Wednesday afternoon won’t be the first time Casson Rouse has been to the Tacoma Dome for a state basketball tournament.
But it will be the first time the Timberline High School senior will play there.
In 2007, Rouse first saw the bright lights and daunting backdrop that splits the two basketball courts at the Tacoma Dome as a court sweeper for River Ridge’s squad.
“I was the mop kid for the team back when my brother went to state with coach (Jeremy) Landram,” Rouse said. “I was the water boy, mopping up the sweat after fouls.”
Rouse was 7 years old at the time, and said he had dreams of playing in the same setting as his older brother, Dupre Rouse, when he reached high school.
Especially after watching the Hawks finish third in the tournament — their best finish in program history at the time.
“Watching my brother out there working hard, it just made me want to do it,” Rouse said.
More than a decade later, the younger Rouse will proudly sport his high school jersey at the Tacoma Dome when the fifth-ranked Blazers (19-6) play seventh-ranked Seattle Prep (17-10) at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the Class 3A tournament.
“I’m beyond excited to play in the Dome,” Rouse said.
Rouse played his first two seasons at Timberline before transferring to Olympia his junior season, where he averaged 13.9 points per game.
Back at Timberline this season, he is averaging 9.1 points and 3.3 assists per game. He adds a consistent third scoring option to complement Wichita State signee Erik Stevenson (24 points per game) and point guard Eli Morton (13).
Rouse, a 6-foot athletic guard, is also a skilled defender who adds another dimension to Timberline’s high-pressure defense.
“It’s been good to have another defensive guy on the team,” Stevenson said. “A slasher, athletic guy that can finish in transition and also stretch the defense with a jumper.
“It’s been nice to have him on the squad.”
Timberline coach Allen Thomas said Rouse is rediscovering his chemistry on the court with Stevenson and Morton and has been a big factor in the Blazers’ success this season.
“Chemistry is probably one of the most underrated things in basketball,” Thomas said. “That’s something we try to develop even off the court.
“Ultimately, Casson, Erik and Eli’s relationship has blossomed over the last year.”
Stevenson pointed to the seventh game of the season, when the Blazers dismantled Union in Vancouver, as the point where the three established their rhythm.
“It seemed like everyone was in the right spot at the right time and made the open shot,” Stevenson said. “We got the rhythm back and got the transition flow back.”
Rouse, Stevenson and Morton have grown into an effective 1-2-3 punch throughout the season.
“It just feels like home,” Rouse said of being back at Timberline. “It’s comfortable.”
Timberline ultimately secured a return trip to the Tacoma Dome — where it lost to Seattle Prep at this point last year — with a win in the 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament quarterfinals against Prairie.
Rouse — who scored a season-high 21 points in that game — and Stevenson fueled a second-half comeback to clinch the trip.
“This is where we envisioned ourselves being before the season started,” Thomas said. “I think having Casson on the roster was kind of icing on the cake as far as guard play.
“I’ve felt we had the three best guards on the court at any given moment throughout the season. If these three come to play, it’s going to give us the best chance to win.”
Like last season, the Blazers are in a loser-out situation against Seattle Prep after losing to Kelso in last week’s regionals.
Rouse will head to Eastern Washington University as a preferred walk-on next season, but said he and his teammates aren’t ready for Timberline’s season to be over just yet.
“We’re hungry, we’re angry, we’re ready to work,” Rouse said. “I’ve just been focusing on right now. We don’t plan on making this game on Wednesday our last one.”