Kobe Key isn’t physically imposing.
He’s 5 foot 10, with what River Ridge High School basketball coach John Barbee calls a “basketball build.”
Nor is Key a guy to make a lot of noise in the locker room, trying to rally his teammates with inspirational speeches.
But from August through March, Key, a senior, might be the most influential leader in the Hawks’ athletic program, starting at quarterback for the football team and at point guard for the boys basketball team.
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“He understands how to win,” said Barbee, whose team is ranked No. 1 among the state’s Class 2A schools heading into Friday night’s regional-round game against Squalicum in Puyallup. It’s the first time that River Ridge has held the top spot in the polls.
The basketball team’s 20-2 record follows the 10-1 mark the Hawks football team put up in the fall, with Key completing 66.4 percent of his passes for 1,312 yards.
“Playing quarterback and point guard, I’ve developed a lot of maturity and leadership skills,” Key said. “You’ve got to know how to keep the team under control, make sure everyone knows what they need to do and stays levelheaded. Not every game is going to be easy, we have to keep working hard and never give up.”
Key’s intangible assets didn’t go unnoticed by 2A South Puget Sound League coaches, who voted him player of the year despite statistics that leaned more toward respectable than incredible: 10.5 points, six rebounds and three assists per game.
“He’s better offensively than he shows,” Barbee said. “We ask our point guard to be more of a traditional pass-first point guard.”
Key typically plays 30 of the 32 minutes in any given game and gives the Hawks what Barbee calls a “presence” when he is on the floor.
“He’s a super, super heady kid,” Barbee said of Key. “He’s a really good passer and when he’s on the court we don’t get pressed. He makes the defensive stop, gets the ball to the right guy at the right time. He makes people around him better.”
With Key starting throughout Barbee’s four-year tenure at River Ridge, the team has gotten steadily better. In Key’s freshman and sophomore years, the Hawks reached the regional round. Last season, they finished third in the state tournament and this season have that top-of-the-pile ranking.
“We’ve grown as a family,” Key said. “When we started out, everyone was doing his own thing. Each year we’ve gotten a lot better at doing things as a team.”
Key’s ability to stay on the floor longer has helped River Ridge rise.
“He’s so competitive, he would get into foul trouble a lot,” Barbee said. “He’d rather foul a guy than let him get a layup. But he’s gotten better at understanding sometimes you have to let it go.”
The basketball fates gave Key a payoff for his unselfishness and leadership in the early moments of River Ridge’s “Senior Night” game in what turned out to be a 90-30 victory over visiting Orting.
He broke loose for a dunk to open the scoring and finished the first quarter with nine points, nearly his average for a full game.
“It was a great way for him to show more of the things he doesn’t always get to do,” said Barbee.
In typically understated fashion, Key agreed.
“It was a nice moment,” he said.
Why? “It was my first dunk in a game, ever. I’ve always wanted to get one.”