Perched atop a desk in the back of a classroom, Wilson High School boys basketball coach Dave Alwert preached to his team about the dangers of playing down to an inferior team’s level.
He then turned his attention to Keun Palu-Thompson.
“You could get a triple-double if you wanted to,” Alwert said. “I’ll take the double-double, but you could if you wanted to.”
Palu-Thompson has embraced the Rams’ most dramatic role change from last season’s 3A state semifinal run. It’s almost hard to believe the 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior spent all of last season coming off the bench, entering the game predominately for his defensive presence.
Now — there’s no one on the team more athletic or versatile.
“His rebounding, his athleticism and his overall scoring, that’s his new role,” said junior Montre Brown-Lofton. “He has to do everything, in my opinion. He has to have the ball, he has to rebound, he has to score like a guard. He has to do it all.
“He has everything we are asking him to do and that’s why we are asking him to do it.”
Then again, there isn’t a player on the team who didn’t undergo some sort of role change.
The Rams lost three starters from last season. They lost Jamal Welch to graduation (he now plays for Eastern Arizona College), but were stunned at the beginning of the school year when they lost two others to transfers. Alphonso Anderson, a 3A Narrows first-team selection, transferred to Garfield and Ivy Smith Jr. to Rainier Beach.
Wilson was viewed as a 3A title contender before their transfers. Those on the team don’t seem to think that has changed.
“I think we’re better than last year,” said junior David Jenkins. “When Alphonso and Ivy left, I knew people would have to step up and we knew from the jump that Keun would definitely have to.”
Palu-Thompson has averaged 12 points, 9.3 rebounds and four assists as Wilson has won its first three games.
“I’m more confident this year, way more confident,” he said. “It is my senior year, so I just told myself I needed to step up. And especially when I heard Alphonso and Ivy were leaving, I was like, ‘Yeah, I need to step up. Because people are going to be down on us and think we aren’t going to be that good.’
“Right now it seems like we got those spots filled.”
Palu-Thompson also helped prepare himself by playing football for the first time since eighth grade.
He entered high school at 5-feet-7, 145 pounds. So his stepfather, Charles Pinkett, wouldn’t let him play football.
Then the growth spurt. And Palu-Thompson sat Pinkett down to talk about football — a conversation that didn’t take much persuading.
Palu-Thompson was named a second-team all-area selection by The News Tribune this year, tied current Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant’s school record for combined kickoff and punt-return touchdowns (six) and received an offer from the University of Idaho.
“It was my senior year and I always wanted to play,” said Palu-Thompson, who had played quarterback from second to eighth grade before shifting to wide receiver and safety this year. “I didn’t do spring camp or nothing. I just came out.”
But basketball is his first love. And while he has yet to receive a college offer in hoops, he said some of the colleges who watched him during football season, including Idaho, said they planned to watch him during basketball season as well.
Alwert told Palu-Thompson that he is playing at 65 percent to everyone else’s 100. The senior said he is still trying to figure out what that means and how to take his game to an even further level.
“What I’m wondering is what I’m going to produce if I am going at that 100,” he said.
CLASS 3A BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW
1. Wilson: Anderson, Smith defections hurt; still athletic, deep, determined.
2. Lincoln: When Abes get fully healthy, might own perimeter with defense.
3. Peninsula: Lethal McLaughlin-Ritchie 1-2 punch; defense ain’t bad, either.
4. Foss: As gifted offensively as anybody, but who handles the rock?
5. Auburn Mountainview: Long, lanky Lions will run more under new coach Ostrander.
1. Peninsula (15-8)
2. Auburn Mountainview (11-15)
3. Sumner (18-9, 3A SPSL)
4. Auburn Riverside (12-9, SPSL North)
5. Enumclaw (21-5)
6. Auburn (13-11, SPSL North)
7. Lakes (7-14)
8. Bonney Lake (0-20)
* 2013-14 records
Reigning 2A SPSL MVP needs to get healthy (ankle); does it all.
His slashing, scoring and overall efficiency are what makes Lions go.G JaQuori McLaughlin 6-3 Jr. Peninsula
Talented UW commit should do something head-turning in every game.C Tristan Miguel 6-10 Jr. Aub. Mountainview
Rim enforcer, he also should score more in up-tempo transition offense.C Jimmy Ritchie 6-9 Jr. Peninsula
He is a large human being, with a big appetite for dominating in the paint.
CIRCLE THE CALENDAR
Feb 3: Peninsula at Auburn Mountainview, 7 p.m.
1. Wilson (23-5)
2. Lincoln (23-3)
3. Foss (17-8)
4. Central Kitsap (9-11, 4A Narrows)
5. North Thurston (6-14)
6. Mount Tahoma (6-14)
7. Capital (7-16, 2A EvCo)
8. Shelton (0-20)
* 2013-14 records
Real heartbeat of the Abes, gives instant offense and improving defense.
With Hamilton gone, brings much more offense to the point guard spot.F Sam Dabalos-McMahon 6-2 Sr. Foss
Not flashy, he will have more prominent scoring role from the wing.F Roberto Gittens 6-5 So. Foss
Looking for league’s next great athlete? Dunks with show-stopping hops.G David Jenkins 6-1 Jr. Wilson
Adjusting to playing point guard full time, the controls are in his hands.
CIRCLE THE CALENDAR
Feb. 4: Lincoln at Wilson, 7 p.m.