Those Geoducks were good.
During the 2001-02 season, The Evergreen State College men’s basketball team achieved greatness by ripping off a 20-game win streak, achieving a No. 6 national ranking, reaching the Sweet 16 of the NAIA Division II tournament and jamming the College Recreation Center full of fans.
“It was the place to be,” said Dave Weber, the college’s athletic director from 2000-10. “(The team) became a thing of beauty.”
Four members of that Geoduck team are still impacting local basketball on the high school level. Weber, players Allen Thomas and Jackie Robinson, and coach John Barbee are all now head coaches at high school programs within a few miles of each other.
Robinson is in his third year with the River Ridge girls, while Thomas (Timberline boys), Barbee (River Ridge boys) and Weber (Tumwater girls) are in their second seasons at their respective programs.
Barbee was 28 years old but was already entering his fifth season as the coach at The
Evergreen State College. The season began without a hint of what was to come.
Player departures pared the roster to 10. The core group was not in sync, and the Geoducks started 5-6. There was talent but just one basketball, and Barbee said the key was to define the players’ roles.
“It took a little bit of time to figure out who our scorers were going to be,” he said.
Andre Stewart — the Cascade Collegiate Conference’s player of the year that season — plus Division I transfer Quincy Wilder and Mike Parker were the big three. Wilder (22.9 points) and Stewart (22.1) were the conference’s top two scorers and helped the Geoducks average a school-record 85.8 points per game.
Once Barbee got the roles solidified, the Geoducks went on a roll. They did not lose for almost two months, winning 20 in a row from Dec. 19, 2001, to Feb. 20, 2002.
The streak was snapped in the conference semifinals by Southern Oregon, but the Geoducks still earned an automatic berth into the tournament since they were the CCC regular-season champs.
A first-round 71-64 win over Ottawa (Kan.) sent the Geoducks into the Sweet 16 before falling to Holy Family (Pa.), 78-74, to finish 26-8. Many school records from that season still stand.
Barbee coached Evergreen for eight seasons, resigning in 2005. He’s held head coaching jobs at Foster (boys) and Kennedy Catholic (girls) and jumped at the opportunity to coach River Ridge when the position came open in the summer of 2012.
The Hawks have had a successful run — they’d won or shared five league titles and won four consecutive District IV titles before Barbee’s hiring, and nothing has changed. River Ridge is the No. 2 seed when the Southwest 2A District IV boys tournament begins Saturday, and a share of the league title is still within reach.
Barbee, 40, said he’s mellowed a bit since his college coaching days, but a common thread remains: building relationships.
“That’s a fundamental aspect in our program,” he said.
NOT TO BE DENIED
A 1999 River Ridge High graduate, Thomas turned out for Evergreen’s basketball team twice, only to be cut twice by Barbee. Instead of giving up, he took Barbee’s advice on which areas to improve and went to work.
It paid off in 2001 when he made the team as a junior as a backup to guard Greg Johnson and Stewart. Thomas saw action in 15 games off the bench.
Thomas didn’t play many minutes but was instrumental in helping the Geoducks run their winning streak to 20 games. In a rare Sunday afternoon game against Walla Walla College, Evergreen trailed by 15 points.
Barbee hustled Thomas in to run the point. The comeback was on, and the Geoducks won handily, 98-82.
Barbee said it’s no surprise that Thomas became a coach, noting how detailed Thomas was when it came to scouting reports and how hard he worked as a player.
Timberline is Thomas’ first head coaching gig, but he has been with the Blazers’ coaching family for seven years — with a one-year stint at Evergreen in 2009-10 sandwiched in-between.
Thomas doesn’t let his players forget his own basketball story and what it means to stick with it.
“I tell them all the time of my story of being cut, and it encourages a lot of kids,” said Thomas, 32.
Whenever the Blazers aren’t playing, you’ll most likely see Thomas at another area gymnasium, and he still picks Barbee’s brain.
“He’s doing something six days a week around basketball,” Barbee said.
PLAYING HIS ROLE
Robinson became a Geoduck by sheer chance. Two years earlier, Robinson, then playing at Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Ala., moved to the area with teammate Will McGill. His uncle, living in the Olympia area at the time, suggested Robinson come out for a visit, which in turn led to him finishing his final two years of eligibility at Evergreen.
“It was the best move I ever made,” said Robinson, 35.
He started as a junior but found himself coming off the bench for his senior season. His production fell from 12 points per game as a junior to 5.2 in 2001-02, but he built a reputation for being the leader in charges taken.
He could shoot, too. He was fourth in the conference in free-throw shooting (83.3 percent) and finished the season shooting 47 percent from the field.
After college he played professionally in Germany. But it was almost his destiny to get into coaching — his father-in-law is former Seattle SuperSonics coach George Karl.
In three seasons as coach of the Hawks, he’s 52-18 going into Tuesday night’s regular-season finale at home against Weber’s Thunderbirds, where a win locks up the No. 2 seed and a home Southwest 2A District IV playoff game Friday.
Robinson described his Geoduck teammates as ultra-competitive that season; scrimmages rarely occurred because a scuffle might break out, he said.
The personalities meshed on the court, though, because of their common goal. Robinson shares that with the River Ridge players he now coaches.
“You don’t have to be best friends,” he said, “but you have to find a way to love one another and play together.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick