RICHLAND -- It isn't often that a Class 2B boys basketball player will get mentioned in the same sentence with the best Class 3A or 4A players, much less be able to share the floor with them.
Sometimes it's a confidence issue, but mostly it's talent, plain and simple.
Still, there was Jake Siefken, a senior-to-be at Liberty Christian, more than holding his own last summer with area hoops stars Reggie Clinton, Bryce Leavitt, Justin Pedley and Zach En'Wezoh on Terry Watson's AAU team.
The 5-foot-11 point guard didn't just hang with them. He elevated them.
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"You might find taller guards, but you'll never find a kid who outworks Jake," said Watson, who coached Siefken at Liberty Christian from 2008-11. "He's played with them all: Pedley, En'Wezoh, Julian (Figueroa) from Pasco, Jordan (Downing) and Miquiyah (Zamora) from Chiawana. He scored 35 against one of the best guards in Oregon."
A tireless work ethic and an indomitable psyche endeared him to his AAU teammates.
"You can't put a label on a player because of what division he's in. (Jake's) the type of player who can step up and play against anybody," En'Wezoh said. "I honestly think if he played in the CBBN, he'd be doing a lot of the same things he's been doing (in 2B)."
Lately, Siefken only solidified his standing as one of the top players in the Mid-Columbia and certainly one of the best players in school history. He scored 26 points Saturday in a Southeast 2B loss to Dayton, cracking the 1,000-point barrier. He's at 1,022 points entering the Patriots' regular-season finale at 7:30 p.m. Friday against visiting Asotin.
"I guess it means all that hard work you put in during practice every day is finally paying off," Siefken said. "But it's not all me. It comes out as an individual stat, but it all comes from my teammates."
Will Keck was a longtime Pats' assistant before taking over for Watson this season, but he's been a big fan of Siefken's for a while.
"He played JV as a freshman but came up at the end of the year. As a sophomore, he just took over," Keck said. "We've had some special players in the program, especially in the last five years, but Jake's right up there. His drive to succeed really makes him a different player. Nobody has more heart."
Watson's decision to bring a freshman up to varsity in the heat of a playoff run was unusual, for sure, but the older varsity players encouraged the move.
"He had no fear. When we practiced, (Siefken) was giving the guys everything they could handle," Watson said. "His teammates said, 'We need Jake.' "
Liberty Christian won league titles during Siefken's first two seasons on varsity, and he found himself -- literally -- in the spotlight playing for the 2B state title against Pe Ell in Spokane in 2009.
"Spokane Arena is a lot bigger than a little gym. Everything goes dark, then they put the spotlight out there and call out each one of the players," said Siefken, who scored 11 points in the 66-41 loss. "I was lucky to be able to play in that game. I felt like I was on top of the world."
Siefken's senior season took a hit when he tore the meniscus in his left knee over the summer, costing him a chunk of games in December. But he used the opportunity to keep building his game and helping his team, even if he couldn't do it with the ball in his hands.
"That was hard, but there's always a reason for sitting out," he said. "I definitely picked up a lot from watching my team, learning more about the game. I'm seeing a lot more on the pick and roll, learning when to attack and when to pull it out."
When Siefken returned at mid-season, he found a new appreciation for the game and even took on a little more of the offensive load. The pass-first mentality he adopted before has shifted to a score-when-we-need-it school of thought this season.
"We were struggling for wins, and we were tied at Tri-Cities Prep with nine seconds left. Jake wanted the ball," Keck said. "He went coast-to-coast and took on two defenders to get the layup with 2 seconds left on the clock. Even fighting through injuries, there was nothing that was going to stop him."
Siefken admits he might have taken two league titles and a state championship appearance for granted as a younger player. As a senior, he's learned the value of patience and wisdom, and he's more than willing to share that with his teammates.
"There's not as much experience on varsity. It's been tough, but it's still a good year for us," said Siefken, who is considering Western Oregon as his next stop. "We might not get a win every night, but we always learn something, take something and apply it the next time."