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Grip on sports: Eight is enough for state hoops

Chasing the elusive state trophy is properly reserved for just eight teams in each class. (Jesse Tinsley)
Chasing the elusive state trophy is properly reserved for just eight teams in each class. (Jesse Tinsley)

Wednesday: So, do you have any pet peeves? 

It’s the Wednesday before Washington’s state basketball tournaments begin, so I guess I have one I could pass along. People who think the state tournaments  have lost their luster  because there are only eight teams at the state site. Really?

When was a 16-team state tournament etched in stone? Back in the Sinai with Moses? It wasn’t all that long ago the WIAA had four classifications. That meant 128 boys and girls teams made state. Total. Now, with six classifications, 96 boys and girls teams were eliminated last week alone. That leaves 96 teams playing. With eight-team tournaments, nearly as many schools get to play at the state site as were allowed 20 years ago.

I have actually heard an argument about kids “deserving” the state experience.


It seems like it is something that should be earned. If a team falls short by a game, isn’t that a great learning experience? Doesn’t failure teach lessons, just as success does?

That’s a lesson that seems to have been forgotten.

Thursday: I don’t know about you, but I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the state basketball tournaments. Eight teams, 16 teams, 32 teams. It doesn’t matter.

For years I spent the first week of March or so in Tacoma or Seattle, watching a friend’s team – or watching with my friend – compete in the bigger school tournaments.

Lately I’ve spent more time at the Bs in Spokane. Doesn’t really matter. The games are filled with excitement, pageantry and, more than anything, sadness.

That’s OK. It’s a sadness that means something. It might be caused by a loss, the sudden end of what was a really successful season. The gold ball in sight, then nothing. It happens.

Sadness isn’t reserved for defeat. Even in victory, there is a touch of it underlying the joy. It happens. Saturday night, gold ball raised and you see it. A coach tearing up a bit, not just because a team has reached its goal but because the seniors, usually the key folks, have played their last game.

The good times, the tough times, the laughs, the tears, the effort, the instruction, it all comes rushing back. And it’s over.

A senior looks at another senior and realizes they’ll never share a ride to practice again. There are days left in their senior year but it won’t be the same. The tie that really binds them, made up of equal parts sweat, desire and trust, is severed for good.

Even in that moment of triumph, you can see the gloom, lurking under the water like something out of a Spielberg movie. But that’s where it stays, drowned, appropriately, in a sea of happiness. The rest can wait.

Tuesday: Yes, it is awards season in college basketball. The West Coast Conference kicked off the local versions yesterday with its awards, covering the men and the women.

There’s not a lot to argue with except maybe one major award on the men’s side.

Mark Few might have done his best coaching job this season. The Zags were hit harder than anyone by graduation this season. They were handed the strangest conference schedule in memory, opening the season with four home games – with the students gone on Christmas break – and ending it with four road games.

The team was hit by major injuries, with Gary Bell Jr., Sam Dower Jr., and Kevin Pangos all out or limited. And yet they won the regular-season title by two games, only losing three times, all on the road.

The coaches’ choice for coach of the year was San Francisco’s Rex Walters. Yes, San Francisco did overcome the loss of its starting point guard to finish tied for second in the WCC, so add some points for that.

But shouldn’t you subtract some for allowing (and reportedly encouraging) a fight at practice that  led directly to that point guard leaving? By giving the conference’s top coaching award to the guy who let it happen, the other WCC coaches don’t seem to have a problem with it.