I love watching a good game of basketball. A bad game of basketball can be agonizing. The Mercer Island High School boys basketball game against West Seattle almost drove me to stick my pen into my eye so something interesting would happen.
Hold … hold … hold … pass … hold. That was the majority of the West Seattle strategy, to run down the clock and make the game as short as possible. I think that they effectively wasted 12 minutes of my life that I will never get back. But to their credit, it worked. They took Mercer Island out of their game and got the win. Every time I have talked to Islander players about the district tournament the obligatory quote is that they “have to keep up with the Metro team’s athleticism.” It was strange to see the teams switch roles. It seemed like Mercer Island could only score on fast breaks and the Wildcats would hold … hold … hold. This is not the first time this has happened this season. Sammamish implemented the same strategy during the regular season but it did not work.
These two games show how rules in games can be manipulated to form a strategy. The Mercer Island boys team is big on this. If they have a lead or it is tied with as much as three minutes left, they hold … hold … hold for the last shot. But I have never seen it taken to the extent that West Seattle utilized it. I think it is asinine that boys basketball doesn’t have a shot clock. It takes the game out of the game. Most of the time a team gets at least one shot off in 30 seconds. I am sorry, but if you can’t get a shot off in 30 seconds you deserve to lose possession.
The boys game against Seattle Pep Feb. 20 was interesting for more reasons than the action on the hardwood. Mercer Island High School graduate and current University of Washington senior men’s basketball player Brandon Burmeister was in attendance. But he was not alone. Seattle Prep grad and freshman men’s basketball player for UW, Spencer Hawes, was with him. The two teammates were not rooting for the same team. Hawes could have been rooting for Mercer Island and staked a claim on the Islanders as his uncle Steve Hawes and father Jeff Hawes played for Mercer Island under head coach Ed Pepple. Steve is widely regarded as the greatest Islander player ever for those of you under 30-year old. He still holds the records for most rebounds with 972. During the 1967-1968 season Steve Hawes averaged 28 points and 20.5 rebounds per game. His dominance was unparalleled.
A Mercer Island team that showed what dominance is all about this season was the Islander boys swim team. It was nothing short of amazing to watch Murray Longbotham touch the wall in the 400-yard freestyle to close the state meet. His nearly five second lead allowed him to look at the scoreboard check his team’s time and watch the other swimmers touch the wall. But the most amazing thing wasn’t the lead but the youth on the team. Mercer Island had just three seniors competing at the meet and this is the team’s second state title in as many years. Can you say dynasty — I knew you could. One of those seniors was Jeff Benca. Many times while covering state meets or games I get the sense that things are mapped out too well. There is not always this sense of “Wow, we did it,” when a student athlete reached the ultimate goal of their sport. I don’t know if it is the sometimes lopsided match-ups that can result from tournaments or meets or the fact that some kids do things so well that they don’t realize their accomplishment at the time. With Benca I got a sense of real appreciation for the triumph of his team in the 200-yard freestyle relay, the only event he competed in. I was pleasantly surprised at the reaction of most of the kids on the team. The genuine appreciation for what they accomplished — even with the fact that most were freshman or sophomores. I hope they hold onto that during the next two seasons, win or lose. While the pressure will be high to continue to win, I hope they understand what they have already accomplished and hold … hold … hold … hold on to that when times get stressful.