It was by default that Robby Douglas started the first varsity basketball game of his career.
Two projected starters for Shadle Park were injured and coach Tim Gaebe had limited options. So he plugged Douglas, then a sophomore, into the starting lineup.
“I was just kind of thrown in there,” Douglas said. “I was really nervous. I had never played JV (junior varsity), let alone a varsity game.”
Douglas, now a senior, spent his freshman year on the freshman team. Gaebe, who knew Douglas had potential, purposely kept him there so his confidence would blossom.
“There are times I’ve brought freshmen up,” Gaebe said. “I knew he was a skilled player. I didn’t know he was that good.”
It didn’t take long for Gaebe to find out how good. In his varsity initiation, Douglas went off for a game-high 18 points at Central Valley.
“He was phenomenal,” Gaebe said. “He played like a veteran. He wasn’t gun-shy or inhibited.”
Douglas has started every game since.
“After I got out there and started playing I felt comfortable, it felt normal to me,” Douglas said.
He averaged 10 points as a sophomore and 11.1 last year. Both teams qualified for state. His average is up eight points this season at 19.1, second in league to Gonzaga Prep’s Ryan Nicholas (22.3).
Douglas could be the first Highlander to start on three consecutive state qualifiers. Just once in school history have Shadle teams qualified three straight years (1981-83).
The Highlanders were in tough at state last year in their first season in 3A. They ran into a buzzsaw when they opened against eventual state champ Franklin, which ran over the Highlanders 67-42.
“They beat everybody by about 25 points (actually 21),” Douglas said. “3A is probably the toughest classification in the state. It would really be nice for my last year to bring home a (state) trophy.”
Shadle is the lone undefeated team in the Greater Spokane League at 5-0, 9-2 overall. The Highlanders have nine league games left, including tough tests against 4A teams Mead, G-Prep and Ferris.
A 6-foot-2 guard, Douglas is equally adept at hitting jump shots or driving to the basket where he can finish with either hand. There’s not a shot he’s fearful of taking.
He started this season afire, scoring a career-high 34 points in a 71-64 season-opening loss to Post Falls. He averaged 26.8 through the first four games.
Douglas knows the average will probably decline in the second half of the season, especially when the Highlanders hit the meat of their schedule.
He figures teams will try to double-team or deny him the ball as North Central did last month when it limited him to six points.
“We beat North Central and that’s what counts the most,” Douglas said. “Other guys stepped up.”
On the four AAU or elite teams Douglas has played on, he was never the go-to guy. For two years in middle school he played on a team with former Shadle teammates Aaron Dunn (Mead) and Darcy Weisner (Walla Walla).
“He was the fourth or fifth option,” Gaebe said.
“It motivated me,” Douglas said. “I knew what I could do. It made me want to get better and better and better and get to where I am now.”
Douglas is drawing recruiting interest from three Pacific Northwest NCAA Division III schools – Whitworth, Pacific Lutheran and University of Puget Sound.
“I’m keeping my options open and seeing where the season takes me,” Douglas said.
Gaebe describes Douglas as a basketball junkie. Although Douglas played baseball and soccer until middle school, he has played year-round basketball in high school.
Basketball is so important to him that he incorporated it in his senior project. He teamed with friend Jenna Humphrey, a starter on Shadle’s girls basketball team, to put on a small summer camp. They invited six second- through fourth-grade boys at no cost to them.
“We did it for four days about 90 minutes a day,” Douglas said.
They held the camp on a court at Humphrey’s home.
“The boys had a lot of fun,” Douglas said. “At the end they were asking us if we’d do it again. We want to do it again. It was a rewarding experience.”
Gaebe, who is in his eighth year as head coach, had no problem evaluating where Douglas rates among the top players he’s coached.
“His love of the game makes him special,” Gaebe said. “All around, he’s as good a player as I’ve had here.”