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March 1, 2014 at 9:46 PM

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Family Basketball: Behind the Scenes at Rainier Beach


LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Rainier Beach head coach Mike Bethea shouts suggestions at his players as time runs out in the first half, with the Vikings leading by a slim margin against the West Seattle Wildcats on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. Bethea is often a fiery presence on the sidelines and in locker room huddles, constantly urging his team to play better, no matter how large their lead.

For this Sunday's story on Rainier Beach High School's acclaimed basketball program, I was able to spend a bit of time following coach Mike Bethea and his varsity team with preps reporter Josh Liebeskind. The small public high school is known nationally for its basketball program and has high hopes for a national title this year. Thankfully, the team was very open and accommodating with their access. As Josh mentions in his story, there's a strong family atmosphere there, which extends to outsiders.

Often an assistant coach or parent would bring after game snacks for all of the players and coaches and would always insist on saving one for me, despite my protestations. As I left at the end of their most recent game, senior guard David Crisp's mother, Jill, remembered my name, and as I passed she called out to me with a giant smile and hug as if I were a relative. Such gestures have little to do with basketball, but speak to the nature of the program's character.

While there's great care for each other, there's also great focus and intensity. When Rainier Beach won the metro title against Eastside Catholic or their regional against Mercer Island, there was little of the typical celebration: not because they didn't care, but because their coaches already expected them to win. Each mark in the W column has served as a punch in their ticket towards Tacoma. This weekend they have a good chance to win a state title in the Hardwood Classic, their gateway to nationals.

I noticed an oft-repeated mantra during their halftime and postgame talks was that "hard work beats lazy talent." Bethea knows his players are talented; he's seen what talent is. NBA stars Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson are two of his alums. He and his staff are often tough on the players because they all believe wholeheartedly in their talent. Bethea knows they have the ability.

But they still have to work hard.


LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Vikings coach Mike Bethea draws out a game plan during a full timeout on the court against Eastside Catholic at Rainier Beach on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The Vikings won in a 30-point game, 100-70.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Vikings head coach Mike Bethea gathers his players, tired after a long Thursday practice, to share some goals and reminders for tomorrow's game against Eastside Catholic at Rainier Beach High School on Jan. 9, 2014. Bethea, who is in his 19th year coaching Rainier Beach and has helped develop talents like Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson, draws from a wealth of experience as he advises his current team.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Rainier Beach head coach Mike Bethea wastes no time advising his team, including Dejounte Murray, Djuan Piper, center left and right, and Shadeed Shabazz and David Crisp, left and right, during a quick timeout at a home game against Eastside Catholic on Friday, January 10, 2014.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Rainier Beach players, including seniors Elijah Foster (12) and David Crisp, back center, listen tensely in the locker room at halftime as their coaches urge them to wake up and play with more intensity and purpose in a close metro tourney final against the no. 6-ranked Eastside Catholic at Garfield High School Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. In a game they expected to win easily, the Vikings barely managed to produce a lead in the last few minutes, winning just 68-65.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

The numbers of prestigious players, including Phil Heath and Jamal Crawford, an NBA veteran now playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, hang above the team as they practice at Rainier Beach High School on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Crawford in particular has stayed in touch with Bethea and the team, even giving them his personal phone number. Senior David Crisp, who has committed to the University of Washington, says he texts Crawford often for advice and support.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

The Rainier Beach Vikings coaching bench, including head coach Mike Bethea, in grey, and 1st. assistant coach Harold Wright, hand to face, study the game carefully as they play familiar rival Eastside Catholic at Rainier Beach on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Bethea has a strong personal relationship with every member of his coaching staff; several are former students, and one, Dave Belmonte, is his former high school coach. "They all know what I'm thinking," says Bethea of his his assistant coaches.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Vikings head coach Mike Bethea begins to walk back to the locker room, all business, while the crowd celebrates the Vikings' slim lead at halftime against the West Seattle Wildcats on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Vikings head coach Mike Bethea slouches against the whiteboard at halftime as he advises his team, noting they are simply playing too slowly against the West Seattle Wildcats in West Seattle on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. The Vikings were able to take Bethea's advice to turn it around in the second half, winning at a comfortable 117 - 78.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Assistant coach Dave Belmonte, who was Mike Bethea's coach at Franklin High School in the 1970s, lays out the team's jerseys before their home game against Eastside Catholic on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Belmonte, much calmer on the bench and in the locker room than his mentee, provides a balance to Bethea's intensity.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Junior shooting guard Shadeed Shabazz, right, shares jabs and jokes with senior point guard Naim Ladd, left, as Tyrone Cooke, center left, and David Crisp, center right, look on, before their game against the West Seattle Wildcats at West Seattle on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Mike Bethea, flanked by assistant coaches Dave Belmonte and Harold Wright, left and right, quietly takes senior forward Shaqquan Aaron aside to give him some tips after Rainier Beach's win over Eastside Catholic on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Aaron, who had several offers from D1 schools, has committed to play for Louisville next year.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Rainier Beach junior Dejounte Murray, left, tries to hold back a smile as assistant coach Robert Delgardo (not pictured) leads the team in a quick prayer before their home game against Eastside Catholic on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Amidst their usual pre-game energy, the team always gathers together for a brief moment of stillness before taking to the court.

LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Djuan Piper, left, stares out the bus window as David Crisp takes a short nap while they ride to West Seattle to play the Wildcats on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. Though some players occasionally travel to away games in their own cars, most choose to ride the bus with friends and coaches.

For more photos, visit the gallery.

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