Blainebasketball mania hits the road

Published on Thu, Dec 23, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Blaine basketball mania hits the road

By Jack Kintner

In a two-day road trip last week that took them to both the bright lights of the big city and the modest confines of a “Hoosiers” style old high school gym, Blaine’s boys and girls varsity teams brought home two wins each playing double headers with Port Townsend last Friday at the Key Arena and on Saturday against Coupeville.

Counting both teams, coaches, managers, trainers, the band and cheer squad and a number of parents and friends, roughly 500 people from Blaine were at or played in the boys and girls afternoon games and attended the evening Sonics-Phoenix Suns game. About 100 plus the teams and staffs stayed overnight at the Springs Hills Marriot in Seattle before continuing on to Whidbey Island for the Saturday afternoon double header with Coupeville.

Boys head coach Dan Rucker said that “when the voice of the team is the mayor and we’re having such good support from the town, it’s really great.” Blaine took both games at the Key, the boys winning handily 45-37 and the girls coming from behind in the last quarter to beat a talented Port Townsend girls team 42-36.

The Sonics game they saw last Friday night has since been billed as the best NBA game so far this season as both the 18-4 Seattle squad and their opponent, the 19-3 Phoenix Suns, are off to quick starts with the best two records in the league. It’s unusual for one team and only the seventh time in league history that two teams have both done so well early in the season, and both teams are fun to watch, playing a fast-paced full court attack style typical of the NBA’s western conference.

Because of that the contest drew personalities and media from literally around the world, rap singer Little John and Microsoft president Steve Balmer bantering with Senator Maria Cantwell and former Sonic guard Slick Watts in the courtside section. The game showcased a back court match between Seattle’s 23-year-old second year pro and 2000 Blaine high school graduate Luke Ridnour and the physically similar 30-year-old eight year pro and Victoria, B.C. native Steve Nash. Even their birthdays are close, six days apart.

The game started fast for Seattle and for Ridnour, who got his first of nine assists in the first minute of play by shoveling the ball to 7’ center Jerome James sailing toward the basket for an emphatic slam dunk to open the scoring. Ridnour sank a running 20 foot jump shot a couple of minutes later that brought the crowd to its feet, and by the end of the first quarter Seattle had a 16 point lead.

By the half Phoenix was within two, 57-55, and with a minute to play in the game Phoenix guard Quentin Richardson’s three point play gave them the lead at 107-104. Ridnour’s three-point attempt for the tie with just over ten seconds left bounced off the rim, and Phoenix walked off with the 112-110 victory in a game that easily lived up to expectations.

Nash, who played 36 minutes, got 21 points and made 12 assists to Ridnour’s 24 minutes, six points and nine assists. Much of Nash’s scoring from the field came when Ridnour was on the bench, but Ridnour got his two first quarter field goals against Nash.
Earlier that day Blaine’s varsity teams and their opponents from Port Townsend, along with their fans and supporters and the Blaine pep band, had the place pretty much to themselves. Blaine senior guard Craig Rothwell, when asked about playing in the 17,000 seat Key Arena, shrugged and grinned, “It sure is big,” and he wasn’t just stating the obvious.

“It is a little disorienting,” said head coach Dan Rucker, “because you lose spatial reference points. At home with a wall right behind the basket you’ve got some feel for where things are, but at the Key it’s just the hoop out there in space, and takes a little getting used to.”

That spoke to what Blaine’s teams were doing there in the first place. Girls’ head coach Rob Adams set up the Seattle encounter with Port Townsend last summer when Blaine athletic director Gary Clausen told him of the opportunity.

“The people who manage the Key (Arena) try to get teams to play there,” Adams said, “and Port Townsend was agreeable to moving the game from their home court to Seattle because it lets us play in a state tournament level setting.”

Senior guard Nicole Riddle commented on the lights, saying that it’s not just that they’re bright. “It’s hot on the court, too,” she said.
The teams traveled to their scheduled match at Coupeville’s 1950s style wooden gymnasium that Adams compared to a Hoosiers-style setting, “a place that makes you want to play, really neat,” he said. Blaine had few problems, carrying their enthusiasm from the previous day’s wins, the boys winning 63-45 and the girls 52-35.

The Blaine high school pep band, who came home Friday night after playing for the Port Townsend games, was placed behind and above the fans in the top seats of the lower level, a change from where they normally are at courtside. Their sound filled the huge arena, essentially a round barn almost 400 feet wide and 135 feet tall.

A real bonus was having saxophone player Melissa Galbraith, hospitalized for the previous month in Seattle by an E. coli infection, join the band for the Seattle games and the Sonics game that evening. She didn’t know it at the time but had improved to the point that the next day, while Blaine was playing in Coupeville, she was released and is now back home. “It’s so wonderful to have her home before Christmas,” said her mother, Kristi Galbraith.