Federal Way High School junior Tari Eason has been to the Tacoma Dome for the high school basketball state championships.
He was sitting on the bench when Garfield — which has won more boys basketball state championships (14) than any other school in state history — won the Class 3A state title last March.
Despite recording minutes in most games his sophomore season with the Bulldogs, Eason never got a chance to step on the floor in the three games Garfield played in the Tacoma Dome.
“How did it feel? It hurt a lot, just knowing what I could do to help my team,” Eason said. “But, ultimately, they got the job done.”
This week, as one of Federal Way’s season-long starters, Eason will certainly see the floor.
The towering 6-foot-9 forward, who is averaging 19 points, 11 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, has been one of the biggest impact players for the Eagles this season, and will be pivotal as they chase their first 4A state title since 2016.
Federal Way (24-2), which hasn’t lost a game in state this season, opens its tournament run against the Mount Rainier-Richland winner in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Eason, a 4A NPSL Olympic first-team pick, said the opportunity to play a more central role for the Eagles this season — and the chance to showcase his ability on the state’s biggest stage — has meant a lot to him.
“It was very important to me,” he said. “Last year, not contributing anything, I had to come back and show people I’m a good player, and what I could do.
“I’m pumped. I’m ready. I know my team is ready.”
Eason — who played for two coaches in two seasons at Garfield in longtime coach Ed Haskins, who is now assisting Washington State, and Brandon Roy, who left the program last summer after one season — transferred to Federal Way ahead of the 2018-19 school year.
Eagles coach Yattah Reed said he was surprised Eason didn’t play any minutes during Garfield’s championship run, given what he has shown this season. Reed is just happy to have the standout junior at Federal Way.
“He’s been a huge asset — and not just because he’s 6-9,” Reed said. “He’s been a huge asset because of his character, and the individual he is off of the court. That stuff plays a huge role when you’re on the court.
“He’s just one of those guys who can adapt to anybody. He has the personality that everyone loves, and he just wants to do whatever it takes to win. I’m happy for him, that he’s finally getting his opportunity, and we get to ride along with him.”
Eason is a consensus four-star recruit, and considered the No. 2 player in Washington in the 2020 class behind Rainier Beach’s MarJon Beauchamp. Eason has an offer from Washington State, and interest from other Pac-12 schools (Arizona State, Oregon State, USC and UW).
“Tari just goes hard every time he gets on the floor,” said Beauchamp, who played with Eason last season at Garfield. “He brings his all every game, and he’s just getting better and better.
“He’s got a little mid-range, and he dunks the ball. His post moves are getting better, and his defense — blocking shots and stopping bigger defenders.”
Eason said his time playing at Garfield, and on the AAU circuit, helped him progress as a basketball player.
“It taught me a lot of things that I’ll take with me and that I use now, with the players we had on the team — Daejon Davis (now at Stanford) and Jaylen Nowell (UW). ... Just competing against those top players (helped a lot),” he said.
Eason has paired well with 6-foot-11, five-star forward Jaden McDaniels, the two-time 4A NPSL Cascade MVP, and a McDonald’s All-American selection who averages 23.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, four assists and two blocks per game. It gives Federal Way perhaps the most explosive frontcourt in the state.
“He really opens up the game for us, because people double down, and it helps us get open,” McDaniels said. “I feel like him being here is a big piece for us. ... He just takes the pressure off of everybody.”
Reed said he wouldn’t call Eason the Robin to McDaniels’ Batman, but the forwards provide a powerful one-two punch.
“Tari is a great player, great individual and he’s a complement to Jaden,” Reed said. “I’m not saying he’s Robin. He just fits.”
Reed said Eason does a lot on the court for the Eagles that doesn’t show up on a stat sheet.
“He alters shots, he can defend on the perimeter, he’s developing his jump shot from 15 feet and in,” Reed said. “We haven’t even finished the season, and he’s developing and improving on things that he wasn’t doing at the beginning of the season.
“That just goes to show the work he puts in. We have practices, and after practice, he stays for another 30-35 minutes to work on things.”
And, if all of the work Eason has put in translates well to the Tacoma Dome, the Eagles will be tough to stop.
“He’s excited, we’re all excited,” Reed said. “It’s every high school player’s dream to get into the Dome and play.”