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The right fit

Tacoma Weekly Article
A number of pieces have come together for a very successful basketball program at TCC
By Rick Walter
Tacoma Weekly

Ask them, they’ll tell you.

Carl Howell is a coach who just knows how to win – and that is why they say they come to Tacoma Community College (TCC) to play for him. He is a coach who makes sure his players are getting to class and study periods and hitting the books – and that is why they say they come to play for him. He is, they say, a coach who develops not basketball players, but men who know how to play basketball.

"He is kind of like a father figure because he is there, you know, looking out for you – not just because of basketball, but with your life," says Royal Tee Lexing, a sophomore who led Lincoln to a fourth-place finish in the 4A state tournament in 2008.

Because Howell does this coaching at a community college, he does not have a great deal of money at his disposal to invest in state-of-the-art training rooms, fine-dining facilities and other trappings of a well-nourished basketball program – or even a gym floor with more than the two required baskets.

But then, coach Howell is not recruiting players coming out of high school advertised as Final Four in a Bottle – the bluest of the blue chip basketball players in the Northwest or America.

He is recruiting, however, a very special kind of young man.

"The kids that come here are some of the best basketball players around," says assistant coach R Jay Barsch. "They are tough. They are survivors."

At Tacoma Community College, the mission is development. And in the athletic department, where coach Howell is the director, the emphasis of that development is on good old-fashioned elbow grease.

"When we go out looking for players, we are looking for kids who are hard workers. They’ve earned what they've got. Guys who take pride in that."

Howell's assistant coach, 26-year-old Barsch, has played and coached in the Tacoma area his whole life.

"Many of our guys come from the inner-city, come out of very tough environments. For one reason or another, they aren’t able to go directly to a four-year school. Some of them have kids or take care of their parents or other family members that live with them. We like tough kids. We like survivors."

Howell’s record of accomplishment would be impressive enough (his record of 265-90 includes 26 wins per season in his past five years) but consider that in coaching a two-year program, compared with a four-year program, he encounters a "rebuilding" year, every year.

Yet he has built a program with a formidable reputation.

So far this season, 15 NCAA Division I coaches have visited TCC practices or games. Howell has seen 17 of his players go on with scholarships to DI schools, more than any other NWAACC coach has.

"Why I came here is easy," says Darious Walker, a sophomore who was a three-time all-conference performer while leading Decatur to three state tournament appearances.

"You trust this coach because of all his wins, but you trust him as a man. I want to do well for my mom. And I am doing well here." Walker said.

Many of Howell's players are dedicated to their families – a fact illustrated by, well, their tattoos.

Lexing is asked about one he has for his son, Royal Tee, Jr. Lexing displays a tricep with a few names in beautiful script.

"These are all for people in my family."

Anthony Enriquez, known mostly for his shoe collection (more than 100, which he says he changes more than he changes his socks) has almost as many tats.

"All family," he says, lifting his shirt to reveal enough small text on a large tat to fill a small memorial monument.

Enriquez was a star at Lakes. His teammate Derrick Davis had an impressive high-school career at Clover Park. Chris Holmes, a freshman guard, was a first-team all stater and won two state titles with Franklin High School. Chad Rasmussen, who went to the state tournament with Curtis last year, has already signed a letter of intent to play at Seattle University. The list goes on.

Yeah. Those are just some of the guys that have decided to buy into the system to become a legit contender for the NWAACC title.

Then there are freshmen like Gerald Hill and Jordan Coby. They have all sacrificed their egos and play together, rely on defense and teamwork. "Most of these guys averaged more in high school than they do here. And they don’t mind," Barsch says.

And the sacrifices know no bounds.

Enriquez has promised that if the team wins the conference, he will finally break out his boxed and pristine lime-green Lebrons.

On a team on which any one of 10 guys could be the leading scorer on any given night, the Titans do not even have a regular starting rotation.

"It is a luxury," Howell says. "But it is a luxury that comes from having a group who place hard work above scoring and individual accomplishment. And really, they value doing things the right way. They see we've had success with the way we do things. And at the end of the day, understanding how to be successful is what we are doing here.


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