Blake Solomon won a title as a player on the Kentwood High School basketball team. And now 13 years later he’s the coach of the Conquerors’ third state title.
There can’t be many who have experienced that.
But this one he says is more gratifying – being the orchestrator over the player.
"I’m so much more proud of them," Solomon said. "When you accomplish something yourself as a player it’s a little different. But to be the guidance over 12 guys who have meant so much to you makes it that much sweeter for me."
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And this one felt so much sweeter than 365 days ago, too.
No. 3 Kentwood trailed at halftime against No. 2 Union but rolled in the second half toward an 81-61 victory in the 4A state championship game on Saturday night in the Tacoma Dome.
It came one year after losing to Federal Way in the title game.
"We deserved it," said Kentwood’s Darius LuBom, who scored 18 points with seven assists and five rebounds. "Deserved it. "Completely, 100 percent. Union is a great basketball team, but I just think we wanted it more. We hated that feeling last year and we got the job done – state champs."
Kentwood (27-3) did this despite having to win four games in four days. Each of its past three wins – against No. 6 Curtis, No. 1 Gonzaga Prep and No. 2 Union – came against teams that earned byes into the state quarterfinals.
The Conquerors showed no signs of fatigue.
They kept pace with Union despite the Titan’s 6-foot-6 Cameron Cranston – who was selected as unanimous 4A state tournament MVP by a media poll – scoring 20 points in the first half, making four 3-pointers.
Union led 39-37 at halftime.
But in the battle of two young minds – 32-year-old Union coach Blake Conley and 30-year-old Solomon – it was Solomon who made the most impactful halftime adjustment.
The Titans were held to seven points in the third quarter and Kentwood scored 22. It switched guards LuBom and Rayvaughn Bolton onto Cranston defensively and he didn’t score his first – and only – points of the second half until there was 5:23 remaining in the game.
And by that time, Kentwood had soared to a 71-50 lead.
"Just don’t lose him – buckle down. We knew we had to buckle down on him," LuBom said of defending Cranston. "That was their offense."
"We said we were going to deny him wherever he was – we wanted him to have to work for everything, even just to get the ball," Solomon said. "Fortunately for us it worked."
Kentwood did what is has all season – getting contributions from everybody. It had four players score in double figures. Bolton scored 19 points, including four 3-pointers and Koby Huerta – whose sister, Kylie Huerta, was a starter on the Kentwood girls basketball team’s 2009 state title team – had 16 points.
It came after Beau Roggenbach and Huerta were Kentwood’s leading scorers in a 56-53 win against Gonzaga Prep in the semifinals, Roggenbach and Eli’Sha Sheppard led the scoring in a 57-55 win over Curtis and Bolton and Sheppard led the scoring in a 73-65 win against Bellarmine Prep.
"They are so dangerous with all five of their guys," Union coach Blake Conley said. "They just have so many weapons – they can score inside, they can score out, they can score in transition, they can score in the half court. They are solid."
And Bolton was key in Kentwood not being buried by Cranston in the first half. He made 4 of 6 3-pointers for the game after making two 3-pointers in the previous three state tournament games combined.
"My family – they told me to keep shooting," Bolton said. "And my teammates said everything would come. They said to focus on that and everything will come."
And LuBom, Kentwood’s two-time league MVP, got going after scoring one point and fouling out two games ago against Curtis. Solomon played him more as a point guard the past two games.
"I relaxed," LuBom said. "I always look at players at the next level and I really focus on changing speed. If you change speed it’s hard. Cranston does that very well and that’s what I did."
Kentwood’s last state title came in 2004 – when Solomon was a player alongside Rodney Stuckey – and it won last in 2010 with UCLA-bound Josh Smith.
School from either the North Puget Sound League or South Puget Sound League have now won six 4A state titles since 2009.
"I take great pride in this program," Solomon said. "It’s really special the kind of program we have here at Kentwood. I take great pride in being responsible for it and making sure these guys work hard and do the right things.”
The crowd began chanting "365" late in the game – letting the Tacoma Dome know how long Kentwood had been waiting to get another shot at a state title.
"We said yesterday to them that it was 365 days we were waiting for this," Solomon said. "We were waiting for it to make sure we could cut down the nets. We were talking today – this is our best season our school has ever had – and this school has had a lot of success."
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
NO. 2 UNION
NO. 3 KENTWOOD
U: H. Combs 3, Reznick 9, T. Combs 13; Lewis 8, Gamble 6, Cranston 22
KW: Lloyd 2, Huerta 16, Bolton 19, Minnis 3, Roggenbach 7, Gill 3, Sheppard 13, LuBom 18