George Valle was part of the first official recruiting class for Matt Logie after he was hired to lead Whitworth when Jim Hayford left for Eastern Washington.
Valle, a 6-foot-4 player with the skills to play everything from point guard to center, started his first game as a freshman … and every game in between.
At 113 games and counting, Valle leads the No. 3 Pirates (24-1, 15-1) into the Northwest Conference tournament semifinal on Thursday at 7 p.m. against Puget Sound (13-12, 8-8).
“There really isn’t anybody more critical to our success than George has been the last four years,” Logie said. “He’s such a versatile player. He can do just a little bit of everything. He helps to make us go.”
The Valle numbers are staggering. He leads the team in scoring (16.8 point) and rebounds (7.4) and steals (31). He’s also fifth in the conference in shooting percentage (56.1), sixth in 3-point shooting percentage (43.1) and 12th in assists per game (2.2).
He’s also worked his way into the record books. Valle is six points away from 1,400 points for his career and nine points from seventh place on Whitworth’s all-time scoring list.
“I’ve put him in a lot of situations offensively and defensively. He’s been asked to guard a lot,” Logie said. “He’s as well rounded as they come. He can score inside and out. He can make plays for other people. He rebounds well. He’s tough. He’s all the things you want from a leader.”
Valle, of Bellevue, said he didn’t realize that he’d started every game for the Pirates until at some point during his junior year when he read about his own streak in the team news release.
“I had to think, ‘Is that true?’ After thinking about it more, I guess I have,” Valle said. “From that point on I was conscious of it.”
Valle has played through sore knees, rolled ankles, and mid-air collisions that sometimes required the team staff to peel him off the court.
“It is rare,” Valle said. “There actually have been a couple games where I started … and couldn’t finish. A lot of it is luck. But really, I do put a strong focus on making sure I take care of my body … to be in the best position to be healthy.”
Logie said Valle’s streak meant that a lot of things had to come together.
“One is the ability … to play through injuries and illness,” Logie said. “On top of that, he had the unique talent to help your team win early in his career. It’s very rare that all three of those things are combined.”
The Pirates face a Loggers team that fell 87-68 at Whitworth Fieldhouse on Jan. 23.
However, the Pirates survived a 67-65 scare last Friday at UPS. In that game, Carlos Mancansola hit five 3-pointers that helped fuel the Loggers’ upset bid.
But Valle happened. At the end of the game, he tied the score with 39 seconds to play. He then forced a turnover with 14 seconds left.
After Kenny Love missed a driving layup, Valle got the rebound and scored as time expired for the win.
Valle said he could live without that type of drama again.
“We let them get confident, especially early on,” Valle said. “We didn’t play our tough, stingy defense.”
In the other semifinal, Pacific Lutheran (16-9, 9-7) travels to play No. 9 Whitman (22-3, 14-2) at Walla Walla where the Lutes upset the Missionaries 79-74 on Jan. 23.
The winners play Saturday at the home of the top remaining seed. Whitworth is seeking its 10th consecutive tournament title and the Pirates just became the first Northwest Conference program to win seven straight regular-season titles.
Regardless of how the last games play out, Valle has secured his legacy for the Pirates, Logie said.
“I guess one of the things you get used to at a place like Whitworth is coaching really special people,” he said. “George is one of those guys. They set a standard that other people want to strive to reach and follow. We will definitely miss him around here.”
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