The 2023 Liberty boys’ basketball campaign has been largely a success, a home win against Bellevue jump started what would turn out to be a second seed in the KingCo Tournament.
Liberty had another challenge presented on its doorstep in the Lake Washington Kangs in the semi-finals of the KingCo Tournament.
Liberty stepped up and beat the Kangs at home 73-62 Feb. 5 and securing a third straight KingCo Finals appearance and second straight title game against Bellevue. “Bellevue is one of the most talented teams in the state and we have given them two really good games. I’m looking forward to it and excited for our guys to have another shot at it,” said Head Coach Omar Parker.
In the regular season, the Patriots split the season series with the Kangs as both sides held serve at home. Liberty was scuffling late in the season with just two wins out of their last five games and needed a big performance against Lake Washington to kick start the post season. “Everyone played an essential role in winning the game…At this point in the season everybody is essential, we need everybody,” said Denali Hatcher.
Lake Washington came out firing with a quick 7-0 lead over the Patriots but with five points from both Jackson Whitaker and Tyson Burley, the Patriots battled back and took a 16-12 advantage into the second quarter.
Senior point guard Denali Hatcher caught fire in the second and took off until the final horn. Hatcher had eight second quarter points and provided a spark that the Patriots defiantly needed. “Denali, especially in the second half of the season has demonstrated a will to win and a fire that has been inspiring to everybody,” Parker said.
“When guys are doing a lot of good stuff it is easy to get fired up. I’m an emotional guy, so I let the other players feel that… Their emotions start coming up and we’re firing on all cylinders. That’s when we’re playing out best, playing for each other,” Hatcher said.
In this Omar Parker run offense, there is an emphasis on pace and speed, up and down the floor, that is how they find success. “We’re not super strong when we’re slowing down and trying to pound the ball inside. We’ve got to get out in transition and used our speed and ability to shoot the ball,” Parker said.
At halftime the Patriots led by six, 37-31. Offensive rebounds were integral to their success against the Kangs early on. “It’s demoralizing to play 20 seconds of defense then we all go crash the boards,” Hatcher said. “Over time, a lot of offensive rebounds will kill a team.”
One of those players who dominated the boards was junior Max Vermeulen. He had just two points in the first half but started to cook in the third quarter finishing with seven points out of halftime. “If you can be a second team all-conference player and be underrated that is Max…Often times he has to play above his size and guard a post player. He gives maximum effort with a scoring punch… His value is immeasurable to us,” Parker said about his junior
Coming out of the break, Liberty jumped on the gas and went on a 9-2 run to threaten the Lake Washington comeback attempt and Hatcher once again led the charge along with Vermeulen. “It was a pretty complete game,” Parker said.
With a season ending injury to Hansen Fan, Liberty has had to expand the bench and find the right combination of five to give them the best chance to win. In the game against Lake Washington, the Patriots had three players score double figures and one score nine points.
“There are only so many people every night that are committed to guarding. For us all year long it has been different guys stepping up… I would way rather have a diverse scoring punch like we have than some of my past years, it’s way more fun,” Parker said.
“Unselfish basketball is the best kind of basketball for Liberty,” said Hatcher.
Fan’s role has changed from top defender to now additional coach on the floor that can connect with the team in a different way than Parker can. “You can’t replace a Hansen Fan. He was one of our smartest players, go-to defender and scorer. I’m super disappointed we won’t have him for the rest of the year. He’s there supporting the guys every day,” Parker said.
The 2024 rubber match and 2023 title rematch against Bellevue is at 8:00 pm at Lake Washington High School Feb. 7, that Wednesday match up can’t come soon enough. “We’re super excited. A lot of people are like ‘Oh you have to play Bellevue’. Come on, give us Bellevue. We beat them once, everyone is super excited,” Hatcher said.