Ed Haskins said it as politely as possible.
“No disrespect to other teams in other classifications, but there is no question in my mind that 3A basketball is by far the toughest classification in the state,” said the 1990 Clover Park graduate and Garfield boys basketball coach since 2008.
Remaining polite, Haskins continued.
“No disrespect to any other league, but I will say this, too — the 3A Metro League is by far the toughest league in the state. No question about it.”
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As if the 3A classification wasn’t tough enough — with Rainier Beach returning University of Washington-bound Dejounte Murray and looking for its fourth consecutive state title — it added reigning 4A champion Garfield, which moved down a classification before the school year.
Oh, and both play in the 3A Metro League.
This should be interesting.
“It’s just a big-time league,” said Lakeside junior guard Isiah Brown, “And with Garfield coming down, I think that gives us more competition. I think a lot of people weren’t so happy, but as a competitor and as a player, it’s just another team you got to go out and battle.”
Garfield and Rainier Beach have never faced each other in the state tournament, and most people older than 30 years old consider neighbor Franklin to be Garfield’s biggest rival.
But Haskins said he believes this year could see the birth of a rivalry.
The programs are strikingly similar and fresh off state titles. The Bulldogs have won 12 state championships and the Vikings eight, with Haskins having been an assistant under Beach coach Mike Bethea for three of Bethea’s state-record seven state titles.
Both have NBA soundboards. Beach senior Murray said he regularly exchanges texts with former Vikings and current Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. And Garfield junior guard Jashaun Agosto said he often gets in-game advice from Bulldogs alum and former Husky Brandon Roy.
“(Crawford) is always telling me to think about the bigger picture,” said Murray, who had 52 points and 20 rebounds against Franklin on Dec. 9. “He’s just a good role model — someone I really look up to.”
Roy attends most all of Garfield’s games.
“There will be some times in the game where I will look up to (Roy) and (former Husky) Will Conroy and they will kind of tell me certain things to help me defend my guy,” Agosto said. “(Against Franklin) they would tell me ‘Keep him from going right. Keep pressuring him because he doesn’t want the ball.’ So that’s what I kept doing.”
Both schools also have key transfers, with each having one from Wilson High School.
Alphonso Anderson transferred from Wilson to Garfield before the school year and Ivy Smith Jr. transferred to Rainier Beach.
“Losing Alphonso, that’s a tough one because he was almost like my kid,” said Wilson coach Dave Alwert before the season. His team was favored to challenge Rainier Beach for the 3A state title before losing Anderson and Smith. “And little Ivy is a great kid. … I’m just ashamed for the fact that he would have been a four-year starter. He would have been a hall-of-famer. He would have had his number retired.
“It’s just hard. Especially Tacoma to Seattle. That’s the hard part.”
Anderson and Smith play each other for the first of at least two times on Jan. 19 in the Martin Luther King Holiday Tournament.
Anderson declined to talk about his transfer; Smith didn’t want to talk about his either except to say it had to do with family issues. But his eyes got wide when asked about what that game against Anderson and Garfield might be like.
“I’m going to expect a hard-fought game,” Smith said with emphasis. “It’s going to be a good game.
“It’s going to be a fun season for the both of us.”
It’s not just Anderson and Smith who have transferred. Lincoln coach Aubrey Shelton said he’s noticed an uptick in kids transferring, especially over the past five years, including the Abes losing standout freshman Londrell Hamilton to Stadium. But it happens within the Seattle area as well, with Keith Smith transferring from Franklin to Rainier Beach.
“Every kid’s situation is different. Some legitimately do move for a family reason; sometimes it is for basketball,” Shelton said. “But the reality is that it has increased. You can look at every team in the Metro League and they all have multiple transfers.
“One of the things with Tacoma is that we have to keep kids. With Wilson losing two of their best, it might help us, but it doesn’t help Tacoma. So I’m not happy about it. … If I kept all my kids at Lincoln, we would be a different story, too. It’s just a culture change and the same thing is happening in Seattle.”
Garfield and Beach were unbeaten through Christmas, but so was reigning 3A state runner-up Eastside Catholic, which has UW-bound senior Matisse Thybulle and Montana State recruit Mandrell Worthy. And Roosevelt joined Garfield in stepping down from 4A to 3A.
Seattle Prep has retooled after its runner-up finish in 2012, as has Lakeside, which finished state runner-up in 2013 and has lost only to Beach and Eastside Catholic so far this season. And O’Dea coach Al Hairston has won five state titles, so don’t count him out.
“We always want to represent the 2-5-3 and we kind of have our own rivalry with Seattle and want to beat those teams every time we play them,” said Shelton. “But you can’t argue with the fact that they’ve dominated and they got multiple (Division I) kids every year.
“Their top three or four teams are probably the top three or four teams in the state, and that’s the way it’s been the past couple years.”
But for Haskins, he didn’t sense the love from fellow Seattle schools for Garfield rejoining the 3A Metro.
“I think on one hand it’s good for the community, but if you are going for something and I am going for the same thing, I don’t know how happy of a transition that is going to be,” said Haskins, the youngest of nine siblings who’s older brother Aaron was a Mount Tahoma standout who played at Washington State.
“It’s like telling the San Antonio Spurs that the Cleveland Cavaliers are coming to the Western Conference. Are they going to be really happy that Cleveland is coming to the Western Conference? I don’t think that would be the case.”
Five teams will advance from the combined Metro-KingCo (Sea-King) district tournament to regionals. That’s tough considering the teams that have reached the Sea-King district title game the past three years then went on to play for the state title a week later.
“Someone who is really good is not going to get in to state,” said Bellevue coach Chris O’Connor, whose Wolverines are unbeaten in KingCo play this season. “Trying to go through all those teams in the Metro League … it’s going to be tough. But I would still put our bigs and our guards up against anybody that Metro has, to be honest.”
Know this: There will be no nights off.
“Every single night, teams are going to come and play like it is the state championship game,” Murray said. “So coach (Bethea) tells us every night, ‘You have to come in hungry and you guys can’t come in cocky, talking about winning four in a row before we’ve even done it.’ So we come out like we’re trying to win the state championship.”