That was a long offseason.
Almost too long for Emmett Linton III and the rest of the returning members of this Lincoln High School boys basketball team that battled Nathan Hale in the 3A state semifinals in the spring.
“Ever since the season ended last year I’ve been waiting for this moment,” Lincoln’s Emmett Linton III said.
“I just took no days off. Always kept that chip on my shoulder, and every time on the court I have something to prove and I just keep that in my head.”
Linton scored a game-high 26 points in the Abes’ 80-58 victory on Tuesday in the season opener against Bellarmine Prep, another team that was playing in the Tacoma Dome last season.
He had 17 in the first half. Anthony Braggs Jr., Le’Zjon Bonds and Willie Thomas are returning starters from last year, too, and each of them finished Tuesday’s game in double-figure scoring.
“We haven’t had the best practices of late, but I think the guys turned it on,” Lincoln coach Aubrey Shelton said. “They’ve been anxious to get out and play a real game again and it feels good to get one early.”
Lincoln dictated the pace with its full-court pressure defense, with length to match its speed.
Linton started what would be a 14-2 run in the second quarter with a layup and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions before he found the 6-foot-4 Braggs, who scored 15 points, with a behind-the-back pass for a layup off a Bellarmine Prep turnover. Then Bonds had two strong finishes and the Abes built a 45-27 lead just before halftime.
And when Bellarmine did get some offensive looks, Linton charged quickly up the court the other way. His back-to-back third-quarter buckets, including a step-back 3-pointer while falling down, made it 62-39, Lincoln.
“He was tough,” Bellarmine Prep coach Bernie Salazar said. “We had a really hard time stopping him. That’s a good team. Really athletic and fast and we’re young and inexperienced. We got a lot to learn from this game.”
Wendell Davis scored 15 points and Jaylen Scott added 14 for the Lions. He and fellow guard Charles Elzie are returning starters from last year’s team that lost to eventual state-champion Kentwood in the first round of the 4A state tournament in the Tacoma Dome.
Linton was a never-back-down player last year (even when guarding 6-foot-9 state player of the year and Missouri recruit Michael Porter Jr. in the semifinals). He goes by “Bullet” because his father, former U.S. amateur boxing champion Emmett Linton Jr., thought his buzzed-cut head looked like a bullet.
“He’s worked really, really hard on his game and it shows,” Shelton said. “We saw it in the summer and fall. He had a really good year last year, too. He’s ready, man. I loved how he played defense and competed and how he led the team and just being confident and aggressive.”
Linton knew he was going to step into a greater leadership role this season, especially after Lincoln’s leading scorer last year, 3A Pierce County League MVP Trevante Anderson, transferred to Rainier Beach in Seattle for his senior season.
“It was different not seeing him on the court with us no more,” said Thomas, who scored 12 points. “But with Le’Zjon and Bullet and the new guys stepping up, it felt the same.
“It’s his decision. He decided to leave. But we’re still going to do what we have to do to repeat last year.”
Lincoln got right back where it started last year, when it didn’t lose its first game until falling to Nathan Hale, which was coached by former NBA All-Star Brandon Roy. This is the Abes’ third consecutive season-opening win over Bellarmine, which includes their overtime win two years ago when they withstood now-Washington State University point guard Malachi Flynn’s 43 points for Bellarmine.
But this time, it was Linton stealing the show.
“I know I have a lot of weight on my shoulders this year,” Linton said. “I have to make sure I come out every night and lead my team and do what I’m supposed to do.”
“Obviously, when you lose one of your brothers you’ve gone to war with , there’s a little bit of surprise and hurt. But these gusy are all gamers and they’ll all compete and they all believes in themselves,” Shelton said. “It was a next-man-up thing. Some were just like, ‘This might give me more of an opportunity.’ They’re ready to roll.
Lincoln next hosts defending 2A state champion Foss at 7 p.m. Friday. The Abes were one of just two in-state teams to beat Foss last year.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
Lincoln 80, Bellarmine Prep 58
Lincoln: Emmett Linton III 26, Daemon Dillingham 4, Le’Zjon Bonds14, Willie Thomas 12, Anthony Brags Jr. 15, Kashaud Babbs 1, Jakhai Dillingham 2, Romere Williams 2, Julien Simon 4.
Bellarmine: Charles Elzie 9, Wyatt Clark 3, Austin Ostrander 3, Jaylen Scott 14, Derrion Summers 2, Garrett Horner 9, Ludvig Emerick 3, Wendell Davis 15.