Darius LuBom says he’d hate guarding Rayvaughn Bolton now.
He attempted to in a game once, back when they were on competing middle school teams.
“He had 37 points,” LuBom laughed. “But not all 37 were on me. Maybe 25 were.”
Not that Bolton enjoyed defending LuBom, either. LuBom’s team won that game.
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“He is still big, and he was big back then,” Bolton said. “He was like a grown man in middle school.”
Joining forces for the Kentwood High School boys basketball team has been a far preferable alternative.
Both are four-year varsity players — LuBom has been a starter all four and Bolton for the past three — and together they are vying for their third consecutive trip to the 4A state tournament, and maybe a second straight trip to the 4A state title game, where last season they lost to Federal Way.
To be honest, I look around and there are good teams and good players, but I don’t think there’s a better tandem than them. Those guys and the chemistry they have and how they feed off each other — there aren’t any two I would trade them for.
Kentwood coach Blake Solomon, on guards Rayvaughn Bolton and Darius LuBom
Internally, Kentwood coach Blake Solomon said that he believed Bolton and LuBom were the best backcourt combo in the state last season.
“To be honest, I look around and there are good teams and good players, but I don’t think there’s a better tandem than them,” Solomon said. “Those guys and the chemistry they have and how they feed off each other — there aren’t any two I would trade them for.”
Solomon says he’s been a part of three teams that he knew could end the year holding a state championship trophy.
One was his junior season at Kentwood, when he played alongside Rodney Stuckey and the Conquerors won it all in 2004. Stuckey’s Detroit Pistons jersey hangs in a glass case near the entrance to Kentwood’s gymnasium.
The second was Solomon’s senior year, when they reached the title game, but lost to Bethel before Solomon went on to play college basketball at Northwest University in Kirkland.
That would be this Conquerors team — which returned seven of its top eight scorers from last year.
“Now, whether that comes to fruition or not is dependent on how hard we work, how we jell and what lucky breaks you get,” Solomon said.
Teams with a backcourt like Bolton and LuBom tend to make their own lucky breaks.
Neither are Stuckey. Solomon wouldn’t try to go that far.
But each reminds him of bits of Stuckey’s game. LuBom seems to have Stuckey’s strength and toughness, and Bolton his flash and court vision.
LuBom can defend four positions effectively and locks opposing ball-handlers up full-court. Bolton is so lengthy that he’ll start every game guarding the other team’s top scorer.
Bolton is Kentwood’s Energizer Bunny. And he’s approaching Kentwood’s career assist record, held by Jake Wilcox.
“Rayvaughn sets the table,” Solomon said. “He can go off in a hurry and account for 15 straight points either scoring by himself or passing.”
LuBom is the reigning 4A SPSL Northeast co-MVP.
“Darius has always been a pit bull,” Solomon said. “Even as a freshman he was stronger than most of the guards he was playing.”
LuBom and Bolton didn’t get along with each other at first.
They were used to competing against each other — save for when they played together in the second grade on a team called the Bucks — and then were competing for playing time as freshmen. Their older brothers, Marcus LuBom and Kendall White, played together the season prior.
“We used to be battling each other,” Bolton said. “We grew off of that and off of our competitiveness and started to click.”
Their sophomore year, Solomon, now in his fifth season as the coach, gutted the Conquerors’ stagnant offensive system for their current one, which demands constant ball movement, modeled much like the 2014 San Antonio Spurs’ offense.
“We didn’t have a good system, we didn’t have the continuity, and me and the coaches had to go do our homework,” Solomon said. “They had to change on the fly how hard they practiced, how well they practiced, how well they moved the ball, how they defended. They came in during a transition period for me coaching-wise and changing our philosophy.
“Looking back, it was good because they took off.”
Now Bolton and LuBom are in their third season in that system and both are looked to as team leaders.
He will get the crowd into it. The other night, he had the crowd jumping.
Kentwood’s Darius LuBom on teammate Rayvaughn Bolton
“Our main team leader last year was Davonte Sanchez, so they’ve had to step up,” Kentwood forward Beau Roggenbach said. “They are both huge players for us.”
LuBom and Bolton have had classes together each of their four years. Their seats are next to each other in their sociology class.
“When we’re not in a group together it’s like, ‘Wow, come on, teacher. Why you doing that?’ ” LuBom said.
That’s despite their differing personalities.
Darius has always been a pit bull. Even as a freshman he was stronger than most of the guards he was playing.
Kentwood coach Blake Solomon on Darius LuBom
Bolton goes by “Boo.” He’s the one dancing in the team huddle before games, and he plays a more “eccentric” style, Solomon said. Bolton averaged 15 points, four rebounds and four assists per game last season.
“He will get the crowd into it,” LuBom said. “The other night, he had the crowd jumping.”
LuBom goes by “Roe.” He’s a steady force no matter the moment in the game, and he averaged a team-best 17 points, five rebounds and 3.5 assists last season.
Both players can take over.
“We played Kentridge last year and we were down by 11 or 12 points with two minutes left and they had all the momentum. But we just looked at each other, shake each other’s hand and know, ‘OK, it’s time to go. It’s time to get these guys jumping,’ ” LuBom said. “ ‘Time to get this win and bring it home somehow.’ And that’s exactly what we did, and we came out winning.”
LuBom’s toughness made him a standout defensive back on the football team this fall. It was his first time playing since middle school, and he didn’t try out until he said he saw a video of Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu on Twitter.
So he texted football coach Mike Bush right then if he still had time to sign up.
“Sometimes he would get tackled and I’d be like, ‘Oh no, oh no, oh no.’ ” Bolton laughed. “But I tried to think positive thoughts as much as I could.”
Bolton wanted nothing more than a healthy LuBom to help him return to the Tacoma Dome, where together they’ve taken Kentwood from a sixth-place finish starting as sophomores to second place last season.
“There is nothing they haven’t seen — regionals, state, the championship — nothing surprises them,” Solomon said. “The mantra of our program is to get a little better every single day. If we can do that, we’ll be ready to go in February and March.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677