For the second consecutive season, a freshman is playing key minutes for the Gig Harbor High School boys basketball team. Last year, it was Zach Toglia, who emerged quickly for the Tides. This year, it’s 6-foot-1 freshman forward Asher Raquiza playing in critical situations.
In Gig Harbor’s 53-51 win over Yelm on Jan. 4, Raquiza led the team with 12 points off the bench.
“It’s been a really fun season,” Raquiza said. “I just get in and get open shots for other people and try to create my own shot, hit open shots. Just help the team out.”
Raquiza is an athletic wing with a good shot and a nose for the basketball. To Gig Harbor coach Billy Landram, it’s the natural ability that stood out immediately.
“He can really score,” Landram said. “He’s really smart. Actually, he’s really tough. He gets a lot of rebounds for us and doesn’t play like a freshman for us, in a lot of areas. It’s just another dynamic of a kid you can really trust to make good decisions and make buckets and he’s carved himself out a lot of playing time.”
While few freshman get the chance to play on the varsity squad, it’s the second year in a row for the Tides. Toglia, who was a key contributor as a freshman for the Tides last season, said he’s happy to see Raquiza follow in his footsteps.
“We call him ‘The Rook,’” Toglia said. “He’s brought a great shooter to our team. He knocks down threes for us. He can drive, as well. He’s just a great aspect to the team.”
If anyone is familiar with the challenges Raquiza faces as a freshman playing on the varsity team, it’s Toglia.
“I just tell him to shoot and have confidence,” Toglia said. “If you have confidence, your shoots will start going in, you’ll see the floor a little better and everything will start rolling for you.”
Raquiza certainly isn’t short on confidence. While plenty of freshman would be hesitant when the ball comes their way, Raquiza isn’t tentative about shooting the ball.
“That just comes from playing with us in practice every day,” said senior guard Kaden Garnaas. “It’s grown over the season for him, which is a big help. Knowing those are going in and that we trust him, knowing he’ll take good shots, it’s a nice thing to have him on the team.”
Landram said the moment hasn’t been too big this season yet for the budding freshman.
“I think he plays with a lot of confidence,” Landram said. “First of all, most freshman don’t play (on varsity). I don’t think he’s awestruck. I don’t think he’s scared. I don’t think he’s worried about playing against dudes with full beards. He’s just a good basketball player out there, trying to make plays for his team. We need that.”
Garnaas said he, along with some of the other veteran players on the squad, work to build Raquiza up during practices.
“Just reiterating things to him when we need to, talking to him, leading by example,” Garnaas said. “Just getting him going on both ends and just telling him to keep shooting and knocking them down.”
On the year, Raquiza is averaging 8.5 points per game, shooting 39 percent from 3-point range and 35 percent from the floor. He’s also hauling in 3.9 rebounds per game. During Gig Harbor’s most recent three-game stretch, he’s shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and 45 percent from the field.
“I just want to be an offensive scorer and help my team get more wins,” Raquiza said. “I want to help us make the playoffs and see how far we can get from there.”
In Gig Harbor’s win over Yelm, Raquiza was on the floor for much of the game, including the final few minutes of the contest in the fourth quarter.
“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Landram said. “He’s been playing a lot of basketball growing up, so it’s not like he just showed up. He’s a good player, I trust his decision making and his basketball IQ. We want to put him out there on the floor with all the other guys and give him a chance to make plays.”
Two seasons ago, Gig Harbor had close to 10 seniors on its team. That hasn’t been the case in the past two seasons, when the Tides have fielded a much younger roster.
“It just kind of depends on the makeup of the team,” Landram said. “The way the teams have bounced recently, younger kids who are ready have gotten the chance to step up. It’s kind of fun, building something.”