Basketball preview: KR’s changing of the guard


  • BY Wire Service
  • Friday, December 5, 2008 12:29pm
  • Sports
Kentridge sophomore Gary Bell is one of the South Puget Sound League North Division’s top-returning players.

Kentridge sophomore Gary Bell is one of the South Puget Sound League North Division’s top-returning players.

They’ve lost their star.

Heck, three all-leaguers from a year ago are gone.

But rest assured, by season’s end, the Kentridge High boys basketball team will have proven plenty of people wrong. Sharpshooting sophomore sensation Gary Bell is banking on it.

“A lot of people, they’re not going to think of us as a hard team to play (because of all the players we lost),” explained Bell, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard who can hit from virtually anywhere on the court. “We have a smaller team, so we’re going to have to play faster.”

And if Bell has anything to say about it — and it’s very likely he will — Kentridge will be plenty of fun to watch, too. Unlike last year, when the Chargers could slow down the game with the best of ‘em, often waiting for 6-foot-6 star Renado Parker to work his way down low, this year’s team lacks size.

To make up for that deficiency, the Chargers anticipate out-running a league loaded with big boys who clog the paint.

“As you would expect, (graduation) took a lot of our inside game,” Kentridge coach Dave Jamison said. “We’re going to have run a lot of other stuff. We’re going to try and press, run and have good team defense.”

The Chargers have some nice tools to make the transition from half-court power to a run-and-gun finesse. But a lot of it will start with Bell, who averaged 10.7 points per game last year and led the South Puget Sound League North Division in shooting percentage (51.7).

“He’s our best athlete,” Jamison said. “He can get a lot of things done.”

But that’s not to say Bell will be alone. In fact, the Chargers should have three of the North’s most explosive guards in Bell, Shaquille McKissic and Laron Daniels.

“We have a good core of guards,” said Bell, who already has received interest from the University of California, among other schools. “We’re going to be run and gun.”

Youth movement

The excitement in Rob Morrow’s voice is evident.

So is the trepidation.

Morrow, Tahoma’s third-year coach, looks out on the court and sees plenty of talent. Matter of fact, this year’s group of sophomores might be the best to ever come through the school, which helps explain Morrow’s excitement.

Those sophomores, however, will be asked to fill some veteran roles this season because … well, because they make up half the team.

“We’re very young,” said Morrow, whose squad seven seniors to graduation. “I’d be surprised if we weren’t the youngest team in the league.”

There’s little doubt the Bears (3-11 in SPSL play a year ago) will be just that. They got even younger a little less than a month ago, when guard Ryan Chase, the team’s lone returning senior, broke his hand playing soccer. If Chase returns, it won’t be until late in the season.

Chase’s injury aside, the Bears are in the midst of a youth movement and have ample talent to work with, led by 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Christian Behrens. He earned honorable mention accolades last year as a freshman, averaging 11 points and six rebounds per game last year.

“There’s not a lot he can’t do,” Morrow said.

Behrens should be right at home — and right on the court this season— with fellow sophomores Dallin Munk, Spencer Hobson, Garrett Gileno and Ryan Goodman.

“Our leadership is from the sophomore class,” Morrow said. “We’ll probably end up starting three or four of them.”

No ordinary big man

At first glance, Kentlake’s Jeff Budinich looks like the type of kid who would make a pretty good living underneath the hoop.

Being 6-10 in high school, that’s not an uncommon stereotype.

But there’s more to this Montana State-bound senior than meets the eye.

Like the feathery-soft touch he brings from outside the paint.

“Jeff’s just got a really nice shot,” said Kentlake coach Ron Charrier. “I’ve known him for a long time and we’ve always known that (down low) wasn’t his strength.”

That’s not to say Budinich isn’t plenty capable of doing plenty of damage around the basket. Simply put, the Kentlake senior possesses an uncommonly sound outside game for a big man.

“I’m a guy who floats around (the perimeter),” said the 230-pound Falcon, who averaged 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season. “I don’t think (other centers) can keep up with me.”

Charrier is hoping as much this season as Budinich is the team’s lone returning starter and will be a focal point of Kentlake’s offense.

“He’s a lot stronger (this year) and I think his confidence is a lot higher after playing better competition (during the summer),” Charrier said. “I think his confidence went up, and hopefully, that translates into the basketball season.”

Elite of the elite

Kentwood’s Josh Smith entered some prestigious territory this past summer.

Smith, a 6-foot-10, 285-pound center, took part in the Third Annual Elite 24, a game that brings together the top prep basketball players in the nation.

