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Originally published May 9, 2013 at 8:06 PM | Page modified May 10, 2013 at 9:40 PM

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Can West Coast All-Star Classic elbow way into crowded prep circuit?

Saturday's game at ShoWare Center in Kent, created by Rainier Beach boys basketball coach Mike Bethea, is drawing some of the nation's top prep talent.

Times staff columnist

West Coast All-Star Classic

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Where: ShoWare Center in Kent

Who: 22 top high-school basketball players from across the country

Tickets: $15 at the ShoWare Ticket Office or $12 online (before game day) at westcoastallstarclassic.com

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Mike Bethea surveyed the high-school basketball landscape and noticed a great void. Why, he often wondered, does the West Coast not have its own premier all-star game?

Over the years, as the Rainier Beach boys basketball coach became a six-time state champion and a nationally prominent figure, his curiosity turned into a call to action. He would get invited to coach in big-time player showcases, and he knew this region had to get into that game.

So, finally, he's doing something about it. The inaugural West Coast All-Star Classic will tip off at 6 p.m. Saturday at the ShoWare Center in Kent. The event, which also includes three-point shooting and dunk contests at 7 p.m. Friday at Rainier Beach, is a risk he'll happily take. With the help of business partner Virginia Owens, Bethea's aspiration is to turn this event into a mainstay in the crowded national all-star circuit.

"I've always wanted to know why we didn't have a high-profile all-star game on the West Coast," Bethea said. "Somebody has to have the initiative to make it happen. What better place to have a national high-school all-star basketball game than here?"

It is an intriguing use of Seattle's leverage as a hoops hotbed. Events of this nature aren't a given, even in basketball-loving areas, and we'll have to see how this first one goes before declaring whether the West Coast All-Star Classic has staying power.

But as the big test approaches, it appears this event has been well-planned, and it has a stunning list of supporters. Hall of Famer-in-waiting Gary Payton — who has trusted Owens for years because of the work she has done with his ex-wife, Monique, on the Women Standing Tall nonprofit — is a huge advocate. Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and former Oregon coach Ernie Kent have been big supporters, too. Mayor Mike McGinn and Metropolitan King County Council chair Larry Gossett add political might to the cause. Numerous local professional athletes are expected to attend.

The list of corporate sponsors is strong. And the 22 players invited to participate include some of the area's best senior talent (Zach LaVine, MarQuis Davis, D.J. Fenner, Tucker Haymond, Seth Berger), as well as Washington recruits Darin Johnson and Jahmel Taylor and other highly regarded prospects from the West Coast and beyond.

There should be some good basketball on display. Bethea said the collection of talent is on the same level of a prominent national event, the Kentucky Derby Festival Classic, which is played in Louisville every April.

"I feel real good for a first-year event," Bethea said. "There's definitely a big buzz behind this game. It's not just Washington. We have players coming in from the Bay Area, Southern California, North Carolina, Texas. They're all excited to see what this is all about. It's not like we're scrambling to get players who want to play. We had to turn some good players away."

Optimism drips off Bethea's every word, but he realizes it will take time for this event to gain traction. It won't be knocking the McDonald's All-American Game off its perch any time soon. The Jordan Brand Classic has a cemented place, too. And while it's not technically a high-school all-star game, the Nike Hoops Summit — an annual event in Portland pitting the best American high-school seniors against an international all-star squad — is the West Coast's most celebrated amateur basketball event.

But there's room for more, Bethea says. And the timing is right: One of the lesser-publicized items in the NCAA's controversial deregulation plan is eliminating restrictions on all-star games. Currently, a senior can compete in no more than two all-star contests (the Nike Hoops Summit doesn't count). Unless something changes, the NCAA won't put a cap on all-star games starting next year. It will give the West Coast All-Star Classic a chance to pursue the best possible talent without asking players to make difficult decisions.

This is both a good year to have a trial run and to get established before others try to take advantage of the rule change by starting new events next season.

The proceeds for this year's West Coast All-Star Classic will go to the Urban Family Center and to the Rainier Beach Foundation's ambitious effort to renovate Beach and make it the greenest high school in the state.

"I feel real comfortable with how we've done it," Bethea said. "Is there a possibility that we wind up disappointed? Of course. We want a good gate. We need a good gate. But this is the first year. We're going to measure success by the fun had by the people who attend."

Well, clearly, no one will ever doubt Bethea's ability to orchestrate entertaining basketball.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com

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