The O’Dea High School boys basketball team came into the Class 3A state tournament as the No. 11 seed.
That didn’t sit well with the Fighting Irish, so they decided to make a statement — leaving with the sixth state title in school history, and first since 2007.
“When we got that 11 seed, we felt disrespected,” sophomore wing Paolo Banchero said. “People didn’t take us seriously after our losses, but we had a lot of injuries all year.
“I was hurt, John (Christofilis) was hurt, Noah (Williams) was hurt. We never had a full squad, so we took some bad losses. Coming into this tournament with an 11 seed, we played with a chip on our shoulder.”
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Since the WIAA’s RPI rankings began in 2017, the Fighting Irish (20-8), who routed second-seeded Mount Spokane, 70-39, Saturday night in the Tacoma Dome, are the lowest seed to win the state championship in any classification since 13th-seeded Foss won the 2A boys title that first season.
The 6-foot-9 Banchero was named the tournament’s MVP, averaging 17.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. He scored 20 points, with seven rebounds and five blocks in Saturday’s title game.
Senior guard Noah Williams played his best game of the tournament in the championship, finishing with 19 points and six rebounds. Williams shot a blistering 9 of 13 from the field and made his only 3-point attempt of the game.
“It means a lot to help my brothers,” Williams said. “We would have no ring right now if it wasn’t for (my teammates), so shout out to them.”
When asked if his team had a chip on its shoulder, Williams echoed Banchero’s sentiments.
“Most definitely,” he said. “I knew we were the best team in the state. I called it at the beginning of the year. On Twitter, I said we would win the state championship. … I said we would bring that gold ball back to First Hill, and that’s what we did.”
Just as important as Williams’ offense was his defense throughout the tournament. He was sharp on that side of the ball once again in the championship game, and gave Marysville-Pilchuck senior RaeQuan Battle, a Washington signee, and Eastside Catholic sophomore Shane Nowell, another Division I recruit, fits in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively.
“That’s all Coach (Jason) Kerr preaches about is defense,” Williams said. “Defense wins championships and that’s what we just won.”
Against Mount Spokane, O’Dea made a concerted effort to slow down the long-range shooting of the Wildcats, which had been a strength of theirs throughout the tournament. It worked, as Mount Spokane made just four of their 16 attempts from the perimeter.
“That was our main focus,” Banchero said. “We watched them against (Rainier) Beach, and they lit them up. We played Mtount Spokane last year in the first round, and we also played them in summer league, so we knew what they were about. We knew they could shoot the ball great.
“Our main focus was running them off the line and rebounding, because they are a great rebounding team as well.”
Mount Spokane (24-2) coach David Wagenblast said the combination of the Irish’s defense on the perimeter mixed with Banchero’s presence inside was too big of an obstacle to overcome.
“He makes all the difference in the world,” Wagenblast said. “You can afford to take tons of chances and pressure the heck out of the 3-point line when you’ve got one of the best players in the country blocking shots behind you. That’s why they are a special defensive team.”
Wagenblast was emotional after the game when talking about his eight seniors.
“These guys, all of them went to the same middle school,” Wagenblast said. “A lot of these guys have known each other forever and I’m so proud of them and all the hard work that they’ve put in.
“We were in this game, and we didn’t have the result that we wanted, but we made some unbelievable memories.”
On the other side, O’Dea has just two seniors and is poised to challenge for another title next year.
“We’re a really young team,” Banchero said. “We’ve got (four) sophomore starters. We’ve got a couple more sophomores on varsity and we have more coming up. We’ve got some freshmen. We’re a really young team.
“We only had two seniors, so we’ve got a lot in the tank left. We feel like we can come out next season and have another great season.”
O’Dea’s win extended the 3A Metro League streak in 3A championship games to eight consecutive seasons. Rainier Beach has won four titles in that span, Garfield two — including last year’s championship — and Nathan Hale one in 2017 with current Denver Nuggets player Michael Porter Jr.
Lakes was the most recent team outside of that league to win a championship, earning the 3A crown over Bellevue in 2011.
NO. 11 O’DEA
NO. 2 MOUNT SPOKANE
O – Shooting: 27 of 51 (52.9 percent). Free throws: 12 of 17 (70.6). Turnovers: 6.
MS – Shooting: 12 of 46 (26.1 percent). Free throws: 11 of 18 (61.1). Turnovers: 19.
O – John Misel 10, Paolo Banchero 20, Dezjay Perkins 2, Jermaine Davis 8, Noah Williams 19. Calvin Thomas III 2, Paul Johnson 6, Jaylon Ellis 3.
MS – Spencer Barrera 2, Tanner Brooks 1, Jerry Twenge 3, J.T. Smith 12, Tyson Degenhart, 14, Jojo Anderson 5, Jayden Williamson 2.