Gone is the one-man show, arriving is a careful balancing act triggered by equal parts veterans and newcomers.
Kent-Meridian High’s boys basketball team promises to push the pace and surprise a few folks in the revamped North Puget Sound League 4A ranks this season.
“Good players … good grades … good group,” said optimistic coach James Olive, whose Royals opened the season at home with a 78-51 loss to heralded Franklin on Tuesday night and begin NPSL Cascade Division play at Mount Rainier at 7:15 p.m. Friday. “The team is very young but experienced. … This group of players has good chemistry.”
Made possible with the return of two main ingredients – junior co-captains and three-year varsity players Mahlik Hall, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, and Tre’ Jordan Fuentes, a 6-4 forward/center.
When it comes to familiarity, Hall and Fuentes hold court.
Teammates since their middle school days at Mill Creek, they are beginning to blossom at what they do best on the high school floor. Hall is fluent in the open court, a 14-points-per-game scorer and a returning second-team all-league performer. Fuentes is strong in the post and along the boards.
One complements the other. It’s as easy and as complex as that.
“We still have our cohesiveness. We support one another,” said Hall, who has played ball with Fuentes since the seventh grade. “It’s a great relationship because we know what each other is thinking because we created that bond on the court for quite some time now.”
The two will look to fill the loss of the Royals’ Romaine Jackson, a 5-9 point guard who averaged 22 points a game and was league co-MVP last year. Also gone is Jelani Bell, a 5-10 guard. But the Royals have plenty of young talent to build a strong team.
Leading newcomers include Javaughn Walker, a 5-10 junior guard, Vladislov Victoyvich, a 6-0 senior guard, and Moses Okullu, a 6-3 junior forward. All played on varsity at the end of last season and received significant playoff minutes on a 14-10 team that lost in the first round of regionals in overtime to Spanaway Lake.
“We’re a different team. … It’s more collective,” Hall observed, “We have a lot of players buying into the system.”
Added Fuentes: “We’ll stack up pretty well against other teams. We’ll have to run and score more … and provide more opportunities for other guys on the team.”
Olive welcomes the assignment of a new league.
“This season is going to be very challenging,” he said. “There are a lot of good teams in our division that have tons of talent. Kentwood, Kentridge, Tahoma, Kennedy and Mount Rainier all improved their teams with skill, athleticism and experience.”
To prepare for league play, Olive and company must negotiate a difficult non-league slate against the likes of Franklin, Issaquah, Skyline, Decatur, Mount Tahoma and Federal Way.
“We are up for the challenge to play the best so we can be the best,” Olive said.