Matt Mickelson has a new job. He is dog-sitting a 13-year-old Labrador retriever.
“One very old pup,” Mickelson said, “and it can barely walk.”
If Mickelson can work with the dog like he leads the Capital High School basketball team, that dog will be up and running in no time.
When the Cougars lost standout point guard T.J. Mickelson (broken collarbone, concussion) for the season after a nasty late-game fall on Jan. 31 against North Thurston — the night Capital clinched the 3A South Sound Conference title outright — they had a big void to fill.
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No sooner had coach Brian Vandiver got to school the next day, Matt Mickelson — T.J.’s younger brother by 10 months — was already waiting in the basketball office. He wanted the first shot to run the point.
“Matt was the natural choice,” Vandiver said.
And the younger Mickelson has done a fantastic job for the Cougars. In the six games since T.J.’s injury, the senior has averaged 9.2 points, 6.9 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.2 turnovers per outing.
The most important statistic? Capital is 5-1, and on to Class 3A regionals this weekend against Lincoln (24-0) at Saint Martin’s University. Because of their RPI rankings, both schools have secured spots in the state tournament next week in the Tacoma Dome.
Mickelson had heard the chatter after his brother was injured. Very few people had given Capital (22-3) a chance to make it this far in the postseason without the 3A SSC player of the year.
“Everyone came up to us and was like, ‘We are sorry for your loss,’” Mickelson said. “No. 1, he didn’t die. And No. 2, we ... know what it takes to work together.”
Mickelson admitted his best position is point guard, but on teams he played with his brother, he always occupied the shooting guard spot.
“(T.J.) was good enough to play on a seventh-grade team when he was in fifth grade,” Mickelson said. “He is just so talented getting people open. That is the main reason he was running it (at Capital).”
For the first time three years ago, the boys split up — T.J. went to Black Hills while Matt joined Capital.
As a sophomore, Matt Mickelson started at point guard for the Cougars in the 3A Narrows League against the likes of Wilson, Foss and even this weekend’s opponent.
“That (Narrows) league was a lot better,” Mickelson said. “And I came straight up from the ‘C’ team, so it was a big step up.”
Mickelson struggled in his first stint, but added, “I would not be where I am today without those lessons.”
Last season, Mickelson moved over to off guard so Chris Penner could run the point under Vandiver, who was in his first season as the coach.
Then T.J. Mickelson transferred to Capital this season, shifting both other guards over to the wing — that is, until that disastrous Jan. 31 game.
“I tell you what, the way our guards have played, including Luke (Layton), has been unreal,” Vandiver said. “The maturity they have played with in these six games is better than I even thought it would be.”
In his first playoff start against Lakes, Matt Mickelson tallied 14 points and a school-record eight steals in a 74-45 Cougars win to kick off the 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament.
“I definitely have played point a lot better than I did (as a sophomore), and the main reason for that is because I got to watch T.J. do it for 19 games,” Mickelson said. “I like watching one particular person (to) see how they play.
“Of course, I’ve also had 17 years watching him, too.”
And in the Cougars’ final loser-out game Saturday against North Thurston, Mickelson scored only four points. But he had eight assists and zero turnovers.
“He is the pulse of the team,” Vandiver said. “He only scored four points, but he calls the plays and he gets guys in right spots. He had an awesome game.”