PORT TOWNSEND — It’s easy to forget Port Townsend senior Dakotah Pine’s size, or lack thereof.
Parker McClelland, who at 6-foot-5 towers over his 5-9 teammate, for one, barely even notices the eight inches that separate them.
“He never really strikes me as being a lot smaller than me,” McClelland said. “I guess I’m so used to it, I’ve been playing with him for so long.”
That’s likely because in the grand scheme of the Redskins’ universe, Pine plays as big a role as anyone on the Port Townsend boys basketball team (20-3 overall).
Consigliere. Steady hand. Coach on the floor.
Port Townsend’s three-year starting point guard is all these things rolled into one tenacious package.
He’s the backbone of a group of eight seniors — including McClelland, Joe Aase, Jesse Yourish, Elan Solvik, Jaydee Dodd, Walker Wilson and Vinnie Johnson — making their second straight state appearance beginning with tonight’s first-round game against Granger in the Class 1A tournament at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
“They listen to me about half the time and him the rest of the time,” Port Townsend head coach John Stroeder joked.
Whether it be directing traffic on offense, providing a sounding board for Stroeder during a break in the game, or, when the time calls for it, spurring on his teammates with a few sharp words during a timeout, Pine plays the part of player/coach to perfection for the co-Olympic League champs.
And on defense, the place a smaller player would seem most vulnerable, he more than holds his own with his quick hands and feet, and surprising strength.
“He kind of sets the tone for the team on the floor with his toughness,” McClelland, the team’s leading scorer (17.3 ppg) and rebounder (8.7 rpg), said.
“No matter where he’s playing, if it’s a pickup game behind the school or open gym, he’s always going [full speed].”
Yet somehow, the always buzzing point maintains control, not just of himself, but also his teammates.
When Port Townsend was on the brink of losing control of last Saturday’s winner-to-state game against University Prep — a 12-point halftime edge was cut to five midway through the third quarter — it was Pine who came off the bench (while nursing an ankle injury) and provided the calming influence the Redskins needed.
“When he got in the game . . . we just took off,” Stroeder said.
“He picks everybody up when he does come in,”Stroeder said.
“He knows pretty much every situation that’s going on, and pretty much knows what to run. The kids respect him, and they want him in the game.”
Added McClelland, “He’s just kind of that calm. . . even when there’s really tough pressure.”
Thing weren’t always so smooth for Pine, or the other seven seniors for that matter.
Called into extensive duty as sophomores, Pine and company often found themselves out-matched by bigger, more experienced teams their first season on varsity.
The result was a hard-knock 6-14 season in which the Redskins took a fair share of lumps.
“I got abused every night,” Pine said. “I just remember, really, every game sophomore year just being kind of scared to just dribble the ball up the court.”
Yet even as he and the Redskins licked their wounds in the locker room following a season-ending 58-39 drubbing at the hands of Fife, falling a win short of state, Pine instructed his teammates: “Remember how you feel now all summer.”
The Redskins responded in a big way, taking up a heavy offseason training regimen of plyometrics, weight lifting and conditioning.
The hard work paid off as Port Townsend posted one of its best seasons in school history, rolling to an Olympic League title, 23-3 overall record and sixth-place finish in the 2A tournament.
“He was kind of out of control when we first got him,” Stroeder said. “He played hard all the time, just like all of those guys I got, those eight seniors.
“They played hard all the time, but I don’t know if they really understood the game like they do now. The game slowed down for them.”
Added Pine, “I’ve put in a lot of time in the offseasons, but I don’t think there’s anything you can substitute for experience. It’s just been a progression, I’ve made improvements every year.
“For a point guard, what you really need is experience to be able to run the team and be effective.”
Before this year, there was really no reason for Pine to look for his own offense.
Between then senior Aaron Gifford and McClelland, both of whom averaged well into double figures scoring, there weren’t all that many shots to go around anyway.
Pine’s job was just to get the ball up the floor and into the offense so those two could get their looks.
After Gifford graduated, Pine and the rest of the Redskins had to fill a void. So this past summer, he worked to become more of an offensive threat, and it’s more than paid off.
Shooting at a 43-percent clip from the 3-point line (16-of-37), he’s the Redskins’ most deadly long-distance marksman this year.
And if an opening presents itself, he doesn’t hesitate to go in amongst the trees for one of his patented swooping scoop shots at the rim.
Yet as a true pass-first point guard, he’d rather get his teammates involved in the action, as illustrated by his team-best 4.1 assists per game (with only 2.0 turnovers).
After all, that’s been his job ever since the group began playing together in middle school.
“I don’t find myself as much of a scorer,” Pine, averaging a career-high 7.8 points per game this year, said.
“I really try to be more of a leader on the floor and more of the assist man, just run the team. Any scoring is just an added bonus.
“I’ve always played as a passer first. I definitely do look to score, but I guess it’s more of a second nature to me.”
Added Stroeder, “He can score at times, but he doesn’t really want to. He’d rather get it to Parker, Elan [Solvik], or Joe [Aase] or somebody else.”
Pine’s growth hasn’t gone unnoticed.
A number of college programs — including Peninsula College in Port Angeles — have expressed interest in having Pine play for them.
That’s no surprise to McClelland, another college prospect.
“When they see his toughness and tenacity, I think anybody would want that kind of player on their team,” McClelland said.
“Whether they are going to be on the floor all the time or even if they are not, they are still going to help you out. It’s just that attitude, it’s kind of contagious.”
First things first. Pine has to lead these Redskins on another state run.