Renton hoops searches for right formula after tough loss

Renton’s record against teams over .500 is 1-3 after falling 64-57 to Rancho (Nevada).

From the outside looking in, the Renton High School boys basketball players look like they’re having an average season.

This year, the Redhawks are 6-3 and sit with a 4-0 league record, in a tie with Sammamish atop the KingCo standings.

But below the surface, Renton has been testing their capabilities against high-caliber teams — something that has damaged the Redhawks’ record, but is revealing shortcomings for Renton.

“Our non-league schedule was set up very intentionally to have games we could lose because you need those experiences,” Renton Head Coach Rashaad Powell said.

Renton hasn’t been that successful in these tests so far this season, losing to Rancho High School out of Las Vegas, 65-57. Renton’s record against teams with a winning record is now 1-3, and there has to be a balance between losing and learning.

“It’s a lot of teaching. As much as I want to yell at you about something, that’s not going to make you understand it more… I’ve used this analogy before: if there is a language they don’t speak, and I say it louder, that’s not going to make you understand it better. It’s about talking and teaching and explaining and trying to use as many teachable moments as possible,” Powell said.

Junior Jordan Agosto makes a pass in the opening quarter against Rancho. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Junior Jordan Agosto makes a pass in the opening quarter against Rancho. Ben Ray / The Reporter

The Redhawks were right with the Rams in the first quarter, but a dry spell for five minutes in the second quarter shaped the difference in the game. At halftime, Renton was trailing by 11 to Rancho.

“The last two games we have kind of been in a slump. I tell the guys that is part of the game, you’re going to have nights where the ball doesn’t fall,” Powell said.

As a coach, you want your team to listen and respond. So far, Powell likes the direction of his team. Wins and losses don’t necessarily matter against non-league opponents, and that is all right.

“We lost the game. We need to lose games. We don’t need to roll through this thing undefeated with a false sense of understanding and then run into a sound team and we have never seen that,” said Powell.

But the head coach isn’t worried about his side’s ability to score, but the ability to defend is always something to coach up.

“We do a pre-game talk and I never talk about offense, like what plays. Offense is not the problem. We have to consistently defend and rebound. If we do that at a high level, it gives us a chance to win any game,” Powell said.

Renton continuously faced an uphill battle for the rest of the game, never really cracking the Rancho code on the offensive side of the floor.

Renton has been doing the same thing in all nine games so far this season and against the better teams, those mistakes and characteristics reveal themselves.

Micah Ili-Meneese (freshman) dribbles down the baseline. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Micah Ili-Meneese (freshman) dribbles down the baseline. Ben Ray / The Reporter

“It’s the same breakdowns tonight that we have had in all of our previous games we have played in and out of league… We’ve made (the same mistakes) in the games that we have won. I think the difference is our talent was much greater than the opponent … These non-league games against competitive opponents are designed so you can’t just out-talent people. You have to play basketball the right way,” Powell said.

Last season, Renton took on Lynden in the opening round of the state tournament and lost by 28, with the starters not playing the second half.

“That was the first time we felt like we faced a really, really, really strong team. I told them at the beginning of this season that’s the level of a championship team that we have to prepare for,” Powell said.

That was eye opening for Powell and his side, and now this season, these “tests” against really good teams are an attempt to prepare Renton for what is to come down the road.

“All of the games we’ve scheduled were intentionally sought after. There are things we need to do and to see (in order) to prepare ourselves for hopefully the postseason and those types of teams that we will play,” Powell said.

Powell had a unique preseason meeting where he wrote 21 math equations on a whiteboard. Each equation was an analogy for the Redhawks’ season. The games where Renton should fair OK were simple one-step answers. The difficult ones — Rainier Beach, Camas and West Valley — needed assistance from Powell.

“There were some (math problems) they intentionally didn’t know and couldn’t answer. So then I went back and wrote the names of the opponents for each game. ‘This is what the season will be like, the 1+1, you know that. That’s just based on you going in and executing.’ These other ones you’re going to need my guidance as a teacher and coach to work the equation and figure out and solve for X,” Powell said.

“You’re not going to know that independently,” Powell continued. “So there is going to have to be a buy-in and trusting the teaching on how to do this. Then when you get put in that test, you know what you’re supposed to do, boom, boom, boom. If you don’t follow the format and formula, it doesn’t work,” said Powell.

Against Rancho, the Redhawks had the formula, but the Rams had R’Zha Whittle, who stood at 6’8” and caused problems for Renton. The Redhawks let the formula go by the wayside against him.

“Tonight was one of those questions and we didn’t follow the steps. We had a game plan; we saw him play against Sammamish the night before. There were things we had to do, and we just didn’t do it,” Powell said.