You know those championship banners that DON’T hang in Coupeville High School’s gym?
One of them was literally won on this very day.
Yep, 37 years ago, on Feb. 9, 1979, Steve Whitney hit a soft 16-foot jumper, off a pass from Keith Jameson, to lift the CHS boys hoops squad to a 55-53 win over King’s Garden.
The victory over the private school power — these days known simply as King’s — and their all-world freshman Joe Buchanan, clinched the Cascade League title for Coupeville.
It also kicked off a wild postseason that saw the Wolves advance all the way to the state tourney, where they beat Montesano 62-51 in the middle of three games.
That win matched the 1975-1976 Wolves and remains one of only two times that a Coupeville boys hoops squad has won a game at the big dance.
But first they had to get past their biggest nemesis, King’s.
They did so by surviving Buchanan, a legendary prep athlete who played two years at King’s and two at O’Dea, before suiting up in college at Notre Dame.
When he chose the Fighting Irish, he passed up on college scholarships from Syracuse and Duke, who had just hired a new coach named Mike Krzyzewski, who badly wanted the guy they called Jo-Jo.
Coach K survived the snub, giving Buchanan’s intended scholarship to future NBA star Johnny Dawkins and setting off on a career that has seen five NCAA titles, two Olympic gold medals and the college record for wins by a D-1 coach.
Buchanan, on the other hand, had a rougher time after high school.
Injuries and illness (a mysterious spinal virus) hampered his high school career and ended his hoops career prematurely, just shy of the NBA glory that once seemed to be his birthright.
That night against Coupeville, though, he was electrifying, according to all accounts, scoring 18 and putting King’s in position to win.
But, he was also a freshman, and the Wolves were a veteran, wily bunch ready to take advantage of any mistakes he made.
Trailing 51-49 with 2:15 to play (at a time when there was no shot clock in high school ball), Coupeville opted not to foul, but to wait for King’s freshman ball-hander to crack under the strain of trying to run the clock out.
And he did, throwing away a pass that Whitney snatched out of the air and took end-to-end for a game-tying layup.
Buchanan answered by roaring right back down-court, only to see his jumper catch rim and bounce off into the hands of Whitney, who was everywhere as usual.
Coupeville, unlike King’s, proved very adept at milking the clock, running 60 of the game’s remaining 68 seconds off the clock before Whitney whirled and tickled the twines with a shot that caught nothing but net.
The Knights had one final chance, but Roy Marti knocked the ball away and teammate Joe Whitney pulled the loose ball in and cradled it for dear life.
The come-from-behind win featured five Wolves scoring, with Steve Whitney (18), Wade Ellsworth (17) and Marti (14) hitting for double figures.
Jameson, who wheeled and dealed setting up the Wolf offense and rebounding ace Joe Whitney each banged home a bucket, while Coupeville out-rebounded King’s 39-20.
Also on that squad? Current Coupeville School Board big wig Chris Chan.
Ellsworth, who didn’t know at the time he would one day have two daughters (April and Ashley) who would follow in his footsteps as Wolf athletic stars, was also involved in a small, but very important moment.
With King’s up 38-37 going into the fourth, King’s coach Larry Skogstad got whistled for a technical during the break between quarters.
Ellsworth, who himself picked up three technical fouls in a game against Concrete earlier that season, nailed both ensuing free-throws, points which turned out to be huge later on.
37 years later, to the day, no championship banner hangs in the CHS gym (yet…), but let’s take a moment to remember a night when the Wolves stood on top of the basketball world.