Rainier Beach, in 3A, is the only school in a major classification to win three consecutive titles. The Eagles’ chances are good, especially with a healthy Malcolm Cola in the fold.
The Federal Way boys basketball team was a perfect 29-0 last season on its way to a second consecutive Class 4A state championship.
Yet Eagles coach Jerome Collins said his team could have been even better had another player not missed most of the year.
Federal Way wing Malcolm Cola dislocated his knee at practice after the Eagles’ third game of the season. He returned to action late in the year, but after an offseason of healing and working on his game, a healthy Cola has returned and become a leader on and off the court for the Eagles as they prepare to defend their state title.
Class 4A boys state
When: Wednesday through Saturday
Where: Tacoma Dome
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Top story lines: Can Federal Way top rival Kentwood and win its third championship? The Conquerors have won two of three meetings against Federal Way this season, including one that ended the Eagles’ 63-game winning streak. The teams wouldn’t meet at state until the championship. ... Can Gonzaga Prep’s defense, which has allowed just 45.7 points per game this season, slow down the high-scoring teams from the west side of the state?. … Five of the final 12 teams have won a 4A state championship in the last seven years.
Top players: Marcus Stephens (Federal Way); Malcolm Cola (Federal Way); Darius LuBom (Kentwood); Cameron Cranston (Union); Anton Watson (Gonzaga Prep); Bobby Martin (Glacier Peak); John Moore (Curtis); Collin Kelley (Davis); Kaden Anderson (Enumclaw); Emilio Mancol (Kennedy Catholic); Joey Bodoia (Bellarmine).
Favorite: Federal Way. Two losses have the Eagles looking human, but the two-time defending champs are still going to have to be dethroned to bring home a state title.
Last: According to the WIAA’s website, nine schools have won back-to-back Class 4A state championships (or the highest classification at the time) since 1922. None of those schools won a third consecutive title. Rainier Beach (3A) is the only team in the top four classifications to ever win three championships in a row (2012-14).
“We were good last year. We would have been better with him,” Collins said. “We wanted him to start in the middle. … He hurt his knee and it was unfortunate. We lost him for just about the whole season.”
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Watching from the sideline gave Cola a different perspective. He returned for the playoffs and helped Federal Way top North Puget Sound League rival Kentwood for the state title. Cola wasn’t 100 percent, but was still a difference-maker for the Eagles in the postseason.
Collins expects that trend to continue.
“He hadn’t played basketball,” Collins said. “No matter how you try to ride the bike or do whatever it’s not like being on the floor and running up and down. His timing, his rhythm was off. But this year is a different story. He’s healthy.”
Cola was named the NPSL Olympic Division Most Valuable Player after averaging about 20 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.
Cola leads Federal Way in rebounds and is one of the top scorers on a high-flying squad that averages 87 points per game.
On top of his basketball prowess, Collins said Cola is an excellent student and very coachable. Collins named Cola a senior captain and has enjoyed watching his 6-foot-7 star “come out of his shell” and lead teammates.
“He’s the kind of kid you root for,” Collins said. “To see his hard work paying off and see him get the accolades he deserves is very rewarding. I’m his biggest fan. It’s very rewarding to see him having the success he’s having. If anybody deserves it, it’s him.”
Federal Way junior Etan Collins, another imposing post presence for the Eagles, said Cola’s return has helped the Eagles dominate the paint even more.
“His shot-blocking is key,” Collins said. “We had it last year, but we didn’t have it as much as we do now. … We feel a lot more protected in the paint. If someone gets by us, Malcolm’s going to be able to block the shot.”
Cola wears a brace, but when he plays he’s not worried about his knee – he’s just focused on helping Federal Way get a win.
“I’m a rim protector,” Cola said. “I’ve had triple-doubles with blocks, rebounds and points. Blocks lead to offense. I just want to be more aggressive than the other team.”
The Eagles had a streak of 63 consecutive wins snapped by Kentwood in the NPSL title game. The Conquerors again topped Federal Way in the West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament.
Despite the victories, Kentwood coach Blake Solomon said Cola presents a serious matchup problem for most teams.
“He’s very physical and strong and he’s very in control of his body, which is kind of a rare combination,” Solomon said. “When you’re big, strong and physical – and know how to use your body – that makes you pretty special.”
Cola maintains the winning streak wasn’t incredibly prevalent in players’ minds. Their primary focus has been getting back to the Tacoma Dome and taking home their third consecutive title.
“A successful year is a state championship,” Cola said. “We have to do it our way. That’s how we’re being coached.”