COULEE DAM — When Ty Egbert is asked how he’s feeling leading up to his Lake Roosevelt Raiders’ Class 2B state quarterfinal matchup on Thursday, the junior center is at once excited and nervous, confident and reluctant.
The team’s leading scorer and top defensive presence, the 6-foot-8 Egbert is happy that the Raiders are on the verge of claiming the school’s first state trophy since 1979.
But he also is hesitant to get too excited.
Life has a way of putting hoops in perspective, as Egbert knows full well.
“We’re excited, but some of us are trying to bounce back from Steve’s death,” said Egbert, referring to Lake Roosevelt principal and former assistant basketball coach Steve Breeze, who passed away at 59 on Feb. 7 after a recurrence of cancer.
“He would ask us every day how basketball’s going, and we have great memories of him,” said Egbert.
None as personal as Egbert, whose mom, Shanee Haugen, married Breeze exactly 47 hours before he died.
His principal was — too briefly — his stepfather.
“It was a sad deal for Ty, because I think they were building in the direction of having a father-son relationship,” Lake Roosevelt coach Brad Wilson said.
Breeze was one of Wilson’s first assistant coaches when he took over the Raiders program in 2002, and traveled to all of the team’s games, home and away.
“He was a big basketball supporter, and was right in the thick of things until his health issues became a problem again,” said Wilson, who is also Lake Roosevelt’s athletic director. “He was a kid’s principal. It wasn’t like he was managing the school from afar.”
Like Ephrata’s run to the 2008 Class 2A state title, which was dedicated to former Tigers coach Marty O’Brien, the Raiders are battling on with Breeze’s passing providing a counterbalance to the season in addition to being a rallying point.
Lake Roosevelt’s first test in its bid to duplicate Ephrata’s state championship will be Napavine, a team that joined the Raiders as fixtures in the AP rankings this season.
“We know they have numerous 3-point shooters and they have decent size,” Wilson said. “By all indications, it’s a well-balanced team.”
While the Raiders need Egbert to be on his game to make a deep run this week, they have balance as well.
Keith Rosenbaum, Jesse Adkins and Inchelium transfer Brandon Kohler are taller guards that provide length at the top of L.R.’s 2-3 zone.
“We’re all feeling pretty good,” Kohler said. “We’ve been working a lot on the basics in practice and are looking forward to playing a good, hard-fought game against a good team.”
Since Breeze’s death, Wilson has been sporting an election-style button on his dress shirt on the sidelines that reads, ‘Mean People Suck — Feel the Breeze.’
His players wear warmup shirts with the same slogan.
“‘Mean people suck’ was one of Steve’s favorite phrases,” said Wilson. “He had a big poster that said it in his office.”
When this weekend is over, Egbert, Wilson and the Lake Roosevelt community are hoping to feel a cool championship Breeze blowing through the Spokane Arena.
Brian Adamowsky: 664-7157