Lummi’s boys’ basketball team has a chance to have its name mentioned in the same breath as teams like Brewster, Mount Vernon and Rainier Beach.
Why? Because those are just three of the 44 teams that have gone undefeated and won a state championship, according to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
Lummi could become No. 45, as it has had very little trouble jumping every hurdle put in front of it. But that success came after a lot of hard work put in by a Blackhawks team that features eight seniors.
To some outside of the area, this team might have come out of nowhere after missing the past two Class 1B State Tournaments.
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“I think we had a good run from 2006 until two years ago,” Lummi coach Jerome Toby said in a phone interview. “I think we had some good teams during that time, and the past two years we had good teams, too, but we just came up short. That made these guys hungry everyday. The drive to get back there is something they had everyday. And having talent helps, too.”
Staying “humble and hungry” is something the Blackhawks coach of 11 years has been preaching to the team all season. When Lummi beat teams 80-18, like it did on Dec. 29 against Muckleshoot Tribal School, or when it went undefeated in the regular season, the team wanted more.
Even after a 55-44 win over Meridian, which made the 1A District Tournament this season, the Blackhawks knew they weren’t done.
“The coaches really, they get it into our heads that we can’t let ourselves dwell on what we’ve done. We aren’t where we want to be yet,” Lummi senior point guard Dean Williams said in a phone interview. “Don’t let one or two wins be your season. We could have ended it with Meridian and that could be good for some people, but we want to be the best we can be.”
For coach and players, the realization that this team could be special came early on. Williams had an idea coming into the season, after a successful offseason of workouts and tournaments, he said.
Toby had high hopes from the beginning, but it wasn’t until wins over Meridian, Tulalip Heritage and Neah Bay that he realized this team was capable of big things.
“That showed us how competitive we are and how much fight we had,” Toby said. “If we keep pushing them, then this could be that group that will be at the level this program has been at.”
None of that would be possible if it weren’t for the senior leadership headed by Williams and Kavarez Lane. The duo was with the team the last time it made the state tournament, in 2012.
“They’re my coaches on the floor,” Toby said. “I think physically and mentally, the game has slowed down for them. Kavarez picks it up defensively and gets into them and Dean is the floor general.”
The pair also has different, but equally effective leadership styles.
“Kavarez is quiet. He just goes out and does his work, and Dean is more verbal,” Toby said. “Having those two different styles has helped me. We knew Dean was going to be the point guard, but we weren’t sure how Kavarez would be after he blew out his knee last year at districts and wasn’t cleared to play until right up until before the season. Watching summer league and tournaments motivated him.”
Once Lane was back with the team, it didn’t miss a step, Williams said.
“It wasn’t that big of a change,” he said. “We all played together for so long, we know how we all play.”
The two-point win over Neah Bay in the Tri-District Championship was the closest game Lummi has had all season, but even with a pair of key players out of action, it pulled off the victory.
“With the Lummi-Neah rivalry it was a fun game, got the heart pumping and to come out on top felt good,” Williams said. “We tried to play the same game without those starters. We have faith in the other boys. Having won the first close game, it really was an eye-opener and closer than we wanted, but we still came out with the win.”
That close win will continue to feed the “humble and hungry” mentality the Blackhawks have adopted. It also gives Toby a break from creating new ways to motivate such a dominant team.
“They’re smart, they know the history,” Toby said. “This is the first team that won League, District and Tri-District, and been undefeated, so they’ve raised the standard. We talked about how if we lose this will be forgotten, because you will be the team that was undefeated and lost at regionals, so they’ve been focused. They don’t want it to end here, so it’s up to them.”
Lummi takes on Mount Rainier Lutheran in the regional round of the Class 1B State Tournament at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at Mount Vernon High School. The Blackhawks own a 61-45 regular season win and 64-32 win in the first round of the Tri-District Tournament over Mount Rainier Lutheran.