Union High School boys basketball coach Blake Conley isn’t blind to what it takes to play with Federal Way.
You can’t let them beat you in transition and you certainly can’t give them running turnovers, he said before this matchup of top-five-ranked teams.
It’s one thing to say that, though.
“You can watch it and talk about it and try to put seven guys on defense in practice like we did,” Conley said. “But they play really hard, and when you do that with speed and length – it’s tough.”
Jaden McDaniels, the 6-foot-9 junior wing, scored 28 points with 12 rebounds and three blocks and was his typical game-changing self as No. 3 Federal Way wore out No. 5 Union out in its 82-62 victory on Wednesday at Puyallup high school in the 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict semifinals.
“Jaden did his thing in the paint,” Federal Way coach Jerome Collins said. “That changed the momentum of the game.”
This sets Federal Way (24-0) with a third date this season against No. 10 Enumclaw (19-5), which beat Curtis the game before.
The first half was back-and-forth and filled with deep 3-pointers from both teams. Union’s Tyler Combs hit one from near halfcourt – but might as well have been Vancouver – but Federal Way’s Jishai Miller connected from the left wing just before the halftime horn to give the Eagles a 45-40 lead heading into the break.
Yeah, it was a five-point game at halftime.
So what happened?
McDaniels did. He scored on eight consecutive Federal Way possessions and Etan Collins added a couple of buckets to put the Eagles up 60-46. Then McDaniels had back-to-back dunks – a two-handed rim-rocker off one of those Union turnovers and then a drop-step one-handed jam off his offensive rebound.
Suddenly Federal Way led 66-48 with 2:13 left in the third quarter.
“It starts with our defensive parameters,” Federal Way coach Jerome Collins said. They have seven different defenses, he said.
“What I do like about us is we’re not just running. We’re running with purpose. Guys really pass well in the open floor and that makes a huge difference. That puts a ton of pressure on them.”
Federal Way outscored Union 25-11 in the third quarter, with McDaniels scoring 14 of his 28 points. He had four dunks in the third quarter alone.
So, Conley, when is the last time you’ve seen a player like that?
“Honestly, with his skill set – never,” said Conley, who is in his fifth season at perennial state contender Union and has been coaching nine years total going back to his time at Kingston.
And Conley saw McDaniels’ brother, Jalen McDaniels – who now plays at San Diego State University. Union lost to that Federal Way team three years ago when the Eagles won their first of back-to-back state titles.
“He reminds you of his brother, obviously, with his length and stuff,” Conley said. “But they are different players. You have to respect his outside shot, he killed us inside, he blocks shots, he’s a great passer – he’s a complete player. He’s a very, very good player. In my nine years I haven’t seen anybody with that length and skill set.
“I understand why the Pac-12 teams are all over him. I would be, too.”
Jaden McDaniels averaged 21 points, 10 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 blocks in 20 regular-season games.
Just like those two Federal Way recent title teams, these Eagles are fast and athletic.
But they also have McDaniels and 6-foot-5 Etan Collins protecting the paint – though McDaniels was guarding Union’s top 3-point shooter, Ethan Martin, much of the second half and Etan Collins even occasionally switched onto Union’s standout senior point guard, Tyler Combs.
They’re the captains of this group.
“They complement each other so well,” Jerome Collins said of his starting forwards. “They talk to each other, encourage one another and you can see it on the floor. They are the heart and soul and they’re leading us.”
Federal Way is averaging 86 points per game in its four playoff games since taking the 4A North Puget Sound League’s Olympic division title. And it’s holding its opponents to 54 points.
A case could be made that they’re peaking right now. Especially since Union is coming off a trip to the 4A state title a year ago, losing to Kentwood, which Federal Way recent beat 86-52.
“I love our approach. I love our unselfishness and ability to share the ball,” Jerome Collins said. “And we defend well. But I’m not going to say we’re there yet. You are never satisfied. The day you get completely satisfied is the day you retire and there are still spots and holes we need to improve on.”
And Collins isn’t ready to retire he says. Even though he’s in his 35th season and just won his 593rd game – the most of any active coach in the South Sound region.
Besides, he’s having too much fun with this group.
“It’s been very rewarding,” Jerome Collins said. “Our coaching staff has done an excellent job with this group. We all put a lot of time in.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677