It has been one of the craziest and most interesting weeks for Rainier Beach High School boys basketball under coach Mike Bethea.
First, supporters of the Vikings, including Bethea, staged a rally Wednesday at school to protest the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s decision not to let them participate in the upcoming Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament, which is considered the unofficial high school national championship.
Hours later, the WIAA reversed its initial decision and allowed Rainier Beach to play in the event in New York in early April.
On Friday, the No. 1 Vikings saw all of those future plans nearly fall by the wayside before holding off Mercer Island, 61-55, in a regional-round nail-biter at Bellevue College.
And on Sunday, the two-time defending Class 3A state champions learned who they would open up with at the state tournament Thursday at the Tacoma Dome — Shadle Park High School of Spokane.
If you think the Vikings (26-0) got a huge break at the WIAA draw in Renton, most would agree — Shadle Park is the only team in the tournament with a losing record (10-13).
Just don’t tell Bethea that.
“You know what, man? That is scary,” Bethea said. “The last time a Rainier Beach team was in that position, we played White River (in 1992-93) — and lost.”
The Vikings have to win three
more games to secure their plans to play in the national invitational. Does that thought bang around in the heads of his players? Sure does, Bethea said.
“I definitely knew it was going to be a distraction,” Bethea said. “No matter what you say, they are still kids, and it is in the back of their minds. They are talking to their boys all over the country about it.
“But that is what it is. Everything I do is with Washington in mind, not just Rainier Beach. This here opens up doors for everybody. We want to be thought of as national powers in all of our sports. We feel we are undiscovered up here, and this takes us a step closer to achieving that.”
So much for a possible Jackson-Garfield final in 4A boys basketball. The draw left those two schools and fellow title contender Kentridge in the same half of the bracket.
Second-ranked Garfield and No. 4 Kentridge meet right off the bat in the 4A quarterfinals at 3:45 p.m. Thursday in Tacoma. It didn’t seem to sit all that well with the coaches.
Kentridge’s Dave Jamison slipped out of WIAA headquarters immediately after the draw became final. While not thrilled, Garfield’s Ed Haskins said his team welcomes the early-round challenges.
The winner could face No. 1 Jackson in the semifinals, assuming the Timberwolves get by Issaquah in their opener.
“Whenever you throw it in there like that (in a draw), you will end up with that,” Jackson coach Steve Johnson said. “Hey, everyone is good when you get to the final eight. Issaquah is good ... so I really can’t worry about anything but them.”
On the girls side, this is Stanford-bound Brittany McPhee’s last chance to win a 4A title at Mount Rainier. The Rams open at state against Inglemoor, the last team to beat them.
Inglemoor defeated Mount Rainier, 68-53, during a King holiday tournament in late January. Since then, the Rams have won 11 games in a row.
The rematch is set for 2 p.m. Thursday.
“We are playing pretty well — playing good defense, and we are scoring a lot of points, which is always a good thing,” Rams coach Bob Bolam said.
At the beginning of the season, new Lincoln High School girls coach Jamila Jones had a chance to watch defending 3A champion Cleveland get ready for a game.
“I saw their walkthrough, and I was like, ‘That is how you play basketball,’ ” Jones said. “When you get after it in a walkthrough, you are pretty good, because it makes the games easy.
“That is what we aspire to be.”
The Abes, in the state tournament for the first time since 2005-06, will take on Cleveland in their opener at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.
“I think it is a great matchup,” Cleveland coach Stephanie Wheeler-Smith said. “They are a talented team, a respectable team. ... I also know teams get hungry, and you’ve got to be prepared for every team you face.”
The Wilson boys won’t have to hear any of that Rainier Beach talk for a while — the Rams are on the opposite side of the bracket and will play O’Dea at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“I like it,” Wilson coach Dave Alwert said. “The early game ... we practice early. My kids can get up, get a good breakfast and get ready to go.”
The Wilson girls play Mercer Island at 9 p.m. Thursday.
Saw you once, see you again — it will be a prevailing theme for the White River girls in Yakima.
The Hornets drew defending state champion Mark Morris in the 2A quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Yakima Valley SunDome. The two teams played Dec. 21, when the Monarchs won, 75-53.
“It is a tough matchup, but at the same time, I love the way my kids are playing,” White River coach Chris Gibson said. “We are a different basketball team than we were back then. We’ve made some adjustments and changed some things ... but we will still have to play the best game of the year, for us.”
The White River boys open with Anacortes at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.
At times, Cascade Christian boys coach Jerry Williams has to pinch himself. Is he really going to Yakima?
Staging a late-season rally, the Cougars (12-11) are in the state tournament and will meet undefeated Zillah in the opening round at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
This comes after Cascade Christian started the season 2-8. Since then, the Cougars have turned it up a notch defensively, holding opponents to 45 points or fewer in 11 of their past 13 games.
“As far as loser-out games, we probably played in about 10 of them,” Williams said. “The way we started, we had a better chance of winning the lottery than making the playoffs. We had a bunch of loser-out games in our league we had to win.” Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ thenewstribune.com