Clover Park guards Crisp, Rorie have skills beyond their years
RYAN DIVISH; Staff writer
It’s familiar story to basketball fans in the South Sound. Two extremely young, ridiculously talented and frighteningly poised underclassmen leading their high school team to success.
But this one has a little different twist.
When Avery Bradley and Abdul Gaddy really took over at Bellarmine Prep in 2007 and began dominating opponents and turning heads, they were sophomores with a year of varsity basketball on their résumé.
What’s going on at Clover Park might be even more impressive.
Today, the top-ranked Warriors (23-2) open the regional round of the 2A state tournament at Mount Tahoma facing two-time defending state champion Squalicum.
And just as it has all season, Clover Park will start two freshmen guards who have helped make the Warriors the 2A title favorites – and have begun building their high school legends.
Remember the names – David Crisp and Ahmaad Rorie.
If you haven’t heard much about them now, you will
in the coming weeks and the next three years.
Just ask Clover Park’s Mel Ninnis. In the 20-plus years he has been a head coach, he has never started two freshmen in his backcourt. But Crisp and Rorie were too good to be denied.
“These kids are that good,” he said moments after the duo combined for 24 points in Clover Park’s 54-38 win over Fife to clinch the West Central/Southwest bi-district championship on Monday.
He had known it before the season started. Sure, Ninnis had watched Crisp and Rorie as they rose through the AAU ranks. They were talented and advanced. Last summer they led the Northwest Panthers to a 12th-place finish at the 8th grade AAU national tournament that featured 150 teams.
And while there is plenty of talent in AAU, players compete against players the same age. Ninnis was interested in seeing how they would react to playing against kids three and four years older.
The two quelled any doubts in their first summer-league game.
“When they were eligible to play by state standards, I think it was our fourth summer-league game and we are playing against Mount Tahoma,” Ninnis said. “They have Xavier Bazile, who’s (an NCAA Division I) player, they have physical, tough kids and a senior-laden team. The first play I run is called ‘groovy,’ and David crossed up one of their senior guards. The baseline guy comes to help so he hits Ahmaad in the corner, who nails a 3.”
And the two haven’t stopped since. They took over as the starting backcourt and played this season like seasoned veterans, each averaging a little more than 14 points per game.
“It feels like yesterday,” Crisp said of that summer-league game. “We had all those nerves preparing for high school. But we really prepared well, so when we came out and played, we found out we can hang with them.”
They do more than just hang with high school players. They beat them. And they seem to do it effortlessly at times.
“It hasn’t been easy, but it’s not really hard,” Rorie said.
Opposing coaches come away impressed.
“They can handle the ball, they can shoot it, and they get to the basket,” Fife coach Mark Schelbert said.
Ninnis tried to recall moments when the two have played like freshmen. They never seem to be in a hurry on the court. They never seem to get rattled. They never seem to be intimidated.
“Never,” he said. “When we played Lakes, which I think has some of the best long and physical athletes in the state, and they are running and jumping and pressing us, we had nine turnovers. As a team, we average seven turnovers a game.”
It helps that Crisp and Rorie have played countless AAU and pickup games together. They’ve developed a bond and an almost sixth sense about the other’s whereabouts on the court.
“I always know where he’s at,” Rorie said of Crisp. “We can both go the hoop and we can both shoot, but we complement each other.”
And they feed off each other’s success.
“Whenever he does something good, it gets me pumped up and I want to come down and do something good,” Crisp said. “We just build momentum off each other.”
More important than the transition of the two freshmen players was how seamlessly they blended with their upperclassmen teammates. Sometimes, having two hot-shot freshmen come in and steal playing time – and points – from juniors and seniors could be an issue.
But senior Tana Pritchard wouldn’t allow it. As the team’s unquestioned leader and heart and soul of this year’s Clover Park athletics program, he made the transition work. It helped that everyone knew that Crisp and Rorie would take the team the next level.
“It’s not about an age difference, it’s about basketball,” said Pritchard, who leads the Warriors in scoring at 18 points a game. “We would accept a 10-year-old if he had game like them. It doesn’t matter to us. That’s the only reason we are here right now is because of them.”
And yet, Pritchard can’t help but marvel at their maturity and poise. Rorie is 15, Crisp 14, and they’ve already drawn recruiting interest from California and Washington State.
“Every night, I think: ‘They can’t be this good. They can’t be this good consistently,’ ” Pritchard said. “And every night they prove me wrong. I wasn’t close to as poised as them when I was their age. I’m still not as poised as them now.”
Don’t try to pressure them on the court. It won’t work.
“Teams tried that earlier in the season,” Crisp said. “We were ready for it. We just stayed calm.”
Will they be able to stay calm in the bright lights of the 2A state tournament?
Nothing they have done this season says they won’t.
“It’s like someone has favor on me for giving me these kids, and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone but maybe (Kentridge’s) Gary Bell and (Curtis’) Davonte Lacy,” Ninnis joked. “But those guys are seniors, and my kids are freshmen. That’s how special I think these kids are.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 email@example.com