Halfway through the 2019-20 regular season, which Washington high school basketball boys players are having a breakout season?
Scorebook Live took a look across the state at 11 — OK, technically 12 —players who have made a significant leap this season.
The criteria? Players who had a dramatic increase in production, thrived in a larger role and have been a crucial part of team success. Several players were suggested or considered who were ruled out because they also had terrific seasons for one or more years.
Here are this season’s breakout stars:
(Editor’s note: We’re always open to suggestions for deserving players we may have missed, which you can email to email@example.com. Names are in alphabetical order.)
JAKE CLEARY AND CORT ROBERSON, STANWOOD, G, JRS.
OK, we’re starting with an exception: a double entry.
Stanwood has a young core, and a junior backcourt duo that is largely the engine behind its success to this point of the season. After finishing fourth in the 3A Wesco last year, Stanwood has established itself as one of the teams to beat, much a credit to the scoring versatility of its backcourt, which was an emphasis for both of them over the summer. They were mostly spot-up shooters last year, and now score habitually in a variety of ways. Roberson is averaging 20.7 points per game and Cleary is at 18.9.
Said Stanwood coach Zach Ward: “They’ve learned to play with each other. Part of what makes them tough is they play off each other. They’re starting to learn more and more and learning each other’s tendencies, they’re starting to find each other. They’ll pass up OK shots to get the other the better shot.”
COOPER DEWITT, CHIAWANA, 6-6, G, SR.
DeWitt is everything you would want in a high school basketball player, according to Chiawana coach Chad Herron. Off the floor, Herron considers the senior an extension of the coaching staff. On the floor, DeWitt, a multi-year starter, does a lot of everything for the Riverhawks (14-1, 10-1 MCC). And everything he did last year, DeWitt has done a little better this year. He averages 13.5 points, 6.2 boards, 6.8 assists, 3.1 steals and 2.1 blocks with an assist/turnover ratio of 3 to 1.
He’s hit a game-winning 3 this season, guarded every position on the floor and is building a strong case for Mid-Columbia Conference MVP. And college coaches are starting to notice — the likes of Central Washington, Western Washington, Seattle Pacific and Whitworth.
Said Herron: “He fills the stat boxes. Man, I haven’t had a lot of players as versatile as him. … He’s one of the best passers I’ve ever coached. He was unanimously voted captain this year and last.”
TARAS FESIIENKO, EVERETT, 5-10, PG, JR.
Not all juniors can call themselves elder statesmen, but that’s what Taras Fesiienko is on a young Everett team — on and off the court. After averaging around 13 points per game as a sophomore, he’s at 21.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game this season. He broke a school record that stood since 1958 when he scored 43 points against Cascade, and hit the game-winner against Lake Stevens.
Said Everett coach Bobby Thompson: “He’s made a jump and taken on more responsibility as an elder statesman on a very young team. The jump he’s made with his motor has been really cool to see.
LIAM HANENBURG, LYNDEN, 6-11, C, JR.
Primarily a JV player as a sophomore, Hanenburg, a 6-foot-11 center, has thrived for a two-time defending 2A state champion Lynden team that replaced nearly its entire team from last year. He’s averaging 20.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game on 64 percent shooting, 80 percent at the foul line, and his tireless work ethic has something to do with it.
Lynden coach Brian Roper says: “He’s gotten the opportunity to play and gotten better and better. A lot of times big guys play because they’re big, he plays because he loves the game.”
ISAAC PEREZ, TOPPENISH, 6-0, G, SR.
Perez is efficient, and effects the game in many ways. The Toppenish senior is a four-year starter, but missed most of his junior season recovering from LCL surgery. Now as a senior, he’s been a big reason why the Wildcats are one of the top teams in 2A. He’s averaging a near triple-double — around 16 points, seven boards and eight assists per game, not to mention around three steals — for a team that has several double-digit scorers. And Perez, who is also the school’s quarterback, does so efficiently. He’s not a volume scorer, and lets the game come to him.
Said Toppenish coach Joseph Mesplie: “One thing, it’s always been tough here at Toppenish to get leaders … we’ve had to build leaders. He’s stepped into a leadership role. He’s not the most vocal, but leads by action. In games, he’s really settled some of our kids down leading in that way.”
VLADIMER SALARIDZE, WEST SEATTLE, 6-6, F, SR.
Salaridze went from being buried in the depth chart last season — around three minutes per game — to playing nearly the whole game, and he’s made the most of the enhanced role. The true post has a back to the basket game, can spot up from midrange or 3 and has a well-rounded skillset that will get him college opportunities. He’s averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per game in a tough Metro League. Against Rainier Beach, he scored 19 points and snagged 18 boards.
Said West Seattle coach Dan Kriley: “He can put it on the floor, he’s got a great midrange game. It’s old school, you don’t see it much. Can bring the ball up for us, he’s my lead guy on the press break, passes really well, and can score.”
JAYLEN SCOTT, STADIUM, 6-0, G, SR.
After not playing as a junior due to an eligibility appeal being denied, Scott is making the most of his senior season. He’s putting up 26.7 points per game on a blistering 55 percent shooting from the field, 44 percent from 3. Make no mistake: Scott had 44 points in the season opener, added another 41-point game last week and has been the most dynamic scorer in the Tacoma area this season. And for him, it’s been a long time coming.
Said Stadium coach Dominic Batten: “He’s a flat-out scorer. … We put a lot of pressure on Jaylen. He’s the point guard, primary ball-handler and he’s defending the other team’s best guard. I’m thinking, there’s no way he’s going to do this all, but he’s efficient, he’s got such good poise.”
JAYCE SIMMONS, CENTRAL VALLEY, 6-2, G, SR.
In CV’s balanced offensive system, it’s hard to stand out statistically. In order to understand the impact of the steady-handed Simmons, a three-year starting point guard, requires a look beyond the numbers — 13 points, four rebounds, three assists per game with a 1.8 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio. And his step into a scoring role as a senior has catalyzed the Bears, who at 13-1 may be the best team East of the mountains.
Said Central Valley coach Mike Laws: “It’s really the same role he’s had in the past, but he’s taken it to a higher level. He’s looking to score, be more of a scorer, than manages our offense. He went from a quarterback who manages the game to one who takes over the game. He’s done that, as needed. When we need a bucket, are out of sorts offensively, he gets into that.”
KAHLIL SINGLETON, FORT VANCOUVER, 6-2, G, SOPH.
For a player with the ultimate green light, Kahlil Singleton is sure making the most of it. He’s averaging 22 points per game, accounted for a 45-point and 55-point game for the Trappers, the latter breaking a 64-year school scoring record. He’s up from last year, when he averaged 12.7 points per game as a freshman.
Said Trappers coach James Ensley: “One of the biggest things is the consistency. … Every time he touches (opponents) run two at him. He doesn’t take bad shots, or force shots.”
TANNER TOOLSON, UNION, 6-5, G/F, SR.
Union has yet to be stopped, and Toolson is undeniably the captain of the ship. Those who watched the Titans’ undefeated regular season last year saw Toolson make an impact next to all-state sharpshooter Ethan Smith, but now, it’s Toolson’s team.
And he’s made perhaps the most pronounced jump of any player in the state, averaging 22 points, more than eight rebounds, more than two assists and two steals per game while shooting 45 percent from 3. And college coaches are beginning to notice.
TANNER WALLEN, WHITE RIVER, 6-0, G, SR.
Sure, Tanner Wallen led White River in scoring last year as a junior. But he’s upped his game even more for his senior season — a jump from 17.5 points per game to 25 points per game as a senior, leading the Hornets to an undefeated 2A South Puget Sound League record.