PASCO -- Buddy Walter wasn't surprised in the least to see Justin Smith set Chiawana's single-game scoring record of 44 points in a 91-87 overtime boys basketball win over Richland last Friday.
It's not the first time Walter has watched his close friend find his rhythm and torch an opponent with a white-hot hand.
"I've seen it many a time at AAU tournaments. He's amazing," said Walter of the 5-foot-11 senior guard who leads the CBBN 4A in scoring at 19.0 points a game. "Once a shot falls for him, it builds his confidence. Once he gets to a certain point, he can't be stopped."
But Walter, a 6-foot senior, wasn't always so happy to see Smith on a basketball court.
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When the two began playing together for the first time in third grade for the same AAU team, Smith was the new kid in town and had to prove himself to his teammates.
"I didn't like him at first. His dad would tell him what to do on the court, and he would come out and do exactly that and score on me," Walter said.
"He said I was kind of a try-hard," Smith said. "We got mad at each other because we both wanted the ball and both wanted to run the team."
But it wasn't long before the two were inseparable.
In fact, Smith would join Walter and his sister Danielle, a former Pasco star now playing at Gonzaga, to work the playground courts near Pasco High School. The scene was reminiscent of how basketball legends Reggie and Cheryl Miller used to hustle unsuspecting players while growing up in Southern California.
"We did have something like that. Between me, my sister and Justin, we would take over the court," Walter said. "All the guys would get frustrated."
Walter got some quality minutes for Chiawana last season but he worked to refine his game in the offseason. The result is a well-rounded player who often brings the ball up as a point guard but can also attack the basket.
Walter is third in the CBBN 4A in scoring at 14.1 points per game.
"He's improved a great deal. He was a good player last year on a team that was kind of raw," Richland coach Earl Streufert said. "He kind of reminds me of (former all-CBBN pick Colton) McCargar. He's a pretty athletic guy and a good shooter."
Walter's background with Smith allows the two players to have a little more familiarity with each other during games, which may give them a slight edge at crunch time.
"Sometimes he'll drive to my side and my defender will come off me (to help on Walter). I know he likes to kick it out, and he knows I'll look to shoot when I'm open," Smith said. "When I drive, he'll find an open spot. I always know where he's at and where to find him."
But you can't have offense without defense, and that's where junior guard Miquiyah Zamora comes in. As a sophomore, Zamora earned a spot on the CBBN Columbia Division all-defensive team for his tenacious approach, quick feet and nimble hands.
It's no coincidence that Zamora is a Division I football recruit known for his defensive abilities as a shutdown cornerback for the 10-1 Riverhawks this past season.
"I love the defensive side of the ball in football. I like to hit people," said Zamora, who also contributes 10.1 points a game to the hoops squad. "But basketball is pretty physical too. There's a lot you can carry over."
So far, Chiawana's trio of guards is one of the main reasons the Riverhawks are in first place in the CBBN 4A and undefeated in league play at 3-0. Junior post Jordan Downing holds down the fort on the low block with 13.7 points a game, but he knows how important it is to have a stable crew of guards on the perimeter.
"They're huge. When they're doing their job, it makes things easy for me," said Downing, a returning all-CBBN selection. "I'll draw a lot of double teams, so the more I can find them, I know their success will help pick the team up. So it's really nice to see them playing well right now."
For Chiawana coach Chad Herron, it's an ideal blend of talent that strikes a perfect balance on the court.
"I love the fact that all three are unselfish," Herron said. "There were times last year when I felt things were forced. But this year they're taking what the defense gives them."
* Jack Millikin; 509-582-1406; email@example.com.