Little did three Mead High School athletes know not too many years ago that they would have a major hand in winning the school’s first outright Greater Spokane League basketball championship.
Jason Smith once dreamed of being a World Cup soccer player. Jeff Pilkington is headed to college on a football scholarship. Only Terry Donovan has focused on basketball.
But the three players, who have been integral parts of Mead’s basketball program since their sophomore seasons, this season fulfilled the promise they showed three years ago.
Their first year at Mead, the Panthers went 8-8 in the GSL and 10-11 overall. Last year the Panthers improved to 11-5 in league and 16-10 overall and upset Pasco in a regional playoff before losing Richland and eventual state champion Ferris.
With a game remaining in this GSL season, the Panthers are 12-3 in league and 14-5 overall. They already have locked up the league title. Mead shared the GSL title back in 1987 but had never before won an outright championship.
“They made steps every year,” said Coach Jim Preston. “It has been great to see them mature as individuals.”
Pilkington considered himself a football player when, as a Bowdish Junior High eighth-grader in the Spokane Valley, he was asked to try out for an Amateur Athletic Union team. Smith and Donovan played on that same AAU team.
“I was the last guy to make the team,” said Pilkington, who moved into the Mead district, where his dad teaches. “As soon as I got on that team, I knew I wanted to be with them (in high school).”
Once at Mead, Pilkington was an instant scoring threat. He averaged 12 points per game during his first two years.
He had begun to think of himself as a basketball player - until this past football season when a pair of 99-yard kick returns for touchdowns changed his mind again. He has accepted a scholarship to Eastern Washington University.
“I never thought I’d ever pursue the football side of sport until this year,” he admitted.
A knee injury sidelined him for him the first eight games of this basketball season, and he has yet to regain his shooting touch.
“Since he’s come back, his leadership has been vital,” Preston said.
Smith has more than taken up the slack. A career 7.5 scorer until this year, he has been virtually unstoppable inside. The reluctant shooter is averaging 18.1 points per game.
“He is very unegotistic,” Preston said. “Sometimes I have to beg him to shoot.”
The 6-foot-4 Smith considers himself to be a passer.
“I like getting people the ball better than scoring,” he said. “It feels better to get an assist.”
Earlier this year he didn’t miss a shot from the field or free throw line while scoring 35 points against West Valley and he has had six other games of over 20 points.
The budding soccer player played nine years of soccer and was first to play in an AAU national basketball tournament where, at age 12, he was the second-tallest player.
Although only 6-foot-4, he may find yet that basketball is his sport.
“Offensively he is very tough,” Preston said. “He is quicker than most kids his size and has the ability to go outside and shoot.
“He is very strong and difficult to handle inside.”
Donovan readily admits that he was difficult to handle, period. He had his problems on the court last year and was scholastically ineligible, sitting out the final 10 games.
“Last year I was more worried about getting my shots and was frustrated with myself,” he said. “This year I am taking things as they come.”
After missing the first two games of this season with an ankle sprain, he is scoring a career-high 8.7 points per game. Points have been irrelevant, says his coach. Team play matters most for Donovan.
During an early win over Central Valley, he fed the dominant Smith for a basket, said Preston, “and Terry was so excited he almost hit the ref pumping his arm. After struggling mentally and physically last year, he’s doing a great job.”
Mead went into this season favored to win the GSL. The Panthers didn’t disappoint.
“I think we wanted the role of favorite,” said Donovan. “The pressure put on us we put on ourselves to work harder.”
Their coach said the title was a result of the maturity brought on by three years of play.
“They are more coachable as seniors than they were as sophomores,” Preston said. “They are all different, but I tell you, they are all team oriented.”
And they will be missed.
“It will be difficult without them, I’m so used to having them around,” said Preston. “The program was struggling when they came.
“When they leave, hopefully, it will remain where it is and beyond.”