I had more fun covering basketball this season than I've ever had since I started covering games at the Herald in 2000.
I watched some of the most competitive players I've ever seen lace em up this season, and I watched some of the biggest hearts lay it all on the line at the end of games. I believe a lot of that comes from the quality of coaches around here, which I believe is highly underrated.
Here are some of my favorite moments from 2010-2011 boys basketball:
-- Pasco's incredible comeback victory over Kennewick might have been it's only win of the season, but it was also one to be remembered for ages. I was happy for coach Charlie Villanueva, who brings such an unbridled enthusiasm for the game. Don't worry, Charlie, you'll get a few more wins before it's all over.
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-- I enjoyed watching Hanford overcome as much as it did this year. Early in the season, I wrote a lot about how big Aaron Neary meant to the Falcons, but they really showed me a lot about who they are down the stretch after Bear Braich got hurt. You wondered who, besides Neary, would step up for them in key situations. The answer — all of them. They almost pulled off the upset of the year in Kamiakin's own gym late in the year, and for that they deserve major props.
-- Gotta throw some love out to a couple of pure shooters — Matt Mendenhall of Southridge and Justin Smith of Chiawana. Both of them hit some major slumps this year, which comes with the territory, but nothing made me happier than to see both of them fight their way out of it at the end of the year. Mendenhall never met a shot he didn't like, often firing off-balance with a hand in his face. He's had some bad nights, and at first, I couldn't see why coach Jason DeVere would let him continue to do that. But then I learned to appreciate his fearless shooter's mentality. He kept putting them up, and before long he was carrying the team, averaging 25 points a game over a six-game stretch late in the year. Smith got off to an amazing start, but hit a horrible slump over the final three weeks or so. You could see that his confidence was shaken, but I was really proud of him for working through it. He finished the year on a strong note, scoring a game-high 17 points against Richland despite a district loss.
-- Speaking of shooters, I don't know if we'll see too many more clutch performers like Case Rada in the near future. The guy has hit some big shots in his career, but the single-minded display of sheer will he showed in the first weekend of state was simply amazing. At times like that, I wish I wasn't covering the game so I could just sit back and truly appreciate that kind of player. But whenever the team needed a big bucket, he gave it to them.
-- One of the people I was most happy for this season was Brian Meneely, the Kamiakin coach, who is as competitive as any player on the floor. When I talked to him following the Braves season-ending loss at regionals in 2010, I could see he was truly heartbroken. But after Kamiakin beat Mercer Island to reach the Tacoma Dome — Meneely's first-ever trip there — I believe he would have stood there and talked with me for an hour about how his guys got it done.
-- Richland and Chiawana played three games at Chiawana High School and all of them had incredible finishes. But the one I'll remember most is the one where Calvin Douglas went down in the first 29 seconds, and Richland went on to win in double overtime. There were a lot of reasons Richland won that game — they kept their cool, they hit big shots down the stretch, they played great defense. But one of the biggest reasons the Bombers won that game was Grant Gallinger. After that game I was reminded of Pasco's Shayne Kelly, bar-none the toughest player I've ever seen from a mental standpoint. No one could rattle that guy and he was always in the moment. There were better athletes, yes, faster and stronger, yes. But none were tougher than he was. But Gallinger was the heart of that team this year and the biggest reason they made it to the CBBN 4A district title game.
Well that's enough for one entry. But it was fun to recall some of the great moments I had the pleasure of watching this year. I'm sure there will be others in the near future.