David Jenkins Jr. said he wants to change Tacoma’s culture.
He’s noticed all the talk surrounding Seattle basketball and the elite talent in the 3A Metro League this year. Meanwhile, the 3A Narrows League sent three Tacoma teams — Foss, Lincoln and Wilson — into the West Central/Southwest Bi-District semifinals.
For the second consecutive year, the fifth-ranked Abes face the No. 9 Rams at 4 p.m. Saturday at Puyallup High School for the district title.
But the difference between Seattle and Tacoma, the Wilson junior says, is respect.
“In Seattle, they support each other,” Jenkins said. “In Tacoma, I feel like we hate on each other a little too much. What we should be doing is when people succeed, we should be supporting them, bringing them up.”
Jenkins was named the 3A Narrows co-most valuable player alongside Lincoln senior Josiah Barsh this year. Jenkins averaged 22 points a game in the regular season and Barsh led the Abes with 18 points and six rebounds per game.
They’ve known and played against each other since the first grade. And Jenkins said he has played with Foss leading scorer Haywood Irwin since kindergarten, even playing on the same recreational baseball team together.
“After the MVP thing, we started talking to each other more and texting each other and keeping in touch,” Barsh said. “We’ll back each other up before the game, but it’s different on the court.”
Saturday will be the third meeting between Lincoln and Wilson in a season dominated by the Tacoma “Big Three.”
But when the Big Three were pitted against each other? It led to some knock-out, drag-out games coveted just as much for the ensuing bragging rights as the tick in the win column.
Here’s how they turned out:
“We kind of predicted this before the season, that it would be either Foss or Wilson in the finals,” Lincoln coach Aubrey Shelton said. “And that hopefully it would be against us.”
Only this time, the title will mean a little more.
The regional matchups had already been determined before last year’s title game. Though Lincoln went on to win its fifth district title in seven years, the win set the Abes up against the No. 3 seed from the SeaKing District (Bellevue) and Wilson against the No. 3 seed from the Northwest District (Mountlake Terrace).
Lincoln’s season ended the following week. Wilson advanced to the Tacoma Dome before losing to Bellevue in the state third-place game.
The regional draws this year will be announced at 10 p.m. Saturday.
“We win districts, we get to cut the nets down, and that’s something that’s always special,” Shelton said. “We don’t take that lightly at all. It’s absolutely all-out, trying to win. And it’s a true rubber match. It’s for bragging rights.
“But the difference this year is we don’t know who we are going to face in regionals this time. What was frustrating last year was when we did win, then you hear from Wilson fans and Wilson people saying, ‘Oh, we didn’t want to win anyway.’ … You want to say you won districts and not have anybody question if you are the true champion.”
Wilson’s only league losses have come to Foss and Lincoln. And Lincoln’s only league losses came to Foss and Wilson.
“I think the city is just loaded with kids that play as hard as I’ve seen in a long time,” Wilson coach Dave Alwert said. “The talent is kind of spread out, and the work ethic from all three teams and just the brutal matches — they are fist fights — is a great thing from a competitive side.”
Though Barsh and Jenkins are friends off the court, that changes once the ball is tipped.
“We talk a little smack, but we don’t let it get out of hand,” Jenkins said. “What makes it the best is that we are all trying to play hard and get the win and it makes it competitive.
Said Barsh: “I don’t really hear any of the talking, anyway, because I just block everything out.”
What both Barsh and Jenkins said they’ve noticed has changed this year is that the talking doesn’t continue as much off the court.
“I think you have to have mutual respect,” Alwert said. “It just betters everything. I think they are right: Tacoma hates on each other too much. If we do have mutual respect, but also battle one another on the court, it’s just going to bode well for Tacoma in the future.”
The top seed out of regionals and bragging rights — the order differs depending on who you talk to — are both on the line Saturday. But whichever team wins, props will be given where props are due.
“Personally, I just want to make the city better,” Jenkins said. “I want everybody to make it.”