A tiff was preempted when Garfield opened tryouts for the 2019-20 boys basketball season.
Tari Eason will start.
“Start? He’s our star player,” Garfield coach Brandon Roy said. “He won’t have any reason to be mad at coach this year.”
Eason’s playing time was an issue during a drama-filled 2017-18 boys basketball state-championship run for Garfield that ended with Roy taking a sabbatical for the 2018-19 season and six players transferring to other schools or moving out of the state. Eason, who didn’t play a minute during the title win in 2018 (or runner-up finish in 2017 as a freshman), was one of the departures.
After helping Federal Way reach the Class 4A state semifinals last year, the 6-foot-7 Eason is back at Garfield and not the only change for the Bulldogs, who open the season Tuesday at home against Chief Sealth. Roy, a Garfield alum who went on to star at Washington and in the NBA, regards himself as changed and prepared to take on a season with a young roster.
“These guys are trying to find their way,” said Roy, who has two seniors on his roster. “That’s what I’m excited about. I get to really coach and really try to develop some of these guys.”
Roy and predecessor Ed Haskins, who left to become an assistant coach at Washington State, had such an overflow of talent that Eason couldn’t break through as an underclassmen. Players such as Jaylen Nowell (Washington), J’Raan Brooks (Washington), PJ Fuller (TCU), and Daejon Davis (Stanford) nabbed Division I scholarships while others like MarJon Beauchamp and Jamon Kemp are at prep academies in hopes of being NBA draft prospects.
At Federal Way, Eason was second to McDonald’s All-American forward Jaden McDaniels (Washington). Eason, who is a four-star recruit and rated the No. 2 senior in the state by 247Sports.com, led the North Puget Sound League’s Olympic Division in rebounding (11.0 per game) while averaging 17.8 points per game during the regular season.
“He was mad at me about the minutes back then,” Roy said of Eason’s sophomore season at Garfield. “He didn’t complain. He kept working and working, and he’s turned himself into one of the best players in the state. He’s improved a lot. His shooting. His ball handling. He really wants it. Every day in practice it’s a constant, ‘We’re not going to lose today; we’re not going to lose today!’ His mentality has even changed.”
Roy, who went 57-1 with two state titles and a national championship in his first two seasons, said personal distractions were a factor in not being one to help cultivate Eason’s skills. The coach began telling parents, players and administration after the championship win in March 2018 that he wouldn’t coach the following season.
“I needed some time to myself,” said Roy, who’s been the victim of a shooting, divorce and birth of two children in what he described as a difficult past five years.
Garfield principal Ted Howard and athletic director Carole Lynch approved Roy’s yearlong sabbatical, naming one of Roy’s assistants, JayVon Nickens, the interim head coach.
“I was just rundown,” Roy continued. “Even when I went into coaching at Nathan Hale (2016-17), there were still some things going on in my life where I was doing the job, but I felt like I could have gave more. Coming into the situation at Garfield, I really wanted the Garfield job, but I didn’t feel like I was quite ready to step into it. I was putting a lot of things off in my own life.
“It’s not just a divorce. It’s trying to be a good father, be a good son and I just felt like I was stressed out, taking care of other people. I needed that time to take care of myself. It was hard because we (Garfield) would’ve had a really good team coming back.”
Instead, Kemp and Beauchamp played for Rainier Beach last season while three others, including Fuller, transferred out of state.
The Bulldogs were 15-8 and didn’t qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2010. There are six returning players who’ll jockey for minutes in the starting lineup alongside Eason and Puyallup transfer Kendall Munson, a 6-8 three-star forward committed to Pepperdine.
According to Nickens, Eason and Munson have already established themselves as leaders. Patience was one of the first lessons because the Bulldogs are likely to have an underclassmen at point guard.
“This is home to me,” Eason said. “There’s still a lot of people who don’t really know me. I’m coming out and trying to start strong. … I think I’m going to shock a lot of people this year.”