Played outside on Aug. 22 at famed Holcomb Rucker Park in Harlem, N.Y., Smith held his own, registering one of just two double-doubles in the game. Kentwood’s big man scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, helping his team “Skip to my Lou” upend “The Goat,” 135-121.

“It was really, really different,” said Smith, a 16-year-old junior. “I am just so used to playing in gyms and college arenas. That was my first game outside. When they told me it was being televised on ESPN2, on national television, that was pretty exciting.”

Smith was one of just three Washington players to compete in the game. The others were highly-touted Tony Wroten (Garfield) and Abdul Gaddy (Bellarmine Prep).

Several of the NBA’s all-time greats have played at Rucker Park, including Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Lew Alcindor, who later would be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“I thought it was (an honor) for my school and myself,” Smith said. “I thought I could do a little better, but I think I did pretty good.”

Going to surprise

First-year Kent-Meridian coach Brian Lockhart makes no bones about it: The Royals are going to surprise some teams.

On the surface, opponents might look at last year’s 2-12 record and think little of this year’s Royals.

That, Lockhart says, will be a mistake.

“What I have back is fairly solid,” Lockhart said. “I think these guys genuinely have a chance.”

And before thinking the first-year coach is simply tossing out the usual preseason optimism, keep in mind that there aren’t many people who know the SPSL North better.


Because Lockhart spent the previous seven years assisting at Kentwood under former coach Dean Montzingo and current Conk leader Michael Angelidis. Few programs have been more successful than Kentwood the last decade, and Lockhart would love nothing better than to bring that to the Royals.

Although K-M doesn’t have tremendous size, it will be one of the most defensive-minded teams in the North.

“I’ve always preached defense and we’re going to be up-tempo,” Lockhart said.

Much of that style of play will be led by 6-4 junior guard Borento Ahmed, who swung between junior varsity and varsity last year. Borento has a wealth of talent that went seemingly untapped last season.

“I really honestly think Borento is one of the top seven players in our league,” the coach said. “He’s definitely the most talented in our program. He has a gift for this game.”

Welcome back

They’ve been gone from the South Puget Sound League North Division just two years.

But things haven’t gotten any easier for the Auburn and Auburn Riverside boys basketball tames.

In fact, they just now might be getting more difficult.

That’s not to say the SPSL 3A was a walk in the park for either the Trojans or the Ravens. But in the transition back to the SPSL North, both will have to contend with Federal Way team that is loaded beyond words, a 6-foot-10 man child in Kentwood junior Josh Smith, and several other walking teenage giants who will dot their schedules.

“There’s no question, from top to bottom, the SPSL North is tougher (then the SPSL 3A),” Auburn coach Ryan Hansen said. “You look at the league and it seems that everybody has at least one really solid big guy.”


At Tahoma, it’s 6-foot-7 sophomore Christian Behrens. Kentlake will serve up 6-10 Montana State-bound Jeff Budinich, while Federal Way chips in 6-8 junior Cole Dickerson. And, of course, Kentwood’s Smith is the most highly-touted junior in the nation.

“The kids, I think, are bigger in the North,” Auburn Riverside coach Tom Adams said. “There were some big kids in the SPSL 3A, but not night in, night out. Many teams in the North have two or three big kids.”

Throw in the fact that the division can boast of having state finalists in each of the last two years (Kentridge in 2007, Federal Way in 2008) and there’s reason to believe things aren’t getting any easier for the Trojans or the Ravens.

That said, come season’s end, both are likely to be in the playoff hunt in a league that advances the top five to the postseason.

While Auburn graduated stars T.J. Stafford and Ryan Snowden, the Trojans return all-leaguers Jeff Gouveia (generously listed at 6-foot) and 6-5 big man Isaiah Johnson. Both played on the football team and are well-suited for the physical play that typifies the North.

Meanwhile, Carlo Lavoie, one of the SPSL 3A’s most unheralded players a year ago, will be taking over point guard duties.

So the Trojans’ cupboard is far from bare as they return to 4A. In fact, Auburn will be gunning for a third straight trip to state this winter, along with a second straight league title after going 20-0 in regular-season play last winter.

Hansen insists the talent is there.

“We don’t really have one star,” he said. “But we have a lot of good players who’ve won a lot of games over the last several years. Carlo could go for 20 one night, Jeff could go for 20 and Isaiah could go for 20.

“I’m really excited about this group.”

At Auburn Riverside, there’s just as much excitement — and reason — not to fear the new league. Except for Federal Way, the Ravens return more starters and overall players than any team in the league.

“Expectations are high,” Adams said. “Higher than they’ve been in a long time.”

And why not?

The Ravens bring back first-team guard Mitch Hagerty, a 6-foot-2 gym rat who averaged more than 16 points per game last year. Meanwhile, junior Ryan Rogers, a second-teamer last season who averaged 14 points per game, is just as capable of putting the ball in the basket.

