With the help of volunteer assistants Tony Walters and Antonio Campbell, both mid-'80s graduates of Vashon, Bonner says, he's trying to teach the students that there's more to life than basketball. "We are different [from Irons' staff] in that we don't necessarily want the best basketball players on our team. We want the best young men who are willing to help themselves." College — not the NBA — has to be the ultimate goal, adds Bonner.

Senior Errol Isom says that wearing a Wolverines jersey is a big responsibility and that last season's changes ratcheted up the pressure. "We didn't want to let anyone down," Isom says. "But by Coach Bonner sticking with us, we've gotten over that. He could have easily given up. It's made us stronger. We're bonding nicely now."

The Wolverines went 20-7 during the 2006-2007 season, won the Public High League title and advanced to the state tournament. This year they are 13-7 to date. They won't win the PHL title outright, but could finish in a three-way tie with Gateway High School and Soldan. District tournaments begin February 18.

"This year's team is better because they don't rely on one great player like Leon Powell," says Bonner, referring to a 2007 Vashon graduate. "Each one has to do his part every night if they want to win."

Bonner insists that the losses offer constructive lessons for his team, and that's a point he's trying to hammer home with the underclassmen, especially this second semester, when four of his players became ineligible.

"You see the disappointment in their eyes. It's this total draining of energy," he says. "You're trying to tell a kid his life is not over — it's just begun, because he's just learned a lesson right there — but you know he's not going to get the lesson right then."

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