This season puts North Seattle on the map

The basketballs don't bounce any differently at North Seattle Community College. The court looks much the same. Two 20-minute halves are still played.

As similar as community college basketball may appear to that of a four-year school, these two worlds are just that - two vastly different worlds.

"I think the Huskies have a lot more leeway to what they can do," says Kyle Gray, 26, head coach of the men's basketball team at North Seattle (located west of I-5 near Northgate). "The coaches can only be here for so long, we have to work, make money. The doors aren't open as much to these guys as they are to a four-year school."


North Seattle doesn't give full-ride scholarships. The basketball team has eight to divvy among its 16 players and $200 a quarter is all they receive.

"That's how much they love basketball, that they're willing to pay tuition and come to school here and give up everything," says Gray, who is starting his second season at the helm for the North Seattle Storm and is just the second head coach in the program's six-year history. "They're going through this whole season not being able to work" (a paid job because of the time commitment dedicated to basketball).

"They have the passion to play this game," adds assistant coach Eric Ensign, 32, who teaches at Juanita High School. "They wouldn't be going through what they're going through otherwise."

Only fan support rivals the minimal scholarship money awarded to the hoopsters. Last season between 50 and 100 people attended each home game.

"I want to put North Seattle on the map," says Gray, who works at REI. "That's the goal: Put North Seattle on the map. Get our name out, get these people to come out and watch a game, and hope they come back.

"We should have a lot of crowds. The type of basketball this is, it's very up-tempo, fan-friendly basketball. It's a guard-heavy league that likes to get up and down the court quick. That's just this league. You can't survive if you're not an athlete. It's fun to watch and it's cheap. It's good entertainment," Gray added.

Improved attendance is a hope, but the players' future success is the mission.

"We ask players what their individual goals are and we try to match that with what our team goals are," says Ensign. "A big thing is for all these guys is they want to get to the next level. They want to play four-year ball, so we do whatever we can to get them to that level."

It's about getting them to the next level academically, as well.

"The goal is to get them to go to a four-year school for sure, no matter what," adds Gray, explaining that he contacts four-year coaches about his players and mandates study hall twice a week for the team. "If it's basketball, great; if academics, great."

Gray has a "dual role," though. Getting his players admitted to four-year schools is one; getting them to North Seattle in the first place is the other (community colleges are two-year programs).

"You have guys you definitely have a better chance at than others, and you kind of focus on them," says Ensign, a first-year coach, on recruiting guys without the talent or grades to play immediately at a four-year school. "You're going to have to get kids that are going to live at home and commute right here."

Snagging incomers from outside the Seattle area is difficult, as a community college doesn't have the pull that a four-year does. Thus CC recruits often sign with the nearest school.

"It's hard to recruit a kid in the Mount Vernon area, because Skagit [Valley Community College]'s going to pick him up," says Ensign. "That's probably the most challenging thing."

Challenging it is, as evident by this year's smorgasbord of players. "It's an interesting group of kids. Probably the most diverse group you're ever going to find," says Ensign.

Of them, five are 23 years or older, six have military backgrounds, four are international and the others are fresh out of high school.

"A lot of these guys just kind of came knocking on our door," says Ensign. "They didn't have anywhere else to play and came to some open gyms in the spring and we just picked them up."

What a good group to arrive.

"I think that with this team I'll be friends with a lot of these people for a long time, just because we get along," says sophomore guard Cody Gray, Kyle's brother. "We hang out after practice. After games we all go over to a teammate's house. Everyone clicks the right way. It's good for us as a team."

If the younger Gray's forecast is accurate, the Storm should be primed for a successful season that kicks off Friday, Nov. 18.

"The sky's the limit for this team," says Gray. "The team has the talent. The question is what are we going to do with that talent? We have to put the pieces together. We have them, but the question is where are they all going to fit? We can definitely be in the tournament."

That's the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges tournament at the end of the season, which includes 16 of the 32 NWAACC teams - four from each nine-team division: North, South, East and West. It's the CC version of the NCAA March Madness tournament.

A member of the North division, the Storm has never won a game in the double-elimination tournament.

North Seattle could use some fan support for its Wednesday and Saturday home games to help secure that coveted tournament win.

"We just want to get it so the kids feel like they have a home-court advantage," says Gray. "I think if people come out and see us play this year, the buzz will get out there. We have the talent, we just need the recognition of the name right now."

"That's the main thing, to let people know we're out there," adds Ensign.

They're out there, everybody. They are the North Seattle Storm, the community college team being put on the map.

Adam Landres-Schnur is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communications News Laboratory.[[In-content Ad]]