by Shane McMahon
The season for the Rainier Beach High School boys basketball team ended with a 66-51 loss to Garfield High School in the 3A championship game on March 7th, crushing dreams of a four-peat in the state tournament.
The game was much closer than the final score indicated, as Garfield (27-2) ended the game on a 17-2 run. Prior to that, Rainier Beach trailed 52-49 with a little over three minutes left to play in the game. Beach had a few chances with possessions to stay close, but couldn’t convert on their offensive chances and fell further behind when they got the ball back.
The Vikings (25-4), defending champions for three straight seasons, entered the 3A state tournament in Tacoma as the top ranked 3A team in Washington. They hadn’t lost a game in more than a month and boasted a talented roster full of potential college players. Leading the squad, senior Dejounte Murray has committed to play next year at the University of Washington.
“I can’t wait to be playing college basketball in November,” Murray said.
When looked at as a whole, this graduating class will have something truly special to remember, four years of basketball and four years of championship runs. Despite the bitter ending, Rainier Beach still has the championship legacy of seasons 2012-2014. Also, moving beyond high school the players will have a chance at furthering their education.
Off the court, the Vikings take their academics as seriously as their basketball. Each student athlete is required to take at least one International Baccalaureate class in their junior and senior year.
“Our student athletes participate in rigorous classes while playing basketball,” Principal Dwane Chappelle said. The idea is to open the door to future schooling opportunities after graduation if basketball isn’t in their long-term plans.
The players may be young men but the focus on both academics and athletics is key to growing as a person. Losing in the championship game is painful but it will make the players appreciate the success they’ve had in this impressive four year stretch at RBHS, a success largely attributed to the man leading the team, Mike Bethea.
One of the coaching legends in the state, Bethea has been the head coach at the school for 21 years and has won seven of the school’s eight state basketball titles. He is the winningest basketball coach in state history and has sent numerous players to the Division-I level of college basketball and some even beyond that point..
A couple of notables he’s coached–Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson–have made it to the pros and established long NBA careers. Crawford is in his 15th season and Robinson is in his 12th season, both are teammates on the Los Angeles Clippers.
Bethea’s love for the game can be seen in the intensity with which he coaches his players–there’s obvious passion, but there are teaching moments as well. Former players make sure to stay in touch with him beyond graduation and his own coaching staff is loaded with decades of basketball knowledge. Crawford has been known to talk with the players when available and there’s a bond between the NBA vet and the incoming UW freshman, Murray, whom the younger player calls his “Big Bro” and mentor.
The basketball dynasty in South Seattle did not continue with another championship this season, but the fourth straight trip to the title game is nothing to ignore. Rainier Beach remains one of the historic hotbeds for high school basketball talent and with the coaching they’ve had, these young men will continue to make the area proud as they move beyond high school. With five seniors leaving, the underclassmen will now get the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of past and present stars, hopefully getting Beach back to the state championship in 2016.