Spanaway Lake High School boys basketball coach Dominic Batten stepped inside the locker room and approached what this community has come to know as their big three.
Divante Moffitt, Isaiah Turner and Jordan Garner took a basketball program that endured a 32-year state-playoff drought and got them back to the big dance. Then they led Spanaway Lake to its most single-season wins in school history with 17 this year.
Batten thought of the words to describe them after their season and high school basketball careers came to an end in a 77-52 loss to Wilson on Thursday in a winner-to-state, loser-out matchup in the 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict playoffs.
“Brotherhood,” Batten said after taking a deep exhale.
“I talked to them in the locker room about it – I got the chance to see them grow into young men. They came in like 14 year olds do, but they made a pact that they were going to stick together, work together, grow together. It was contagious.”
Batten has played and now coached here. He knows the rap, he’s seen the talent that should have been at Spanaway Lake High School only to end up elsewhere.
But those three stayed.
“They heard a lot of outside noise about ‘Don’t go to Spanaway Lake, go here, go there,’” Batten said. “But they did something we thought guys in our area could do. They had the courage to fight for each other, play for each other, and grow with each other. I’m very proud of them.”
“We were supposed to have a lot more people come with us out of middle school,” Moffitt said last year. “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.”
And Batten said that what transpired because of that ignited the school and community.
Their gym was the most packed they’ve seen when they hosted Lincoln and Wilson for league games this year, with Moffitt, a 6-foot-4 point guard, orchestrating a fast-paced entertaining brand of basketball with 6-foot-5 Turner and 6-foot-4 Garner complementing him on the wings.
The Sentinels didn’t win those games, but they created a buzz and invigorated the program. They had just come off their first state appearance last season since the 1984-85 squad.
“Someone came up to me after a game and said, ‘Man, you really ignited the community and brought the community together,’” Batten said. “And I really didn’t look at it like that. But that was awesome.
“I had some alums that came from that last state class (the 1984-85 season) calling and texting, talking about bringing the community together and cheering for people in the community. You go to local stores and they say, ‘Hey, we know you and we’re proud of you.’ It means a lot.
“And hopefully we can keep that tradition going.”
Spanaway Lake will graduate six seniors, including five of its top six leading scorers – Moffitt (19.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists), Turner (17.7 points, 6.2 rebounds), Moffitt (16.1 points, 6.8 rebounds), Ja’Ontay Foster (8.3 points) and Derek Gordon Jr. (6.1 points).
So why weren’t the Sentinels able to return to state, with all those players back from last year’s team?
Because all those players are wings. The 6-foot-5 Turner is their tallest player and he would at times slide to the post, but he’s naturally best working from the perimeter.
Wilson exploited that in Thursday’s game, dominating on the glass in the second half to pull away after Spanaway Lake jumped to an 18-12 first-quarter lead in its third meeting against the Rams this season.
Moffitt finished with 14 points, and Turner and Garner each scored 11.
But Batten is taking far more than wins and losses from these past two seasons.
“I know some coaches base success off winnings games, but we want to build young men and get them to college,” Batten said. “They are all really good in the classroom and a majority of them will play at the next level.
“But I think we showed that No. 1, if you work hard you can compete. And I hate to keep bringing it back, but traditionally people had always left Spanaway Lake, and if they had stayed we would definitely be winning here year in and year out. We’ve proven that.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
Wilson: Damani Green 4, Emmitt Matthews Jr. 29, Daniel Santana 6, Nate Stokes 10, Londrell Hamilton 16, Drew Bonds 2.
Spanaway Lake: Derek Gordon 7, Divante Moffitt 14, Isaiah Turner 11, Ja’Ontay Foster 5, Jordan Garner 11, Terrell Williams 4.