You can’t fault Riley Sorn for having fond memories of his time at the Tacoma Dome. After all, last year’s state basketball tournament can really only be described as life-changing for the Richland High School center.
“I was kind of under the radar,” he said. “No one really knew who I was, and then coming out and having those four games we had, it made everyone go, ‘who’s this Sorn kid?’ ”
That ‘Sorn kid’ is the guy who set a 4A state tournament blocks record and was named to the All-Tournament team while leading the unheralded Bombers to the state semifinals —eventually placing fifth. It was a performance that landed him on the Washington Supreme Under Armour AAU team last summer, which will likely land him a scholarship with a major Division I program.
“I think the state tournament last year was just a little bit of justification for him, that all his hard work had paid off and come to fruition,” Richland coach Earl Streufert said. “I think all his time and effort really paid off. He was really patient, because he had a lot of tough times last year.”
Added Sorn: “Dome is home, right?”
Now, Richland (23-1 and ranked No. 4 in the state’s 4A RPI) is headed back to Tacoma to handle some unfinished business, and Sorn is ready for his encore.
RETURN OF RILEY
Before Sorn emerged as a bonafide superstar on the state high school scene, he went through his share of struggles in becoming an effective varsity player. Streufert notes a meteoric rise in the final weeks of the season that led to his coming-out party.
“I think a few people already had a notion of who he was as a player, because they saw him early in the year,” Streufert said. “A lot of coaches commented at the end of the year that it was just phenomenal how much he had changed.”
The development that Sorn has gone through in this, his senior campaign, might be equally as impressive, Streufert said, but it hasn’t had to be as rapid.
“Last year, his trajectory was really steep. He made some great strides in like three weeks,” Streufert said. “And then this year, he’s been really steady. He’s way better now than he was at the beginning of the year, but it was more of a gradual climb.”
Named the WIBCA 4A State Player of the Year on Tuesday, and the MCC Player of the Year (overall and defensive) earlier this season, Sorn has become a go-to offensive threat for the Bombers, averaging more than 16 points per game while making nearly 60 percent of his shots. He punishes defenses that don’t come prepared to handle his skill set and 7-foot-3 frame.
While Sorn’s ability to catch everything, take higher-percentage shots and help facilitate the offense have been nice additions to his game, defense will always be his bread and butter.
His size allows him to affect opponents in ways no one else can. He averaged nearly four blocks per game during the regular season — 4.2 in the postseason — and that number doesn’t factor in the dribble-drivers deterred from even trying to lay the ball up, or the ones who awkwardly fail to find a clear path to the basket.
“He holds down the rim all by himself,” Richland junior guard Cole Northrop said. “We’ve just gotta cover the perimeter.”
With their starting five featuring Sorn and four other All-MCC first- and second-teamers in Northrop, Garrett Streufert, Ryan Wagar and Cody Sanderson, the Bombers could be poised to make a run at their first state title since 1979.
BOMBERS LOOK TO GET THEIR EDGE BACK
Sorn wasn’t the only Bomber who entered last year’s tourney as a relative unknown. They came to Tacoma as 19-5 MCC champs, but were written off by some, ranked as the No. 11 seed in the RPI. Then Richland took down No. 3 Davis in the opening round, shocked the two-time defending state champion Federal Way Eagles in the quarterfinals, and lost by just two points to top-ranked Union in the semis.
The Bombers won’t have the luxury of being an underdog this time around after winning their first 22 games of the season — three of them at the Great Western Shootout in Utah, including one against touted Wasatch Academy — suffering its only loss of the campaign thus far to top-ranked Gonzaga Prep in the District 8 championship game. It’s a résumé that had Richland ranked as highly as No. 15 in the nation by USA Today.
“I’m not really sure that it’s such a good thing,” Sorn said of the hype surrounding the team. “I think it was a good thing last year, when we could play loose and had nothing to lose when we played with those guys (referring to Federal Way). We’ve gotta get it back to that, play the way we play, shoot our shots, play open. That’s how we’re gonna win games.”
Playing more freely has been an emphasis since losing to G-Prep, when the Bombers were held to a season-low 53 points. They looked a lot looser, especially early in the game, on Friday when they smoked Davis 86-61 in a regional game to advance straight through to the state quarterfinals.
“We played how we play,” Sorn said after the win.
They’ll certainly be hoping for more of that when they open up against either No. 14 Kamiak or No. 3 Union at 3:45 p.m. Thursday in Tacoma.