SPOKANE, Wash. – For a program with as much tradition of success as Whitworth University men's basketball, the 2018-19 season is one of nearly unprecedented anticipation.
The Pirates return essentially six starters from a team that finished 24-4, won the Northwest Conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the 12th consecutive year. Whitworth reached as high as second in the D3hoops.com top-25 poll late in the season.
The Bucs bring back more than 98% of their offensive production and 98% of their rebounding from 2017-18. They are sixth in the D3hoops.com preseason poll. Yet head coach Matt Logie, who has the highest winning percentage of any current coach in NCAA Division III men's basketball, is unfazed by outside expectations.
"Whitworth basketball has high expectations every year, which is really exciting," said Logie, who is 173-29 heading into his eighth season as the Pirates' coach. "I think it is a driving force in why many of our student-athletes choose to come here and our staff has embraced that from day one. Our own expectations and aspirations never change, whether outsiders recognize our potential or not. We will continue to focus on the processes that have been successful and let the results speak for themselves."
The talent and experience is most evident at point guard, where Whitworth has two of the best Division III players on the west coast. Jordan Lester returns from a season-ending knee injury he sustained in the ninth game of the year in 2017. Now a redshirt junior, he averaged 15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in nine contests. Garrett Hull, a senior, became the starter and ended up an honorable mention All-NWC selection. He averaged 10.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and led the team with 63 steals.
Logie is not concerned about finding court time for his talented pair of point guards.
"Point guards often dictate a team's success, simply because of their ability to impact the game in so many ways," he said. "We have consistently used a two-guard lineup to provide the ball handling, playmaking and shot making that great offenses possess. We feel great about the depth in our backcourt heading into this season."
Ben College returns as the starting off-guard. He averaged 16.5 points per game and made 44.7% of his three-pointers last winter, earning honorable mention All-NWC consideration. He scored 31 points in a win over Gallaudet. Isaiah Hernandez improved tremendously over the course of last season and played crucial minutes down the stretch of Whitworth's NWC tournament championship victory.
Kyle Roach, who returns for his third season as the starting wing, is no stranger to Pirate opponents. The 2018 NWC Player of the Year, Roach went on to gain first team NABC All-America accolades and he is a 2018-19 first team preseason All-American, according the D3hoops.com. Roach averaged 18.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He scored 45 points against Whitman on February 6th.
Even with Roach's prodigious production, Sam Lees will still see the floor as a backup at wing. He played in every game of 2017-18 as a sophomore and averaged 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds. Tanner Fogle, whom Logie cites as one of the Pirates who has shown the most improvement heading into this season, gives the Bucs great depth on the wing.
Jared Christy has been nothing short of a rebounding machine since he arrived in the Northwest Conference. The senior picked up the second second team All-NWC honor of his career last season when he averaged 12.8 points and nine rebounds per contest. Including his two seasons at Pacific Lutheran University, Christy has 733 career rebounds and has a chance to reach the 1,000-rebound threshold.
Kevin Crosno was injured for part of last year, but still averaged 4.7 points and 3.2 rebounds as a backup forward and made 46.4% of his three-point attempts. Reed Brown appeared in 20 games as a freshman last winter.
Ben Bishop returns to start for the second year in a row at center. The 6-8 Bishop showed huge improvements in his offensive efficiency last season, leading the Pirates in field goal percentage (62.2). He averaged 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
Chewy Zevenbergen, the tallest player on the roster (6-10), may be ready for his first extended action off the bench. Any one of the forwards can also play center when Logie wants to go to a smaller lineup.
With so much returning talent, Whitworth's strengths are not hard to identify.
"We will be able to score in a variety of ways," Logie said. "We have so many guys that can dribble, pass and shoot, which will make us a difficult cover for most teams. However, it will be our growth on the defensive end that will truly dictate how great this team can be."
Whitworth's sights are set high, for good reason. However, the driving force for this team is not simply external accomplishments.
"We've always tried to focus on our potential as our measuring stick, but competition doesn't happen in a vacuum," Logie said. "Our guys understand that the best version of this team can compete with anyone and they have attacked the process with an aspirational mindset and high level of accountability. It is very exciting when your talent and experience fall in line with such aspirational goals."
The Pirates will get their first test on Friday when they play at the University of Montana in an exhibition game. The Grizzlies are near-unanimous favorites in the media and coaches polls to repeat as Big Sky Conference champions this season. Montana returns four starters, including 2018 first team honoree Ahmaad Rorie. Tipoff is set for 7:00 pm (MT).
Whitworth fans can watch the game online via Pluto TV, channel 237. (https://pluto.tv/tv).