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Originally published Thursday, March 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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3A Boys Basketball | Lakes football stars Kavario Middleton and Jermaine Kearse excel on court, too

On most days, Kavario Middleton carries the hopes of Washington fans with him. He's a top football prospect who many think can help turn...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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On most days, Kavario Middleton carries the hopes of Washington fans with him. He's a top football prospect who many think can help turn the beleaguered Huskies program around.

On Wednesday, all Lakes basketball coach JoJo Rodriguez asked Middleton to carry was the Lancers of Lakewood to today's quarterfinals.

When the third quarter began, Rodriguez turned to the 6-foot-6, 260-pound forward and told him to carry the team on his back.

"Put your saddle on," the coach said.

Then he told the rest of the Lancers, "Get him the ball."

In the third quarter of Lakes' 67-60 win against Meadowdale of Lynnwood, Middleton scored 11 points. He scored inside and outside, including a three-pointer in the quarter's final seconds.

Middleton finished with 20 points. Jermaine Kearse, a 6-3 guard, added 12 points for the Lancers, who won their 19th consecutive game.

For almost a year, football fans on the West Coast followed Middleton and Kearse, considered two of the state's top 10 prospects. Middleton, a tight end and defensive end, was Washington's consensus top recruit. He and Kearse, a wide receiver and defensive back, flirted with all of the Pac-10 schools. In the end, they both decided to stay home and play at UW.

It's common for football prospects as prized as Middleton and Kearse to stay away from their secondary sports during their senior year to ensure they are healthy for the next football season.

But after Lakes made just its second state appearance since 1981 last season, and had eight seniors coming back, Middleton and Kearse gave no serious thought to sitting out basketball season.

"Coach Rodriguez has turned this program around, and I wanted to be a part of it," Middleton said.

Said Kearse: "We knew we could make good things happen."

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When the top-ranked Lakes football team exited the state tournament early — the Lancers lost to eventual Class 3A champion Skyline in the round of 16 — it gave the duo more than enough time to prepare for the basketball season.

Middleton and Kearse played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 5. Three days later, they combined for 37 points in an important Western Cascade Conference win against North Thurston.

Kearse averaged 15 points during the regular season, and Middleton averaged 12.7 points and 11 rebounds. Both figure to play large roles in Lakes' final games at state.

They also figure their high profiles as football recruits will draw more attention from opposing crowds.

After Middleton was called for a second-quarter charge, one of the rare moments Wednesday that didn't go his way, the Meadowdale crowd let him hear it.

"Stick to football," the Mavericks fans chanted.

"I've heard worse," Middleton said after the game.

Tom Wyrwich: 206-515-5653 or twyrwich@seattletimes.com

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