SPOKANE, Wash. – The 2017-18 Whitworth University men's basketball team will have four new starters and plenty of new faces. One thing that is not new is a determination to extend the longest post-season run in Pirate athletics history.
Despite ten new names on a roster of 19 players, head coach Matt Logie sees the kind of talent necessary to make a 12th straight appearance in the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament a real possibility.
"This year's team is more athletic than we've been the past couple of years, which should really translate defensively and on the glass," said Logie, who is 149-25 heading into his seventh season as Whitworth's head coach. "As always, we will strive to play together offensively and be well-balanced in our attack. We feel the pieces to the puzzle are there, but it will take time for everyone to get on the same page."
Of the 19 players on the 2017-18 roster, nine are returnees from a team that finished 23-5 overall and 13-3 in the Northwest Conference last season. Five are incoming freshman and five are transfers. That distribution of players was intentional.
"Graduating our experienced and talented senior class from last season created a great opportunity to build around our younger core," Logie said. "In doing so, I wanted to make sure we didn't get too young too quickly, so as a staff we prioritized building a class that would include a combination of transfers and high school graduates that we felt could be successful right now and down the road. Our staff worked extremely hard to identify both types of student-athletes and our efforts worked out well."
Whitworth's 2017 graduating class included Kenny Love, who is now on the coaching staff, Christian Jurlina, Derek Isaak and Drew Sears. Love and Jurlina were each three-time First Team All-NWC honorees.
The lone returning starter is swingman Kyle Roach, who earned second team All-NWC recognition after leading Whitworth in scoring last winter.
The graduation of Love and Isaak means that both starting positions are up for grabs. Transfer Jordan Lester will start at point guard heading into the first game. Lester transferred to Whitworth after two years at NCAA Division I Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. He had been an all-state standout at Eastlake HS near Seattle.
Backing up Lester are a couple newcomers and a returnee. Garrett Hull comes to Whitworth after an outstanding two seasons with the Community Colleges of Spokane, where he earned All-NWAC recognition as a sophomore. Kea Vargas helped lead Gonzaga Prep to a third place finish at the 2017 WIAA 4A tournament as a senior, earning second team All-Greater Spokane League honors. Xavier Cooke, a sophomore, played in six games for the Pirates in 2016-17.
Ben College looks to take over as the starting shooting guard. College demonstrated explosive shooting ability during his freshman campaign at Whitworth and averaged 7.4 points while appearing in all 28 contests. He scored 28 points in a win over Covenant College.
Injuries and illness limited Brandon Kohler's contributions to only 12 games after he transferred to Whitworth last season. The senior will be expected to fill an important role off of the bench this year.
First year guards Isaiah Hernandez, who redshirted one season at Carroll College, and James Harland (Melbourne, Australia) could provide important minutes this season as well. Senior Joel Gabrielle gives the Pirates plenty of depth at shooting guard.
Roach had a big sophomore season during his first year as the starting small forward. In addition to averaging 15.9 points per game, he led the Pirates in rebounding (5.2) and the starters in shooting percentage (54.1). Roach was second on the team in minutes played and his versatility allows him to slide over to either guard spot, should that become necessary.
Sam Lees will back up Roach this season. The sophomore from Christchurch, N.Z. played in 13 games as a freshman last winter. Tanner Fogle, a freshman from Camas (Wash.) High School, will give Whitworth strong depth at this spot.
Jared Christy earned second team All-Northwest Conference as a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran last season after he led the league in rebounding (11.2 rpg) and averaged 13.8 points per contest. Christy, who is from Spokane (Ferris HS), will take over as a starter at power forward for the Pirates this season.
Kevin Crosno, another transfer who comes to Whitworth from Diablo Valley College (Calif.), gives Logie the benefit of having a backup power forward with college experience.
CJ Johnson, who played in 26 games last season, has been working his way back into playing shape after recovering from injury. If he regains his form, he will also be a strong factor in the frontcourt.
Ben Bishop will get his opportunity to become the Pirates' starting center this season. Bishop played in all 28 games as a sophomore in 2016-17 and made three starts. He averaged 4.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
A sophomore and two freshmen will provide backup minutes at the post. Cameron Rutherford appeared in nine games during his first year at Whitworth. Reed Brown (Sunset HS in Portland) is a dual threat who can force defenders outside with his ability to make three-pointers. Chewy Zevenbergen (King's HS in Edmonds) is a more traditional post-up center and the new tallest player on the Pirates' roster.
"This team is quicker, stronger, faster and more athletic than we've been the past couple of seasons," Logie said. "This team is also made up of a lot of hungry, competitive guys, and that's not a knock on our previous teams, it's just that we have a lot of guys that have a chip on their shoulder and haven't yet accomplished and proven what some of our previous groups had going into the season."
Whitworth will get its first crack at a real game when the Pirates take on the University of Montana on Friday night in Missoula. While the game counts for the Grizzlies, it is an exhibition game for the Pirates.
Whitworth will officially open the season at midnight of November 15th against the University of La Verne in the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Not only do the Pirates have plenty to prove to themselves, they also have a lot to prove to national voters. For the first time in nine years, Whitworth is not listed among the top-25 in the D3hoops.com preseason poll. The Bucs are listed among "others receiving votes."