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Undefeated Whitworth men will receive boost to lineup

The No. 2 Whitworth men’s basketball team has taken down all comers early in the season, but the Pirates are about to get a new weapon that could make them even better.

Northwest Conference Player of the Year Kenny Love has returned from an eye injury suffered during practice. The injury caused Love to have surgery and forced him to miss four games until he returned last Saturday in the 72-56 win over Colorado College at a neutral site.

But the Pirates (8-0, 2-0 NWC) also for the first time will suit up guard AJ Grant, who was voted the preseason conference player of the year at George Fox before an injury forced him to miss last season. Grant then transferred to Whitworth.

Coach Matt Logie said he knows Grant, a 6-foot senior, from many conference battles. But he’s not been able to have Grant in for a single practice.

“He’ll be ready to roll,” Logie said. “AJ is a gym rat, so I’m sure he’s been getting himself ready.”

NCAA allows Division III players a total of 10 semesters of eligibility. Although Grant has played three previous years, he was down to a final semester, Logie said.

In 2013-14, Grant was named first-team all-conference after he averaged 15 points and 3.4 assists a game. He also hit 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers, which was third best in the league.

“AJ has played in our league and against us a number of times,” Logie said. “He’s been following us this year. He knows kind of the way we play and what the pieces are like.

“He’s a veteran player who has played a lot of basketball. We are hopeful it will be a smooth transition.”

Love was leading the team in scoring before he got poked in the eye. As a result, the team has turned to senior George Valle and junior wing Christian Jurlina to shoulder much of the scoring load.

Valle, who can play any position on the floor, leads the team with 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. Jurlina is right behind Valle with 16.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest.

The Pirates on Saturday host Milsaps College, of Jackson, Mississippi. The Majors (1-6) will face a Pirates team that will be playing its final game before Christmas break.

The Pirates play twice late in the month in Las Vegas as part of the Classic. Whitworth then then returns home Jan. 5 to play Whitman to continue the bulk of the conference schedule.

“We have continued to grow and get better,” Logie said. “We have a long ways to go, still. But we are all excited to get everybody together this weekend and start to build toward what the end product will look like.”

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