But the Ravens also have enough size in seniors Sam Melick (6-6) and Skyler Cichy (6-5) to create considerable problems for opponents.

“We didn’t win every game this summer and we do have some issues to overcome,” Adams said. “But I love these kids. There’s a nice mix here.”


• Favorite: Federal Way.

• Contenders: Auburn, Jefferson, Kentwood.

• Sleepers: Auburn Riverside, Kentlake.

• League outlook: This year, the “outlook” is more along the lines of “look out.” The reason being that it’s likely going to take a natural disaster to keep Federal Way, which took second at state last year, from winning the North. There’s considerable talent throughout the league, but nobody can match up with the Eagles’ depth, talent and experience. Federal Way returns three all-leaguers (Jeff Forbes, Andre Barrington and Cole Dickerson) and nabbed Decatur first-teamer Michael Hale, a lightning-quick guard who creates havoc on both sides of the ball. Throw in a pair of highly-touted transfers — 6-6 sophomore Jaleel Williams from Texas and 6-10 J.T. Koontz of Oregon — and starting guard Isiah Umipig and there’s plenty of reason for opponents to fear the Eagles. That said, in a league where the top five advance to the postseason, there’s likely going to be a logjam for the other four slots. Behind man child Josh Smith (6-10, 285), who is the most highly-touted junior in the nation according to, and guard Tre Tyler, Kentwood should challenge for one of the top slots. Auburn, moving up from the SPSL 3A, graduated co-MVPs T.J. Stafford and Ryan Snowden, but will remain strong behind Jeff Gouveia (7.86 ppg.) and 6-foot-5 center Isaiah Johnson. Meanwhile, Auburn Riverside returns four starters, led by senior Mitch Hagerty (16.1 ppg.) and should make a successful transition to the Class 4A SPSL North. Kentridge, which has been at the top of the league the last two years, graduated four starters. Regardless, Jamison is regarded as one of the finest coaches around and has a nice stable of guards, led by sophomore sensation Gary Bell, and that should help the Chargers to earn a playoff berth once again. Like Kentridge, Kentlake graduated four starters, but has enough potential behind Jeff Budinich, a 6-10 Montana State-bound center, and 6-5 post Carson Crooks to be a threat. Tahoma falls into the same boat as Kentridge and Kentlake, having graduated four starters. Despite that, the Bears can boast of having one of the league’s premier sophomore classes, led by 6-7 center Christian Behrens, who has enough athletic ability and a soft enough touch to quickly become one of the league’s elite players. Kent-Meridian graduated three honorable mention selections (Andre Moore, Beau Briceno and Jentez Drinker), but as always has plenty of athleticism and will lean heavily upon junior guard Borento Ahmed and senior forward Marlowe Brim. Thomas Jefferson, which won just two league games a year ago, is on a fast ascension and considered one of the teams to watch. Xavyr Moss (11.4 ppg.) and Spenser Sydney (12.8 ppg.) are two of the North’s top players and should help the Raiders win more than two games all by themselves.

• Notable: Former Kentridge star Renado Parker, last year’s co-MVP of the North, is now playing at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene. Through the first five games of the season, Parker was averaging 20 points per game. ... Brian Lockhart has taken over for Hank Sylvan at Kent-Meridian. ... Ryan Chase, one of just two-returning Tahoma seniors, might miss the entire season with a broken hand suffered playing soccer. ... Kentwood product Jeremy Green, a first-teamer last year, is now playing at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey. Jake Wilcox, an honorable mention guard for the Conks last year, is playing at Green River Community College. ... Auburn’s Ryan Snowden, co-MVP of the SPSL 3A last year, is playing at Central Washington. Former Auburn star Dan Stafford (2005) is now playing at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.


Tuesday, Dec. 16: Tahoma at Kentlake — This is a great early-season chance to see rising star Christian Behrens (Tahoma) and Montana State-bound Jeff Budinich (KL).

Saturday, Jan. 17: Kentwood at Federal Way — A battle between two of the league’s top teams, not to mention several of the area’s elite players.

Tuesday, Jan. 27: Kentridge at Auburn Riverside — KR graduated a ton of talent, but always is among the league’s best; AR has the talent to take the next step.

Thursday, Jan. 29: Kentridge at Kentwood — These two teams traditionally pack the house. Adding to the excitement is the chance to see KR’s Bell and KW’s Smith at one time.

Friday, Feb. 6: Auburn at Auburn Riverside — Both teams are expected to be in the playoff hunt. This will be the season finale. A playoff berth and seeding could be at stake.

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