An injury-plagued Auburn High School Trojans boys basketball team placed fifth in the 2023 state tournament at the Tacoma Dome after a 63-61 loss to Mt. Spokane on March 4.
“When nobody thought that we would be here, to play on Saturday and take home hardware, is something that I’m really proud of,” said Head Coach Ryan Hansen.
Going into the contest, Auburn senior Semaj Brown was sidelined with a knee injury — one of the only times he has missed a game this season. Brown’s injury was stacked on top of Jaylen Petty’s injury, who suffered his own knee injury in the first quarter of the Eastside Catholic game March 2.
Auburn was denied their chance to repeat as state champions, but history was still made by this group of Trojans.
“Once the pain wears off, we’ll all look back at this season and take a lot of pride in it. This is potentially the second best season in Auburn basketball history. These kids can say something no one has ever said, and that’s being back to back district champions,“ Hansen said.
The Trojans battled this week and season. From flights being canceled, unexpected injuries and crushing defeats, Auburn got right back up and continued to fight. At one point, this team lost five of seven games from early December to January. But after Jan. 5, the Trojans won 13 games in a row.
“I told these guys after the game that this team has faced the most adversity I’ve ever seen as a coach. And it’s not even close,” Hansen said.
The Trojans had a difficult task taking on the number one seeded team in the tournament. Even at full strength, the Wildcats posed a great challenge for the Trojans. Unfortunately, Auburn was not at full strength. The Trojans had Devon Anderson and Lateibreon Chandler in the starting lineup, and both of them haven’t started many games.
“As shorthanded as we are, having kids who played JV most of the year stepping up and playing critical minutes in this game. They did a great job, and I’m just really, really proud of the effort these guys had,” Hansen said.
Arguably, the Trojans got off to their worst start of the season. In the first quarter, Auburn was down 15-2, but battled their way back as they had all season. At the halftime break, Auburn trailed the first seeded Wildcats by only five, 33-28.
“They got out to an early lead. I was a little worried that it could get out of hand. But our kids responded. That’s who they’ve been all year,” Hansen said.
The biggest surprise was Auburn’s third quarter — they outscored Mt. Spokane 20-6 in the period. First-team all-tournament member senior Tyrell Nichols was special in that third quarter. He scored 11 of the 20 Trojan points by himself.
During the fourth quarter, Auburn ran out of steam. At one point, the Wildcats scored 20 points without an Auburn answer. The Trojans only scored three points in their final quarter of the season.
“We ran out of gas a little bit. We missed some shots we typically make. They were going to make a run, but to be in a position to win was really fun,” Hansen said about the rough fourth quarter.
The leading scorer for Auburn was Tyrell Nichols, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Luvens Valcin had 16 points, eight rebounds, an assist and a steal for the Trojans. Lateibreon Chandler had arguably had his best game of the season for Auburn — he had 12 points, four rebounds, an assist, a block and three steals for the green and gold.
“I felt like we had the mentality of coming in ready to work … We still put up a fight and played with each other and had each other’s back,” Valcin said.
Valcin had to be that leader alongside Nichols in this last game because of the injuries.
“That’s my brother. When we talk to each other, it gets us locked in and pushes us to be better,” Valcin said.
“They’ve been a lot of fun. They’re great kids to be around and have great personalities. They’re fun to be around,” said Coach Hansen.
“I’m very proud of this group. I hope next year we come and do the same thing. It was amazing,” Luvens said.