There’s this feeling, hard to shake, that there must be a little rain cloud following Joe Feist and the West Valley boys basketball team.
Yet on frequent visits to the Spokane Valley school, the cloud is never there. The only thing raining on the Eagles is success.
The numbers: seven Frontier League titles in Feist’s nine years - including the last five - and three straight trips to the State AA tournament.
The road to a fourth state trip begins Friday in the league tournament at Eastern Washington University. The Eagles cap the first day’s action against Cheney at 9:15 p.m., trying to improve Feist’s 169-56 career record.
Still, Feist has heard the whispers. He has a hate-hate relationship with Frontier rivals and referees. The Eagles hunker down in Millwood with an us-against-the-world mentality.
“I want to be liked. I don’t know where it comes from.” Feist said. “I get along with referees. I do feel responsible to ask them for explanations.”
His players seem oblivious to real or imagined off-court distractions.
“Referees are going to be part of the game; you just have to adjust,” senior Greg Jones said. “Coach says to control the things you can control and don’t worry about the things you can’t.”
“The refs know they make crazy calls sometimes and Feist proves them wrong,” senior Sabron Stone said. “Maybe they hold grudges.”
Not all of them. In a story two years ago, referee Randy Harris said Feist and Ferris coach Wayne Gilman, both big winners, were difficult to work with because, “Guys like that make you work. I have no problem with that. They know the game and work you.”
It’s that knowledge of the game that impresses Feist’s players.
“I think of him as a perfectionist,” reserve senior guard Damon Elias said. “He makes sure everything is done right.”
“He’s smart,” Stone added. “Not just in basketball but in school. That’s what you’re here for.”
Elias said Feist’s priorities are school, family and then basketball.
Many coaches are that way but, with Feist’s intensity, the perception from outside the Eagles basketball circle may lead to friction.
“I’m extremely competitive and I expect my teams to compete,” Feist said. “My demand on me is to have the kids prepared to play. We don’t talk about winning, we talk about being prepared. Coaches and players that judge by wins and losses can get in trouble. This league is so competitive, there is a lot of luck involved, a lot of games can go either way and that would sure change the record of success. If I’m perceived wrong, I feel bad about that, but I don’t want the kids to lose because we’re not prepared.”
Some may wonder if the Eagles prepare at all or just roll the ball on the floor and get on with their wide-open, run-and-gun, bury-the-3-pointer style.
But the truth is, the Eagles put up more 2s (680) than 3s (442). But they make many more 3s (162) than their opponents (65 of 260).
“I have a real strong feeling the game should be fun for the players, but we are disciplined,” Feist said. “We play a fun, up-tempo game, and that perpetuates the program.
“Kids like the 3-point line; that’s where they practice. Kids seem to shoot the 3 better than the 15-footer these days. With the way the game evolved, kids like to shoot, but they’re willing to pass if they know they’ll get their shots.
“Still, we don’t have a set way. We look at the kids and adjust. We don’t put the kids in and expect them to adjust. We look at them and adjust. We want diversity inside and out, but the 3-point shot is a great weapon. Why not use it? With the percentages, you get more return for the money. We haven’t really had any big kids. Sometimes, the threat of a 3-point shot creates more opportunities for 2-pointers that a small team doesn’t normally get.”
Stone called Feist, who makes it a point to explain his decisions to his team, a player’s coach. Jones said, “He plays an exciting style of basketball. I think he’s a great coach who knows how to coach the players he has.”
With that kind of endorsement, why hasn’t the Gonzaga Prep and Central Washington University graduate moved on?
“I’ve enjoyed my years at West Valley and enjoyed people and kids. I’ve been able to coach a lot of good players,” he said. “West Valley has been awful good for me. I don’t want to be misinterpreted; I look at other options. But what’s wrong with being here? I’m not college. I’m not willing to move family around to chase my dreams.”
Right now, his dream is simple: win the next game.
“I’m a real one-day-at-a-time guy,” he said. “You can get in too much trouble looking too far ahead. We try to get the kids to be the same way. You can miss out on a lot today looking at tomorrow.”
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: THE FEIST FILE Joe Feist’s record at West Valley High School: Year Record FL State 1986-87 16-9 3rd — 1987-88 18-7 T-1st — 1988-89 14-8 T-1st — 1989-90 16-8 3rd — 1990-91 20-4 1st — 1991-92 23-4 1st 3rd 1992-93 21-6 1st — 1993-94 20-7 T-1st — 1994-95 17-3 1st — Total 169-56