With an outstanding field of 16 high school basketball teams set to do battle last weekend at Bellarmine, the stage was set for some great summer action. And great action there was, with the host Lions coming away with the title. But, as each coach would tell you, winning was not the sole purpose for being at the 2012 “Hoops on the Hill” Tournament.
“Winning is nice of course, but I needed our players to get acclimated to the new system here at Stadium,” said new Tigers coach Gil Rigell, fresh off his 10-year stint as the head coach for the PLU Lady Lutes. Rigell, who also spent three years as the head coach of the Lakes Lancers boys basketball squad, added that “even with our seniors, it’s vital that everybody understand where we are going come November.” Understanding new systems is not something defending league champions have to worry about, except when you lose your top two scorers. Such is the case at Wilson. The defending Narrows League 3A champs will have to deal with the loss of both Phoenix Waters and Kevin Johnson, but fourth-year head coach Dave Alwert likes his infusion of youth. “David Jenkins gives us a lot of ability at the point and Jamaal Welch, a junior transfer from Curtis, gives us a little bit of size up front.”
While system acclimation is important, playing against good competition is something tournament organizer and Bellarmine Lions head coach Bernie Salazar strives to bring to the hill every year. “We have great working relationships with this group of 16 high schools and that helps us to continue to bring them back, year after year.”
Some of the more elite teams include Gonzaga Prep from Spokane, Mercer Island, Kentwood, Kentridge, Puyallup, and of course the host Lions. With most of the attention focused on some of these top-tier quads, there are others who have started to make names for themselves the last few years.
One of those is Wilson. Under Alwert’s guidance in his four years in North Tacoma, the Rams have ascended to the upper crust of Tacoma basketball. Finishing sixth in the 4A tournament three years ago, he knows what it takes from his players.
“We need to make our players understand the importance of playing hard on both ends of the court, and summer basketball gives us an opportunity to get out some of the rough edges before the season starts.”
Finishing sixth at last year’s 4A tournament, Salazar has an array of talent coming back for another run next year. Gonzaga-bound Lucas Meikle, Colorado-football bound Sefo Liufau and point guard Isaiah Flynn give the Lions some much-needed experience heading into next year. “We have a real edge heading into next year,” added Salazar of his experienced squad. “This tournament also gives teams such as ourselves a chance to reacquaint and get some momentum heading into next season.”
It should be another great season for Tacoma hoop fans next winter.