbly talented junior.
BOTHELL — Ron Bollinger first floated the challenge a few years ago.
The Bothell High School boys basketball coach told Zach LaVine about a game in the 1978-79 season. It was Bollinger’s first varsity game for the Cougars. They played O’Dea. Bollinger scored 53 points — without the benefit of the three-point line. It’s still the KingCo scoring record.
When Bollinger first brought it up, it was years before LaVine started receiving scholarship offers from top-25 Division I college programs. Years before he put on a high-school uniform. Years before he was 6 feet 2 with a slick shot and a lightning-quick first step.
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Bollinger saw the potential. He knew the young player embraced inflated expectations.
“He loves to exceed the challenge that you put before him,” said Bollinger.
Now a junior inching closer to 6-3 and a prodigious talent , LaVine could make a run at Bollinger’s record this season. After all, he averaged 25.9 points as a sophomore and dropped 39 against Decatur in last year’s King Holiday Hoopfest at Washington’s Edmundson Pavilion.
“He can be, if not the best, one of the top two or three players to ever play in this state,” Bollinger said. “He’s got the ability to stop on a dime. He’s got unbelievable balance, which I think sets apart the great ones from the really good ones. He’s very smooth. He’s got the speed, the quickness and the hops. He’s got the full package.”
LaVine, who started walking at 6 months, was born into an athletic family. His father, Paul, played football for the Portland Breakers in the USFL and for the Seahawks during the NFL strike in 1987. His mother, C.J., played softball.
Even as a child, LaVine showed an interest in sports. It started with baseball, but one movie quickly shifted his attention to basketball. When he was about 2, Paul put in “Space Jam.”
“He watched it like 50 times in a row,” Paul said.
LaVine couldn’t get enough of the movie that featured Michael Jordan playing basketball with animated Looney Toons characters.
“It just clicked with me,” LaVine said. “I started playing basketball from then on. Michael Jordan was my favorite player. I’ve idolized him, since — always.”
As he grew, Zach started playing with the Seattle Rotary AAU program, maturing alongside big-name talents like Tony Wroten Jr. (now at Washington), Gary Bell (a freshman at Gonzaga) and Anrio Adams (a senior at Rainier Beach High School).
“It’s a privilege, all the great guys who’ve come through here,” he said of being mentioned with some of the state’s top talents. “I know a lot of them. I’m just trying to be the best I can be, just going out to be the best for me.”
LaVine’s family has been close to Bollinger for years, so the player eventually moved to the Friends of Hoop AAU program. Bollinger is the director.
“He’s got shooting range to the bus that brought the team to the arena,” Friends of Hoop coach Jim Marsh said of LaVine. “He’s got great range. The other thing is, if you were here, I’d tell you to look in my eyes, watch me blink. That’s how fast he is and how quick he is.”
LaVine already has a long list of scholarship offers that includes Washington, Washington State, Gonzaga, UCLA and Cal. His summer season was shortened because of a broken hip — it didn’t require surgery and he is healthy now — but the recruiting interest never waned. UW coach Lorenzo Romar and Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti were spotted at a Bothell practice last week.
“I like all my schools right now,” LaVine said. “My options are open. It’s just fun going through the process.”
Rated a four-star recruit by ESPNU and Scout.com, LaVine leads a Bothell team ranked No. 2 in the state to start the season after going only 4-16 in 2010-11.
If LaVine gets a chance to pass 53 points, will Bollinger let his protégé break the record?
“If he got to that point and it wasn’t a ball-hog-type situation, I’d let him break it,” Bollinger said. “I’d be proud for him to break it, because he’s my guy.”
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org