High School Sports

A trip 32 years in the making – Spanaway Lake will make history in state basketball tournament

Spanaway Lake relies on its athletic backcourt of, from left, 6-foot-3 Jordan Garner (averaging 15 points per game), 6-3 Divante Moffitt (averaging 18 points per game) and 6-4 Isaiah Turner (averaging 12.5 points per game) to push the pace and fill up a highlight reel.
Spanaway Lake relies on its athletic backcourt of, from left, 6-foot-3 Jordan Garner (averaging 15 points per game), 6-3 Divante Moffitt (averaging 18 points per game) and 6-4 Isaiah Turner (averaging 12.5 points per game) to push the pace and fill up a highlight reel. phaley@thenewstribune.com

It’s on the bottom shelf in the left corner. In the trophy case, just a few steps outside of Spanaway Lake High School’s gymnasium, is a team picture of the 1984-85 boys basketball team.

Few other basketball treasures exist in the school. A banner hangs in the gym of all the school’s state tournament teams, and there’s one boys basketball reference: 1985.

Thirty-two years later, one more finally will be added — thanks to a passionate, yet old soul of a basketball coach and three junior guards who made a pact not to transfer out like so many of their Spanaway Lake predecessors.

“We came to this school expecting to make a difference,” said junior guard Divante Moffitt.

The 1985 and 2017 teams could not be more different.

The ’80s team featured a walk-it-up offense and a 6-foot-7 post, David Valentine, who went on to play four years at the University of Puget Sound. It lost both of its state games at Rogers High School, just shy of reaching the Seattle Coliseum.

The current team is slightly more big-man challenged. Instead, it relies on its athletic backcourt of 6-foot-3 Moffitt, 6-4 Isaiah Turner and 6-3 Jordan Garner to push the pace and fill up a highlight reel.

The Sentinels play Seattle Prep at 6 p.m. Friday at Bellevue College in a 3A state regional loser-out game. A win sends them to the Tacoma Dome.

“We want to get to the Tacoma Dome,” Spanaway Lake coach Dominic Batten said with emphasis. “That has been our goal. We are close. We are really close.”

Batten graduated from Spanaway Lake in 2000 before coming back to be an assistant. He took over as the head coach four years ago with dreams of taking the program to heights it has never seen.

First he needed to clean house. Success would no longer be defined by individual accomplishments.

And he needed to persuade the school’s top athletes to give him a chance and not head for greener pastures.

He needed to change the system. If there was no height at the school, then it was time to pick up the tempo.

“My first year we took some lumps doing that,” Batten said of his 3-17 record in 2013-14.

“But me being from the area, I know we get a lot of athletic kids. We don’t get a lot of height and we don’t get a lot of athletic kids who stay here. So we wanted to change how we played — more up and down and more pressure defense. So, for one, people are going to want to watch and be excited about us and, for two, the kids who play in that kind of system find that they are excited.”

Batten ran through a list of athletes who could have been at Spanaway Lake but played elsewhere. Isaiah Thomas attended Spanaway Junior High before starring at Curtis, UW and now the Boston Celtics.

Batten preached belief to parents and players who had previously only considered the Sentinels’ history.

“Changing the perception — that was definitely tough,” Batten said. “This year, especially, was me selling a lot of belief and really selling our program and our coaching style.

“Some people would buy it, some didn’t and they always came back to our history. But now that we’re having success this year, I think that will keep a lot more of these kids that tend to leave the area.”

Don’t cross Batten. He’s kicked players out of the Spanaway Lake gym before.

But typically he’s calm and collected. He’s grew up in a military family, living in Memphis and New York among some of his stops, and is the first of his family to graduate from college, attending Central Washington University. He owns his own business, is married to a teacher and has two kids.

“I feel like I have an old soul,” Batten said with a laugh. “That’s what people always say.”

“I’m older than him, but he acts a lot older than me,” said assistant coach Ty’Mon Norman.

Moffitt, Turner and Garner played together at Cedarcrest Middle School and went 20-0 together before contributing to Spanaway Lake’s varsity as freshmen.

The Sentinels won 13 games in 2014-15, 14 games last season and have 16 wins this season.

“We were supposed to have a lot more people come with us out of middle school,” Moffitt said. “But everyone ends up going to Tacoma schools and Seattle schools just for the names.

“We talked, us three, about how we weren’t going to do that. We told ourselves that we were going to start from the bottom and come up. We wanted to turn it around, and turn the history around.”

This season, Moffitt is averaging 18 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, Garner averages 15 points and 5.1 rebounds, and Turner (who missed four games with a broken thumb) averages 12.5 points and five rebounds.

“Coach told the three of us that if we don’t go to state and none of us get college offers, then he hasn’t done his job,” Moffitt said. “And he wants us to be successful in life, not just basketball.”

All three of these guards can go off. Garner’s season high is 33 points, Moffitt has scored 31 twice and Turner has scored 23.

“We just try to feed the hot hand,” Garner said. “And the other person will rebound and get putbacks.”

“Divante’s role is to be that scoring threat who can also facilitate,” Turner said. “And Jordan is also a scoring threat, but he’s also our dog in the fight. He’s a rough one. He brings us energy and kills on the glass.”

They’ve seen Spanaway Lake supporters come out of the woodwork in the past two weeks.

Batten got bombarded with congratulatory phone calls and text messages from friends, family, college coaches and even some former players from the 1985 squad after the Sentinels clinched their state berth with a 70-47 win over Capital. Spanaway Lake held a pep assembly for the team.

“Everybody at school has been like, ‘Hi superstar. What up, superstar?’ ” Garner said. “I’ve had teachers stop me during passing periods, ‘I’m so happy for you guys.’ 

“Everybody has been hopping on the bandwagon,” Turner laughed. “Definitely been hearing from more people lately. But it’s cool.”

Ron Piland was a starter on the 1985 team, alongside Valentine, Mike Bryant, Mike Kanavan and Shawn Butler. Piland said they had played together since seventh grade.

“We were a structured, set up the offense, run a bunch of picks to get the ball to a wing, and feed it to Dave kind of offense,” Piland said. “It was so different.”

Piland and Kanavan reached out to Batten and watched Spanaway Lake play its district semifinal game against Wilson. Piland said they created a social media group where some of the players from the 1985 team have stayed in touch.

This year’s team can do what no other has done if it defeats Seattle Prep. No Spanaway Lake team has won a state tournament game, nor played in the Tacoma Dome.

“Every time I go there to watch the games, I just wish I was out there playing,” Turner said.

Said Moffitt: “Every time I drive past that place, I just look at it like, ‘I need to get in there.’ 

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677