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WIAA Class 3A champion Auburn ready to represent Washington in inaugural State Champions Invitational

Trojans take on GHSA (Georgia) 7A champion Norcross in the semifinals Thursday at 2:30 p.m. PT on ESPNU

Tre Blassingame remembers watching Joshua Wood lead Graham-Kapowsin to an upset of nationally-ranked Collins Hill (Ga.) in the nationally-televised GEICO Bowl Series in December.

“They were going crazy,” Blassingame said.

So while the two were preparing to represent the state of Washington in the WAVOR all-star game on Sunday, Blassingame asked Wood, a quarterback headed to Fresno State, about the experience days before Auburn was set to fly to Florida in hopes of doing something similar.

Wood described to Blassingame just how big the stage is, and offered him and his Auburn Trojans, the WIAA Class 3A state champs, a piece of advice.

“You’ve just got to believe in everything you’ve done and keep working,” Wood said. “The more you put in work, when it comes to the lights, you’ll shine the brightest.”

Auburn is set to face GHSA (Georgia) Class 7A state champ Norcross Thursday in Tampa, Fla. in the inaugural State Champions Invitational, a four-team tournament for NFHS state champions.

The game takes place at 2:30 p.m. PT and will be televised on ESPNU. It's organizers, Paragon Marketing Group, are the same as the GEICO Bowl Series and GEICO Nationals.

“We really want to perform well and represent Washington, the west coast and I have no doubt these guys will," Auburn coach Ryan Hansen said. "I've known these kids a long time. One thing I do know is they’re not going to back down, the moment’s not going to be too big for them.”

The Trojans beat Rainier Beach 58-48 in the Tacoma Dome on March 5 for its first state championship in school history. Since then, the team has held celebratory school assemblies, a parade in the city of Auburn and 10 WIAA-sanctioned practices to prepare for Tampa.

The winner of Thursday’s game will play the winner of top-seeded Calvary Christian (Fla.), No. 6 in SBLive/SI Power 25 basketball rankings, and No. 16 Sidwell Friends (D.C.) in the SCI championship game at 9 a.m. PT on Saturday. That game will be televised on ESPN2.

Auburn is the latest team from Washington to be invited to a national postseason tournament. Rainier Beach played in GEICO Nationals in 2014 as did Garfield in 2018. The WIAA is one of eight state associations to allow teams to play in postseason events, along with Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Washington D.C.

Auburn coach Ryan Hansen caught the end of G-K’s ESPN-televised upset on Dec. 18 and watched Wood and the Eagles mount a 63-yard scoring drive in 28 seconds to complete the dramatic comeback.

He believes that played into Paragon circling the Trojans for the event, despite its two losses.

“Graham-Kapowsin goes out and showed out well at that event, that puts Washington basketball on the map a bit,” Hansen, SBLive's Washington coach of the year, said. “The Seattle basketball scene, most recently with Paolo Banchero going to Duke — he’s going to be a top draft pick — I think that helps as well.”

The Trojans also faced a last-minute hurdle when its flight was cancelled, which caused the team to scramble and book a series of flights Tuesday, a day earlier than planned. 

Still, Hansen said they felt confident heading to Florida this week.

Of the four programs in the field, Auburn is the smallest — its tallest player is Blassingame, a 6-foot-5 guard — and the only one without a Division I signee or prospect.

“I would say [Norcross] is the most athletic team we’ll have played,” Auburn senior guard Maleek Arington said. “I would compare them to Garfield honestly, both athletic, tall, have scorers. We’ve got to be ready.”

Norcross may be playing Thursday without its best prospect London Johnson. The 6-foot-4 junior guard, a four-star according to 247 Sports with offers from Alabama, North Carolina and USC, is playing for Team World at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, a showcase featuring some of the top prospects in the world. Practices run all week and the Hoop Summit game takes place Friday evening.

Norcross coach Jesse McMillan said Tuesday his team is looking into ways to get Johnson back to Tampa, and preparing for the possibility of playing without him.

“We’re doing everything we can,” McMillan said.

Meanwhile, Wood said he’ll be watching on Thursday and cheering on Auburn, like many across the state of Washington did for his Eagles in December.

“I know he’s going to be rooting for me the same way I was rooting for him,” Blassingame said.  

(Lead photo by Vince Miller)