One of the best passers Chiawana has ever seen, Cooper Dewitt has been preparing for years to lead the Riverhawks deep into March

PASCO — Cooper Dewitt can rattle off good experiences hitting big shots with the game on the line — most recently a game-winning 3 earlier this season — but to understand the Chiawana senior, it’s necessary to hear about one particular bad one.

It was Dewitt’s first game as a varsity athlete for Chiawana, and he’d already missed every single shot he’d taken that night (“I was like 0 for 12,” he estimates). Then he found himself with the ball in his hands, with the game the line on Davis’ home floor. 

And he missed.

“I was wide open,” Dewitt said. “Should have made it.”

In retrospect, the now-6-foot-6 floor general and unanimously-selected captain for Chiawana believes missing that shot was the best thing that could have happened to him, because the lessons he took from it are plentiful. All contributed to his jack-of-all trades role on the court for the No. 6 Riverhawks (17-1, 13-1 4A MCC), as he steadily blossoms into one of the most impactful players across the state, someone who head coach Chad Herron considers “one of the better passers I’ve ever coached.”

“He’s an extension of our coaching staff,” Herron said.

Herron, the longtime Riverhawks coach (and a sharpshooter in his own day, Dewitt attests) used it as a teaching lesson for the budding leader. 

“He told me if you want to be a good shooter, you’ve got to have a quick memory and let that go and we’re onto the next game and onto the next play,” Dewitt said.

But perhaps more important to his eventual role as team captain, the moments following the shot were when Dewitt learned what true leadership looked like.

Dewitt rises to block a shot during the Riverhawks’ 84-70 win over Kennewick on Jan. 10. (Andy Buhler / Scorebook Live)

He credited upperclassmen from years past — namely Austin Penny, Simon Lopez and Matthew Kroner — for carving in him admirable leadership habits. They would talk to him throughout practice and games to tell him when he was doing something right or wrong. At first, Dewitt says he bristled at the communication, but now as a senior, he’s grown to appreciate what they did for him.

That’s why when he speaks from a place of authority and leadership now, he makes sure his younger teammates understand why he’s doing it — to pay it forward.

“All of us are like brothers, so they know,” Dewitt said, “but high school goes by fast, it’s going to be their senior year in the blink of an eye and they’re going to be like, ‘yeah, he was right.’

“I always knew these kids are younger, they’re going to be in my shoes next year, I want to get them ready just the way my seniors got me ready.”

The Riverhawks had two seniors last season, and a promising young core comprised of Dewitt and sophomores Kobe Young, Taylor Perez and Jayden Martinez. When it came time to step into that leadership role as a senior, Dewitt didn’t have to learn how to be a leader. It was already taught to him. 

And much of his leadership can be learned by just watching him play. Dewitt is averaging 14.6 points, more than six rebounds, nearly seven assists, more than three steals and two blocks per game, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3-1. With Kroner, last year’s post presence, graduated, Dewitt is more of a threat attacking the basket and has a reliable post-up game.

It’s garnered him college looks his senior year, though no offers yet. Central Washington, Western Washington, Seattle Pacific and Whitworth have all expressed interest, among several junior colleges. 

But Dewitt’s focus is squarely on this season, as the Riverhawks position themselves as a legitimate 4A contender, a year after being knocked out of the regional round by Puyallup.  

Dewitt feels the same way about the round of 16 loss last season as he does to the missed game-winner in his varsity debut. 

It’s fuel. A learning experience.

And a moment Dewitt is determined to supersede this postseason now that the Riverhawks have secured the No. 1 seed in the 4A MCC/GSL district IV tournament, and this week welcomed back Young, the 6-foot-5 all-MCC first team selection, from a fractured foot.

“(Last season’s loss) showed us how much better we had to get, how much more work we had to get and we just got a taste of state, so we know what we’ve got to do now,” he said.

Oh, and his late-game prowess? He’s come full circle. On Jan. 7, Dewitt sunk Walla Walla on a last-second 3-pointer.

“My teammates put me in a perfect position for it,” he said. “We got the stops we needed to, Seth (Schmidt) hit a big 3, on a good pass from Taylor and it was just a play that needed to happen for us to come out successful.”

Andy Buhler is a reporter forScorebook Live Washington. Hear him weekly on theScorebook Live Today podcast, follow him on Twitter@AndyBuhler; email at andy@scorebooklive.com.

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