With six starting players graduated from the Garfield boys basketball team last year and their first two games of this season against Franklin High School - their biggest rival - and Eastlake (another top contender in the league), you'd wonder if the young team might be a little nervous about jumping headfirst into such heady competition.
"We're gonna dance in the middle of the court when we win," crowed one Garfield player to his teammates during practice the day before their opening game against Franklin. "We're gonna stomp 'em like North Carolina."
Much of that confidence is no doubt due to second-year Garfield coach, Dan Finkley. Finkley, who came to Garfield last year from Kent-Meridian, has focused on making his players confident in their relationship as a team.
Finkley is relying on what he calls the "Al Hairston system" when whipping his team into shape. Under Hairston, the legendary Garfield basketball coach from 1980-1991, Garfield won five Class AAA titles, qualified for the state tournament nine times, and won eight Seattle Metro League Championships.
"Anyone who knows Garfield knows the [Hairston] system," Finkley said. He cites Hairston's strong offensive play, work ethic, and even practice drills as important parts of the system that he uses in his own coaching style. This year, Finkley is improving and expanding Garfield's passing game with focused drills during practice.
"Our offense is based on a team atmosphere [this season]," Finkley says.
Team co-captain Aaron Dotson, a sophomore who played varsity as a freshman last year, can see the difference from last season.
"Not to diss any of the any players from last year, but we're working together as a team," Dotson said. "We're making extra passes on offense, we're talking to the defense."
Finkley acknowledges that last season was a growing one, as he began to implement a new strategy for Garfield.
"Last year was a barometer," Finkley said. "I was trying not to ruffle too many feathers."
Luckily for Finkley, he has ties in the Garfield community that helped keep those feathers smooth. Finkley began his coaching career at Garfield as an assistant in 1994. After two years, he moved into a head coaching position at Chief Sealth, before going to Kent-Meridian in 2004. Finkley has also been involved in the Central District community by working with the Rotary Boys & Girls Club, helping to create basketball programs for youth in the area.
Finkley graduated in 1982 from Roosevelt High School where he was transferred after his sophomore year while his home high school, Lincoln, was being renovated. Garfield High School, currently undergoing its own renovation, is being temporarily housed in Lincoln High School until 2008.
To accommodate the players, Garfield provides shuttles to the Central District after practice and games. Finkley worries about the impact on parents who still have to worry about their children's transportation. Finkley has moved Saturday practices - traditionally at nine o'clock in the morning - to as late as two o'clock in the afternoon so students can find rides more easily.
Team co-captains Dotson and Nathan Rogers, a first-time varsity junior, shrug off the inconvenience of being away from their home base.
"We have strong community backing," Dotson says. "We got a lot of people coming out to games when we played out here [last year]."
Last year, Garfield went 15-9 overall for the season, and, although the team is young this year with only two returning varsity starters, the team has a lot of confidence in themselves and each other. When asked to predict who would step up this season as an exceptional player for Garfield, Rogers immediately pointed to his co-captain.
Dotson seems a sensible pick to help lead his team, especially with Finkley's focus on passing the ball more: last season, Dotson led the team in assists.
The two went on to name senior Duntae Jones, a fourth-year varsity senior who was in the top three on his team for overall scoring, scoring from field-goal range, steals and assists last season, as someone to watch for Jade Collier, a senior who led the team in blocks and rebounds last year, is also a potential standout on the Garfield team.
And while Garfield is set to start off with a pretty nasty schedule by facing two of the toughest teams in the league, their coach is not worried about the freshness of the team.
"The kids are saying that they're ready," Finkley said. "They're just waiting to play."
Well, maybe not just play; they're also ready to dance in the middle of the court.
Kate Kershner may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.[[In-content Ad]]