UPDATE: The Seahawks lost their Feb. 1 game against the Tides 35-58, finishing the season 2-12 in the SSC, 4-16 overall.
The Peninsula Seahawks boys basketball team was down 24-16 with 2:22 left in the first half against Central Kitsap Jan. 12. Seahawks second-year head coach Sean Muilenburg needed to light a fire under his team, and he knew exactly who could spark it.
“Cole!” he called out from the Seahawks bench. “Are you ready?”
A simple head nod response from Cole cued the coach to yell the word “Tap” to his team.
“Cole” is Cole Muilenburg, a senior swingman who just so happens to be the coach’s oldest son. And “Tap” is a play where Cole sneaks behind his opponents on the weak side and grabs an anticipated alley-oop pass for a dunk. When it works, it injects much-needed energy into the team and its fans.
Though the play did not work this time around, Sean designed it specifically for Cole for two reasons: As his coach, he knows his player can pull it off when it does work; as his dad, he knows his son can shake it off when it doesn’t.
It’s the advantage of growing up in the same house as your coach.
“Nobody knows me like he does,” Cole said.
Despite coming back from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks lost to Central Kitsap, 59-56, their fourth straight loss, making it an even tougher journey for the team to finish above .500.
It’s been that kind of season for Peninsula. Sean and Cole already anticipated spending this year reloading its roster, but a series of pre-season injuries to key players prompted Sean to add another Muilenburg to the varsity squad — his youngest son, Aiden. Sean originally wanted Aiden, a freshman, to spend this year developing his game with the JV team.
“I was a little nervous,” Aiden said about playing against bigger and faster guys. “But I just went in and tried to do what I do.”
Cole, donning a green and white jersey for the last time this year, was thrilled when he learned he’d get to spend his senior season playing ball with his kid brother. “I love playing with him. I’ve watched him his whole life and he works so hard. He deserves this.”
As the season wraps up later this month, Sean is still processing just how they all got here. “I didn’t have any aspirations to coach them in high school,” he said. “I just wanted to be a dad and sit in the stands.” It was Cole (9.3 points per game; 6.7 rebounds per game; 2.1 blocks per game as of Jan. 16) and Aiden (3.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg and 1.0 bpg) who conned him into applying for the job when it opened up in early 2022.
To the boys, it made perfect sense: a blend of the love they have for their family and the love they have for the game. Cole and Aiden are three years apart but have been close their whole lives.
Cole even bypasses his friends some weekends to make sure he and Aiden can go to the movies together. If they are not seeing something scary, they will let their 11-year-old sister Alexis, who is on the Seahawks Select basketball team, tag along.
“Everyone who hangs around me knows (Aiden) will likely be with me,” Cole said. “If we get a chance to spend time with family, we’ll always do that.” Sean, who works for a sleep diagnostics company away from the court, knows he carries the burden of the dual responsi- bility of being both dad and coach. “These are teenagers growing into men. They are a part of building something here, and I want them to know it’s not all about wins and losses, it’s about the experiences they share.”
Though the towering trio (Sean is 6 foot, 8 inches; Cole is 6 foot, 6 inches; Aiden is 6 foot, 4 inches) have always been connected by basketball, the two younger Muilenburgs are making their bones on the football field. Cole is a two-time All-South Sound Conference tight end and defensive end for the Seahawks football team, but a severe leg injury that shortened his junior season also slowed all the momentum he was gaining with Division I college recruiters.
“The phone stopped ringing,” Sean said about his son’s injury that also caused him to miss last basketball season. “It’s tough for a 17-year-old boy to grasp that all of the sudden he isn’t ‘the man.’ But I think that he’ll be a better college player now because he had to work even harder for it.”
Cole is now weighing offers to play collegiately at smaller schools like Eastern Oregon, Culver-Stockton, Linfield and Whitworth, but recently got his first Division I offer from Valparaiso in Indiana. He said he’ll make a decision by June.
Aiden also saw some varsity time on the football field at linebacker and wide receiver last season. He’ll be spending the next three years honing his crafts on the field and on the court. Aiden already has the height but is working out four days a week and pounding down tuna fish and PB&Js to add some bulk to his thin frame.
“This year was special for us,” Sean said about himself and his wife, Stephanie. “We get to see them both out there competing together (in football and basketball) at a very high level.”
Whether on the hardwood or the gridiron, the Muilenburg sons are taking in all the advice and knowledge they can from their dad, who is no stranger to playing sports at the next level.
Sean was a standpoint prep basketball player at Redmond High School where he helped his team to a third-place finish at state in the early 1990s. His court skills led him to play ball at Olympic College in Bremerton and eventually Central Washington. He later played professionally overseas in Portugal, New Zealand, Malaysia and China, and was part of semi-professional teams like the Seattle Mountaineers and Everett Explosion.
“It’s amazing — it’s so helpful that he has all this experience,” Cole said. “He already knows the stresses that come with being an athlete.”
The Seahawks have their final home game of the season Feb. 1 against crosstown rival Gig Harbor. The Muilenburgs are facing the realization that it is likely their last game together in the PHS gym. It will be the toughest on Cole; it is the last time he will get to play with his younger brother and the last game he’ll play for the guy in his life whom he has called coach as much as he has called dad.
“I don’t really want to think about it yet. To say it’s going to be my last game with my dad is crazy.”
The end of the season means more family time, more fishing together, more trips to the family cabin on Whidbey Island, and more visits to Galaxy Theater together. As for Sean, he plans on coaching the Seahawks at least through Aiden’s senior season. That is, unless Alexis, who will be a freshman at that time, cons him into helping coach her basketball teams.
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