For the first time since his freshman season at Timberline High School, Erik Stevenson had butterflies.
He warmed up, as usual, with his teammates last week in Lacey, preparing for a Class 3A South Sound Conference showdown against Capital.
Since Stevenson first stepped on the floor as a freshman, he has played 84 high school basketball games. Last Wednesday the senior shooting guard was nervous for the first time in three years.
Wichita State University coach Gregg Marshall, who Stevenson has signed to play for in college, was sitting just a few rows up in the bleachers.
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“I couldn’t even describe it, honestly,” Stevenson said after the game. “This is the first time I’ve actually had butterflies since my freshman year against River Ridge — our first game.”
Earlier that day, he had texted his AAU coach Carl Howell, who sat with Marshall and one of his assistants, about the unfamiliar feeling.
Howell told him not to be nervous — win or lose, he’d still be headed to Wichita next season — but Stevenson decided he couldn’t lose in front of his future coach.
Stevenson said he settled down in the locker room after a shaky first half, and scored 19 of his game-high 28 points after the break, leading the Blazers to a win.
Just before time expired, he scooped a pass from teammate Casson Rouse, and viciously slammed down a dunk over a Capital defender.
“He wants to finish his legacy on a high note,” Timberline coach Allen Thomas said. “He’s a really competitive person.”
The grit Stevenson displayed in the second half against Capital has been on display his entire high school career.
And it is why he is considered one of the best players in Thurston County, and the state.
Seven games into his senior season, Stevenson is averaging 25.9 points. He hasn’t missed a game in high school, and is averaging 15.8 points during his career.
He holds Timberline records for single-game scoring (45 points) and career scoring (1,325), and is regarded as one of the best shooters in the South Sound.
Howell, who by this spring will have sent 27 players to Division I schools as a college and AAU coach, says Stevenson is one of the top high school players on the West Coast.
“You have to have talent to be at a high-major level like he’s at,” Howell said. “Then you have to have the intangibles, and he has all of those — the toughness, the nose for the ball, the ability to make big shots.”
Thomas calls Stevenson — now 6-foot-5, 195 pounds after putting on 20 pounds of muscle during the offseason — a matchup nightmare.
He is consistent from the perimeter, can beat defenders to the basket, and can finish in the paint against contact.
“Last year I probably wouldn’t be able to do that,” Stevenson said. “I’d probably fly out of bounds in the wall. This just gives me more fuel to what I can do. Now I have the mindset where nobody can stop me — even in the post.”
Pair that with his relentless pursuit on defense, and ability to elevate over most players for rebounds, and Stevenson poses a nagging problem for opposing teams.
“He holds all the cards,” Thomas said. “That’s something that has made him, in my opinion, the best player to ever come out of here.
“I think his work ethic has surpassed anybody that I’ve ever coached. Whether it’s college, or high school, I’ve never seen a kid dedicate himself to his craft so much.”
Several local coaches agree Stevenson is among the best players Thurston County has ever produced.
He belongs in a category with other local greats, such as Timberline’s John Greig — who played at Oregon and later briefly for the Seattle Supersonics — Capital’s Michael Fey (UCLA) and Olympia’s Mark Bigelow (BYU).
Friday night against crosstown rival North Thurston, Stevenson scored a game-high 31 points to break Timberline’s all-time scoring record set by Greg Champlin (Denver) in 1973.
Last season, Stevenson scored 45 points against North Thurston, breaking the single-game record former Timberline star Donaven Dorsey (Washington, Montana) set in 2013.
“There hasn’t been a guy like this in a long time in our area,” Thomas said of Stevenson.
Stevenson, a two-time Olympian All-Area player, has accomplished plenty since he scored 14 points against River Ridge in his first high school game, helping the Blazers to a win.
And his game has evolved even more since he first answered a phone call from Wichita, Kansas, two summers ago.
With his future set, Stevenson said he will continue to perfect his craft and work on his leadership skills.
He could be the third player in Timberline history to reach the state playoffs four years in a row, and is proud of reaching the milestones he has while playing at a school outside of Seattle.
“I’ve built a legacy here going on four years now,” Stevenson said. “Going back to the (Tacoma) Dome, to the state tournament, I want to do it here.”
Stevenson entered the season as the fourth-ranked player in Washington by 247Sports, and wants to cap off his career by leading Timberline (6-1) on a long tournament run.
Then, he will look forward to beginning his career at Wichita State, where he could play as early as his freshman season.
“He doesn’t want to redshirt,” Thomas said. “He wants to go in and do whatever it takes to get on the floor next season.”
Stevenson certainly won’t shy away from playing right away in college if given the opportunity, Thomas said.
“It’s been a dream of mine ever since I started being competitive with sports,” Stevenson said.