Season preview: Renton boys basketball

Last season ended when Derek Lowe drained a three-point shot with less than two seconds left to beat Enumclaw at the 3A state tournament. The problem for the Renton boys basketball team this season is figuring out how to top that moment.

Lowe’s shot capped a 3-1 state-tournament run (three straight wins after losing in the opening round) and solidified a fifth-place finish for the Indians. The team went 24-4 last year and took the Seamount title.

Key returning players like Lowe and Joseph Holifield are primed for another shot at the state tournament this season.

“He’s (Lowe) just been thinking this year about how to top that shot,” said Renton coach Rick Comer. “Those guys have been there and they’re excited about trying to get back.”

Renton is currently working on a stretch of six-straight trips to the 3A state tournament. The Indians have just six combined losses in Seamount play in the past three-plus seasons. (They’re only five games into this season)

Most of the top Seamount teams went through a lot of change this offseason, and Renton wasn’t immune. Ryan Quigtar, James Powell and Justin Gunn graduated. Quigtar and Powell started last season, while Gunn played significant minutes off the bench. Those three combined for about 25 points and 16 rebounds a game.

Najee Ali also transferred to Rainier Beach in the offseason. The senior led the Indians in scoring last season, at 13.5 points per game. He also contributed solidly in rebounds, assists and steals.

It is the second year in a row that Renton’s leading scorer has transferred to Rainier Beach. After averaging 12.3 points per game in his freshman season (2006-07 season) at Renton, Jaamon Echols switched from Indian to Viking.

Without Quigtar, Powell, Gunn and Ali, Renton must have other players step up to repeat last season’s 69.29 points per game. While Comer likes to keep his offense uptempo, the Indians may have a slightly different look this year.

“So far we’re more of a half-court, set-play type of team than we really thought we’d be,” Comer said.

Lowe and Holifield will be the two biggest returning threats on offense. Each averaged more than 10 points per game last season. Holifield is averaging 13.8 points per game this season, while Lowe is averaging 7. Holifield is also averaging 12 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game – both lead the team. Lowe leads the team in assists, with 5 per game.

Another key player for Renton is Achokie Moikobu, who is averaging 10 points per game. In addition to Lowe and Moikobu, Renton has what Comer called a “slew of great guards.”

One big newcomer for the team will be 6-foot-4 wing Nathan Guy. The sophomore had a bit of a slow start but has improved in the past three games. He’s scored 12 points per game and grabbed over 8 rebounds per game in that stretch.

Otis Stevenson, Joseph Powell, Hanley Shum, Thomas Merritt, Adam Chisholm and Jonathan Phillips provide depth and the ability to step in and make an impact.

“Our depth is going to show throughout the year,” Comer said. “We’ve got a lot of guys we can put on the floor and expect great things.”

As important as Renton’s offensive transition will be, the base of the team’s success under Comer has always been defense. Renton led the Seamount in defense last season, allowing 54.68 points per game. The Indians have a strong pressure defense that can rattle teams, especially when they go into full-court pressure. That allowed the team to pile up 293 steals last season.

“We’re uptempo and we apply a lot of pressure,” Comer said. “We just want to be very good defensively and very good on the boards. Those things are the key.”

Renton already had a state-level test early in the season when the Indians fell 58-57 against Bellevue on Dec. 6. The Wolverines are stocked with talent and a favorite to come out of the KingCo league.

Renton fell behind 35-20 in the first half and a second-half surge wasn’t quite enough to overcome the deficit.

“It was a great opportunity for both teams to get better,” Comer said. “Both coaches can use that as a barometer to get better over the year.”