Youth Basketball Comes Full Circle

Sports can bring people together that have nothing else in common except for love of that team or player. The feeder basketball program that runs into the PHS boys basketball team has a similar effect on the people and the community involved with it.

The system is called Viking Elite and the youth teams start in third grade. The head coach of the PHS basketball team put this system in place with the help of numerous volunteers and parents.

The Viking Elite system has now come full circle with the class of 2017 being the first group to start in third grade and work itself all the way up to graduation in the same program.

Numerous players have come and gone but three players have stayed in the program since a young age.

Seniors Brennan Winter and Myles Smith will be the first to start in third grade and go through the system. Senior Noah McFadden started in fourth grade and will be graduating with them.

Winter takes a look back at how his life would be different if he had not joined the Viking Elite System.

“If I was not a part of the Viking elite program, I probably would not know a lot of the people I know [and] it would have been a lot harder to get my community service hours. Also, I have never really been the best with interacting with kids but growing up in the Viking Elite program and becoming a high school player, the kids in the program, they really look up to you,” Winter said. “You get the chance to be a leader to little kids and I have learned a lot about how to act and talk to little kids and the littlest gesture can make their day.”

Smith speaks to the relationships and connections he has made over his time in the Viking Elite System.

“Being in Viking Elite, after all of these years, has had a very positive impact on my life. It has helped me meet so many new people and make so many different connections, so many that I will never forget and that I hold to this day. Playing basketball with your friends is something that you never forget. Playing with the same people each year, it makes those relationships so much stronger,” Smith said.

McFadden goes into how his high school experience is different if he would not have participated in Viking elite.

“My high school experience is a lot different because I joined Viking Elite. I have built a lot of the great memories that I will take from high school will be from the sports I played,” McFadden said. “Even though basketball takes up a lot of time, it is always fun and creates some fun and great memories. How it would be different is I do not think that I would have the same relationships with some of the guys that I do now on the team if I did not play Viking Elite.”

Current PHS JV coach and former youth coach to McFadden, Smith and Winter, Cliff Owens shares why he enjoyed coaching that team.

“They were always a great group to coach in the fact that they always loved playing basketball. They were a joy to coach because they always wanted to play, they wanted to be on the floor and most the time I really appreciated the effort that they gave,” Owens said.

Through the year, the players acquired favorite memories from different tournaments and games.

“My seventh grade year, we played in the Redmond Classic, it was a tournament put on by Redmond High School. It was a really fun game to play in, I got to play with all my friends,” Winter said. “We won the game in double OT, we won the championship and it was just a very fun game to be a part of, it did not hurt that I scored the game winning basket.”

Owens’ favorite memory also included a win in the Redmond tournament.

“My favorite memory so far is probably back when my team was in seventh grade, we beat Mt. Si to win the Redmond tournament. The game went to double OT, we were down at the end of regulation and the first OT and had to hit buzzer-beaters to tie,” Owens said. “Then we took the lead with 15 seconds left in the second OT and had to hang on and win that game. All the kids being talked about had a big impact on that game.”

Brandon Bakke, a Viking Elite youth coach and board member, shares one of his favorite memories from his time in the Viking Elite system.

“I remember there is a picture that we have that is from 2010, where PHS hit a game winning shot against Curtis, it was a OT buzzer-beater and there is this picture of Jacob Holcomb in third grade, waving a towel in the midst of all these older kids,” Bakke said. “To me that represents what we are all about, the younger guys, so excited to watch the older guys and seeing it come full circle with [Holcomb] and his group now up at the high school level.”

Smith says he might not have been at PHS if not for Viking Elite.

“I do not know if I would still be attending PHS if I did not be a part of the Viking Elite system; that is one of the big reasons I stayed here was because of the relationships and bonds I had built,” Smith said.

McFadden’s favorite youth memory goes all the way back to fourth grade.

“My favorite memory from youth basketball is, probably in fourth grade, I honestly do not know why I remember this but I remember that I scored like 20 points in one game and the entire team was super excited and hyped for me that is one of many memories from my time,” McFadden said.

After years of watching and coaching each of these players, Owens tries to describe each of their personalities.

“The best way to describe McFadden is that he is hard-nosed. He always gives his all, whether that be in practice or in games and really just gets after it. [Smith] is extremely energetic, he always plays with speed and energy on the basketball floor,” Owens said. “[Winter] is very hard to describe in just one word, coaching [Winter] when he was younger played with such anticipation that is probably the best word to describe him. When he was younger that is probably the best way to describe his game, he was great at anticipating what other people were going to do.”

Winter delves into how Viking Elite helped him transition to high school and not just on the basketball court.

“I met a lot of new people, I have met coaches and parents of the players. Those people have become friends and in some cases those coaches have become my mentors. Being a part of this program, it helped me prepare for high school, especially high school basketball,” Winter said. “My favorite part was getting the chance to meet people that I might not have known and have a group of friends going into high school. It was not as intimidating to come into high school because I had a group of friends that I had grown up with and had known for years.”

