SPOKANE, Wash. – A new era dawns this week for the Whitworth University men's basketball team as Damion Jablonski coaches his first games for the Pirates.
Jablonski served as an assistant coach for eight seasons at Whitworth under Matt Logie, the final five as associate head coach. Jablonski replaced Logie when NCAA Division II member Point Loma Nazarene hired Logie last March.
Whitworth returns two starters and several key contributors from a team that finished 21-6 and runners-up in the Northwest Conference.
Jablonski believes his crew, both players and assistant coaches, has adapted quickly to the coaching transition.
"Our administration's decision to name me head coach on the same day that Logie announced his departure certainly allowed the transition to take place as seamlessly as possible," he said. "The strong relationships that already existed between our current players and staff has put us light years of where we would be had I taken over a new program."
Instead, Jablonski inherits a team with a long history of success in men's basketball. The Pirates have recorded 14 consecutive 20-win seasons. Over that span, Whitworth has won nearly 85% of its games and 12 NWC regular season titles.
Pirate fans should expect to see tweaks, rather than drastic changes, in the team's style of play, according to Jablonski.
"We really do have personnel that can shoot the basketball, and I am confident that fans will see a similar brand of unselfish play on the offensive end that they have come to enjoy," he said. "In addition, I believe that this year's squad has really embraced a more gritty mentality on the defensive end of the floor."
College (Sr., G) led Whitworth in scoring in 2019, averaging 19.7 points per game. He made 43.1% of his three-pointers and averaged 3.1 made three-pointers per game. College was also a dead-eye from the free throw line, where he shot an NWC-best 92.2%. College earned first team All-Northwest Conference recognition, as well as second team All-Region from D3hoops.com.
Lester (Gr. W) returned to the starting line-up in 2018-19 after suffering a season-ending knee injury early the previous season. He averaged 12.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.
Hernandez (Jr., G) made a significant impact off the bench last winter, averaging 19.5 minutes and 8.4 points per game. Sam Lees (Sr., F) had a similar impact, appearing in every game and averaging 4.6 points and 2.1 rebounds. Zevenbergen (Jr., C) was a primary back up post player.
Garrett Hull is another key returnee for the Pirates. Hull (Sr., G), who was an honorable mention All-NWC honoree in 2018, suffered a season-ending injury five games into the 2018-19 schedule. The NCAA granted Hull a medical hardship waiver.
Several sophomores look ready to make a significant step forward in contributions this season. They include guards Rowan Anderson and Garrett Paxton and forwards/centers Liam Fitzgerald and JT McDermott.
Jablonski's initial incoming class includes four players. Jacob Hjort (G) was a redshirt last season at NCAA Div. II Western Oregon and holds onto freshman eligibility.
This Weekend: Whitworth will host the Tip Off Classic, sponsored by Quality Inn Oakwood this weekend. On Friday night, George Fox of the NWC will take on Trinity (Tex.) at 5:00 pm, followed by Whitworth vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at 7:00 pm. On Saturday, GFU plays CMS at 6:00 pm, followed by Whitworth vs. Trinity at 8:00 pm. Both Pirate games will be carried live in Spokane on KSBN radio (1230am) with Bud Nameck on the call. Watch the Whitworth men's basketball schedule for live links to this weekend's games.
The Opponents: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps will sound very familiar to Whitworth's fans. The Stags ended the Pirates' season in the opening round of the NCAA Division III tournament in 2017 and 2018. Both games took place at Whitman College in Walla Walla. CMS has become the premier program in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference under head coach Ken Scalmanini, who is 375-173 in his 22nd season. CMS has won the SCIAC championship ten times under Scalmanini and finished second on five other occasions. The Stags return three starters from a team that finished 19-7 overall and 13-3 (second place) in the SCIAC. Senior Miles President (6-3, W) earned second team All-SCIAC and averaged 11.3 points and 2.0 assists per game. Junior Mitchell Kirsch, a 6-4 guard, averaged 5.6 points and led the team in assists (2.8). Senior Jeremy Horn (6-10, P) is a significant inside presence who averaged 10.3 points and 7.4 rebounds a year ago.
Trinity University went 7-20 overall and 6-10 in the Southern Collegiate Athletics Conference during an injury-plagued season in 2018-19. However, the future may be bright for the Tigers behind three sophomores who all made significant contributions as freshmen. Jordan Lippman, a 6-3 guard, averaged 6.7 points per game. AJ Clark (6-3, G) and Ben Hanley (6-4, G) were the only two players to appear in all 27 contests for the Tigers last season. Head coach Pat Cunningham is 342-205 in his 21st year at Trinity, 494-371 in his 32nd season as a DIII head coach. He is a six-time SCAC Coach of the Year. Whitworth defeated Trinity 76-65 on the road in San Antonio last season as Ben College had 29 points and Jordan Lester added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Coming Up: Whitworth will host a pair of games next week. The Pirates will take on Cal Lutheran on Thursday (Nov. 14) at 7:00 pm and nationally-ranked St. Thomas (Minn.) on Saturday (Nov. 16), also at 7:00 pm.