High School Sports

King County boys basketball teams face off for king of Tacoma Dome

You’d think Matisse Thybulle would be ecstatic.

All these Metro League powerhouses in the 3A state tournament and his Eastside Catholic boys basketball team gets the lone squad from outside the King County borders — Marysville-Pilchuck.

But he’s not that naive.

“There’s no easy road to that state title game,” said the University of Washington-bound Thybulle. “Everybody is going to battle every game to get to that state title game. Once you get there, you’re going to have to play your heart out.”

Especially with all these Metro League teams to go through.

There’s one in every 3A state quarterfinal game. Five teams from the Seattle-area league comprise the eight teams in the tournament. Six of the eight teams are from the Sea-King District.

Seattle is the talk of the Tacoma Dome.

“I’ve been saying ever since I started playing in this league my freshman year: I haven’t had an off night,” said Lakeside of Seattle’s junior guard Isiah Brown, who averaged 28.2 points per game this season. “There are so many really great players you have to go up against and great coaches who give their teams great schemes.”

The WIAA typically tries to separate teams from the same league when it places teams into their brackets at the state draw. That’s so they don’t face each other in the first round.

That was impossible in the 3A tournament. Seattle Prep plays Lakeside of Seattle for the second time this season at 3:45 p.m. Same with Rainier Beach and Bellevue — teams that played each other in the state semifinals last year and the Sea-King district championship this season.

There are two defending state champions in this 3A tournament — Garfield (4A) and Rainier Beach (three consecutive 3A titles) — from the Metro League. And there’s a defending 3A state runner-up (Eastside Catholic).

“This just speaks to the strength of our league,” Rainier Beach coach Mike Bethea said. “The one thing the Metro League really does is prepare you for state. A lot of teams play one or two tough teams, but that doesn’t do you any good when you play 12 teams that are, for lack of a better word, weak.”

Meanwhile, there’s not one boys team from the 253 in the Tacoma Dome.

This is the first year since 2007 that neither Foss, Lincoln nor Wilson is in the 3A tournament. And with Bellarmine Prep, Curtis, Mount Tahoma and Stadium having finished their seasons short of the Tacoma Dome, it’s the first time since 1995 that there’s no Tacoma team in the big-school classifications (4A, 3A).

Foss, Lincoln and Wilson were ousted by teams from the Sea-King district in regionals — all losing by four points or fewer.

“It was kind of shocking,” said Wilson’s leading scorer David Jenkins Jr. “I didn’t get to play in the Tacoma Dome my freshman year and I didn’t like going there to watch other people play. I like going to the Dome to play.

“My goal next year is to not just get us back in the Dome, but more Tacoma teams.”

One glaring difference between the Seattle and Tacoma teams this year – elite post players. Though the Tacoma teams were ranked in the top-10 for most of the season, they were more guard-oriented teams compared to the Seattle teams.

Rainier Beach? It has 6-foot-5 TNT state player of the year Dejounte Murray who will play for the University of Washington next year. Bellevue has 6-6 West Point-bound Gunther Klimes. Garfield? It has 6-6 Wilson transfer Alphonso Anderson. Eastside Catholic’s Thybulle is 6-6. And Seattle Prep starts three players 6-7 and taller.

“I thought all of the Tacoma teams battled with a lot of heart, but I think it came down to not having a really good big to battle with them,” Wilson coach Dave Alwert said. “Guard-wise, I think Tacoma kids can battle anybody. This is a guard-oriented town and always has been.”

But Alwert also believes transfers have played a part in the Metro League’s success, including two from his team in Anderson and senior guard Ivy Smith Jr. at Rainier Beach.

“Seattle has a lot of talent already, and when you incorporate some of the better kids from the Tacoma area along with the talent pools of Seattle — that’s the best league for a reason,” Alwert said. “I don’t know if all eight of those teams in the quarterfinals are the top eight teams in the state of Washington, but kudos to everybody that’s there. You have to win to get there, and we didn’t do that.”

Kennedy Catholic is right there with Marysville-Pilchuck representing the rest of the state outside of Seattle. And Crusaders coach Don Hoffman has heard all the quips about how this might as well be the Sea-King state tournament.

“I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to have our team thrown in the mix in this thing,” Hoffman said. “But it is what it is. The Metro League has been the powerhouse the past 10 years. Just like Bellevue has been in football.

“Hopefully, they take us lightly and take Marysville lightly. I think there is going to be some good basketball played.”

Brown and Murray said most of the Seattle-area players are good friends with each other off the court. Murray said he considers Brown and Garfield sophomore Jaylen Nowell little brothers.

Just not this weekend.

“At the end of the day, I don’t care who we face or who I see,” Murray said. “I’m just trying to win a state title. Whoever is put in front of us better be ready to get knocked down.”

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