Bakke explains why he started participating in Viking Elite 10 years ago.

“I was first a head coach down in California, at Clovis High School and there we ran a feeder system, similar to this, one down at the high school. When I moved up here and into this community, I really wanted that for PHS, for my community,” Bakke said. “It was not until Coach Campbell moved to PHS that it actually happened. He had been a part of system like this down in Oregon where he was assistant coach.”

Smith shares his favorite memory from his time in the Viking Elite program.

“My favorite memory from my time in the youth program is probably during the summer of my fifth grade year. We were playing a team called Venom, we came back on them twice in the second half and we beat them in OT. Moments like those you never forget, winning that game won us the league championship that year for the summer league,” Smith said.

Bakke’s love for basketball goes deeper than getting the kids better at basketball.

“I want every kid to get the most out of basketball possible, whether that means they are a varsity player or not. There have been some kids that they played all the way through and laid on the C-team and that was as far as they went or they made it to the JV team or they made it to varsity or they became managers,” Bakke said. “I just want them to get the most out of basketball. Basketball is such a great life development sport. You learn how to deal with adversity and working through tough times and working with other people, dealing with pressure, listening to your teammates, having something be bigger than yourself. All those things are not only important in basketball but in life as well.”

With all three of these seniors graduating not just from high school but the entire program, Owens reflects on his players that will be leaving.

“I am going to miss all three of them when they are gone. The have been great members and ambassadors for this program. Each of them have great personalities and I will miss them when they are no longer a part of the program,” Owens said.

McFadden goes into why he looks forward to basketball season every year.

“Even though basketball is not my main sport. It is something that I always look forward to after football season. It is always something I enjoy doing and is always a fun time. Even though I am not the best player, I still always have fun and it keeps me in shape,” McFadden said.

Bakke reflects on how Viking Elite has turned into a community among players and coaches.

“I really enjoy working with kids and I think that this system is a great thing for the Puyallup community. It is something that brings different age groups together, from third all the way up to 12th grade. It has the kids working more as a cohesive community, rather than isolated, split apart teams,” Bakke said. “It has been so fun, we really have been able to create a community. Basketball is really just a vehicle that drives community and it has been fun to watch that over the last 10 years.”

Owens involvement in Viking Elite started from a very simple idea.

“I got involved with the Viking Elite System because it seemed like a great program. I thought it was great idea to get involved with the feeder program where my son was going to go to high school. I have been a coach before so I thought I would be able to add something to a program and you can never have enough volunteers so I figured I would step up and volunteer,” Owens said.

Viking Elite started with two people sharing a common goal.

“When Coach Campbell got up here we met. We had known of each other before hand but we met and shared our collective vision. It was a perfect situation, we both wanted the same thing, it was this kind system that he wanted to build and the kind of system I wanted to help build and that is how this system started,” Bakke said.

Winter shares his favorite memory so far from his high school experience.

“My favorite memory from playing high school was probably my sophomore year when we beat Rogers. It was a really close game coming down to the end and we pulled out the victory, it was a good win for us and I also played well in that game so all-around a very good night,” Winter said.

The success of the Viking Elite program has stretched from the youth teams to the now the high school level.

“It has been fun to see these past few years, the varsity team so full of kids that came up through the system. That means we are doing something right here at the youth levels,” Bakke said.

Smith talks about the impact Viking Elite has had on him.

“My time in the Viking Elite system has had a big impact in the fact that I would not know the culture of Viking basketball. I would not know how much a system as simple as this like this can have on community and I would not know as many great people as I do today,” Smith said.

Despite basketball not being his top sport, McFadden kept coming back for a simple reason.

“I kept coming back because of the relationships I built the first couple years I was in the program. In fourth, fifth and sixth grade I built great relationships with the same guys and all the same guys came back each and every year,” McFadden said.

Winter took more than just improve skills from the Viking Elite program, he took friends and mentors.

 “I think this system is a great opportunity for kids. If they like basketball and are going to go to PHS, it is a great opportunity to meet the coach. It is a great opportunity for kids to grow up and learn a system that they will use all the way through high school. You get the opportunity to meet great coaches, like Brandon Bakke or Cliff Owens, those are just two that I grew up knowing,” Winter said.

Bakke has a hard time narrowing down his favorite moment from all his years of coaching.

“There have been a lot of great moments, a lot of wins, we have a lot of tournaments but it is moments where all the older kids and younger kid rooting each other on, it is those moments that bring me the most joy,” Bakke said.

Smith shares his favorite memory from his time at the high school level.

 “My favorite memory from my high school career is probably from my junior year, when we were playing Lincoln high school, and Jaden Vollmen hit a buzzer beater to tie the game. We went on to win OT, it was so much fun to be a part of that game,” Smith said.

McFadden’s favorite moment from his time at high school, has not to do with basketball but memories with his team.

 “The summer of sophomore year, at tryouts, this guy Colton Buse, he was always cracking jokes. This one time he was messing with Campbell and I do not remember what he said but I was just crying laughing,” McFadden said.