Leading up to No. 5 Whitworth’s recent run of success, 6-foot-10 center Drew Sears played the role of a big man who never played in big moments.
Sears, a junior, mostly occupied the bench his first two seasons. Part of his bench time came as he learned Matt Logie’s system behind veteran posts Taylor Farnsworth and Adam Wilks.
But the biggest factor holding Sears back, in a Northwest Conference where the Pirates (20-1, 11-1 NWC) often face players no taller than 6-6, was his stamina.
“I’d go into the game for two or three minutes and I couldn’t catch my breath,” Sears said. “I couldn’t function.”
During his sophomore year at Stanwood High School, Sears was diagnosed with asthma. He strictly followed his medications at Whitworth, but he couldn’t catch his breath when he needed it the most.
Then this past off season, Sears had another doctor visit and learned that he was suffering from gastric reflux.
“If I ate before a game, it triggered the asthma. My body was working so hard, I was just losing pounds,” he said. “Once we figured that out, I really haven’t had an asthma episode since last year.”
With a new set of protocols, Sears also came into the season at 233 pounds, which is 23 pounds more than last season. That has allowed him to bang inside and produce a team-leading 40 blocks.
In fact, he has more blocks than the rest of his team combined (32).
“After getting his body right, he was able to make positive strides,” Coach Matt Logie said. “That’s one of the great joys in coaching is watching young guys capitalize on their potential.”
Sears currently is fifth on the team in scoring (7.1 points a game) and is third in rebounding (4.2). Last Saturday, he scored a career-high 17 points in leading Whitworth to a 84-57 win over Pacific (Ore.).
What the statistics don’t show is how the team and fans respond to a thunderous dunk or a swat that sends the ball into the stands.
“He’s only played 20 games in this role,” Logie said of Sears. “I think he’s just scratching the surface of his potential. He’s getting better at playing through contact. That comes through strength and maturity.”
With the resurgence of Sears’ game, and the scoring of senior George Valle and fellow juniors Kenny Love and Christian Jurlina, Whitworth raced to a 19-0 record and a No. 1 ranking before a recent loss to No. 12 Whitman dropped the Pirates to No. 5.
“It definitely was a lot of fun,” Sears said of the top ranking. “We can tell our kids one day that that we were No. 1 at one point. It’s just a number and doesn’t matter right now. It matters what we are at the end of the season. That’s what we are focused on.”
Whitworth has two remaining home games, Friday against George Fox (6-15, 3-9) and Saturday against Willamette (7-14, 4-8). The Pirates finish the season on the road at Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran before the conference tournament.
“We are in playoff mode at this point of the season,” Logie said. “We have a one-game lead in conference. There is no room for error.”
Part of that final run will come from an imposing young man who finally has the stamina to show what he can do.
“Big guys typically are at their best later in their careers,” Logie said. “If (Sears) continues to improve on the trajectory he has of late, who knows what he can be capable of next year.”
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