Mercer Island boys basketball ready to feast on KingCo basketball season

Feasting this time of year is usually about turkey, stuffing and various fall-themed treats, except when it applies to the Mercer Island basketball team. For the boys donning their maroon and white basketball jerseys and maroon coats on the bench, it’s a time to feast on free throws and 3-pointers.

One thing required for a successful feast is hunger, and the MI boys basketball team is ready to chow down on the season.

“They are hungry,” said second-year head coach Gavin Cree. “They feel like there is a lot at stake; they’ve been through the battles.”

With most of the varsity squad that hit the floor last year returning, the team is ready to pick up where it left off. The team lost in the first round of districts last season after surviving the KingCo tournament, packed with teams full of talent. This year, it’s likely to be no different, but the team has more experience and the appetite to accomplish its goals.

“We’re experienced and know what it takes,” said Cree. “I just want to see them be the hungriest team on the court every night and let the chips fall where they may.”

Among the players there is a sense that they are here to work, to accomplish what they want. They may define what they want from the team in different ways — “effort,” according to Quinn Sterling, “banners” from Kaj Sherman, “aiming high” from Ben Emanuels and “leaving it on the floor” from Derek Newhof, but eventually it all means the same thing.

“They are energized and focused,” says their coach. In their first week of practice, the team has revisited some of the basics: offense, defense and the ever-important hitting free throws preparing for the Nov. 29 jamboree and their first game, Dec. 1, at Eastlake.

“I think they just understand they have the ability to beat anybody this year, so they are going to set the bar at winning KingCo, winning state — there are no limits on what they can do,” he said. “(They are) just a group of guys who have been together for a long time and felt like they underachieved a little bit last year, and they are just hungry to be the best they can be.”

This season it isn’t only the team that has been playing together for a while, but it’s also the coaches, as Cree and his staff enter their second season. He said from his coaching perspective, not a lot has changed — just more experience with the team.

“I believe in what I do and the kids are more comfortable, I think, with what my style is, and I’m more comfortable with them,” he said.

Because most of last year’s team is back, Cree said they have solid depth on their first and second lines.

“Honestly, we’re deep at every position. You always want as many ball handlers as you can, and we have that,” said the coach. “We have more ball handlers than we had last year, so we have some more versatility with lineups we can play. It’s a very deep team, our second unit; a lot of guys could start on other teams in our league, I think.”

Traditionally, KingCo, as in many other sports, is a tough league to compete in. This winter, it’s not going to be any different.

“I think Bellevue is the favorite until they are knocked off. They have two league championships in a row; yes, they lost Aaron Bright, but they have a tremendous group of seniors back and a great coach and a lot of experience. They are the champs until we knock them off,” said Cree. “Lake Washington is also in our league now. They are a strong team; they were 4A and went to the state tournament last year. They have a lot of size that can match up with us. They have a 6’10” kid on the inside who is a PAC-10 prospect. They have a good supporting cast; they’ll be a formidable opponent. I think it’s a deeper league than we had last year — it’s probably the biggest league in the state. The three prohibitive favorites have a lot of size.”

Knowing the Islanders have some size and ball handling skills to move around opponents, Cree said keys to winning are going to be taking care of the ball, and making sure they make the most of offensive opportunities.

“We’re a tough team to guard, so if we get shots, I think we’ll be tough to beat,” he said. “We know what to do, we’re experienced, we know what it takes, we know how to run our offense and run our defense. We just have to be the hungriest team. Pounding people on the boards is an advantage that we have — we have to make it a big advantage.”

The team will take on its first opponents in the annual jamboree on Nov. 29, starting at 7 p.m. at MIHS. The Islanders will host Newport, Auburn-Riverside and Auburn Mountainview in round robin-style play. Their first game of the regular season will be against non-conference Eastlake.

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