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Pirates head into offseason looking for way to unseat the Blues

UPDATED: Mon., March 4, 2019, 10:11 p.m.

It’s been a long time since Matt Logie and his Whitworth Pirates have missed the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament.
It’s been a long time since Matt Logie and his Whitworth Pirates have missed the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament.
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

For the first time in his eight-year tenure as coach at Whitworth, Matt Logie spent the first weekend of the Division III NCAA Tournament away from his basketball team.

Instead, he watched each of his children play a game and watched a number of the state high school championship games on TV, he said.

“The first week without practice is always hard to adjust to from a routine standpoint,” Logie said. “You miss having something to work on to get better. But we are getting ready now to put a bow on this year.”

The year marked the first since 2006 that the Pirates (21-6) didn’t reach the D-III tournament. Instead it was only the Whitman Blues representing the Northwest Conference – and advancing to the Round of 16 with a pair of victories last weekend – as the Pirates’ rival in Walla Walla has wrested away control of the NWC.

“Yeah, it was very weird,” said guard Jordan Lester, who attended his first State B tournament over the weekend. “We were watching some of the other (NCAA) games, and just not being in practice or having games was a really weird feeling.”

This week Logie and the coaching staff will meet with each player individually, and then there’s no contact allowed during the offseason.

“It allows our student-athletes to be regular students for a while, to pursue internships or jobs or just devote a little more time to their studies,” Logie said. “But the reality is for the guys in our program, they’re every bit as committed to the game and getting better as your Division I guys are.”

And so the Pirates – who have lost 10 of their past 11 to the Blues, including the NWC Tournament final on Feb. 23 – will set about getting back to the top of the conference.

Four Whitworth seniors have exhausted their eligibility: Kyle Roach, the 2017-18 NWC Player of the Year; starting post Ben Bishop; starting forward Jared Christy; and sixth man Kevin Crosno.

That leaves a lot of frontcourt production to replace – 40.4 of the team’s 91.7 points and about half of their 37.9 rebounds per game – something Logie is confident the Pirates can do.

“That’s a really important question for us to answer this offseason. We’ve got a number of guys who have been working and developing behind (those four seniors),” Logie said, “guys like Chewy (Zevenbergen), Reed (Brown) and Liam (Fitzgerald). … It’s imperative they have a great offseason, and I have a lot of confidence in their ability to take the next step in their development.”

None of the three averaged more than 4 minutes per game.

Zevenbergen, a 6-foot-10 post, appeared in 19 games as a sophomore this season and averaged 1.6 points. Fitzgerald, a 6-foot-6 freshman from Hawaii, played in 16 games and averaged 2.8 points. Brown, a 6-foot-6 sophomore from Portland, averaged 1.1 points in 16 games.

The backcourt is less of a question.

Ben College, a first-team All-NWC selection, and Lester, both currently juniors, return. College’s 19.7 scoring average was fourth most in the NWC this year. Lester was the team’s second-leading rebounder with 6.0 per game and his 12.5 scoring average was third-most for the Pirates.

They also expect to get Garrett Hull back for another year after the senior missed all but five games when he suffered a knee injury on Nov. 30, provided his rehab goes well.

Hull had stepped in as a starter the previous season when Lester suffered a similar season-ending injury.

Also returning are sophomore Isaiah Hernandez, who started one game but emerged as a reliable scorer and ball-handler off the bench, and 6-foot-4 junior Sam Lees, who played multiple positions and excelled toward the end of the season.

“It’s huge for us, because your guard play is what controls the game at this level, especially with the type of defense and style Whitman brings to the table,” Logie said of the returning guards. “You have to be designed to play against that.”

The Pirates will also add a few recruits before next season, but Logie said he expects to have everyone else on the roster back when practices start in mid-October.

“It’s gonna be different without those four seniors,” Lester said, “but the goal doesn’t change: Win the conference and make a run in the NCAA Tournament.”

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