This time, when the Whitworth College men’s basketball team hits the NAIA Division II tournament hardwood floor, Jeff Mix won’t have to anxiously wait to rip off his warmups.
This time, instead of making the most out of his limited minutes, Mix will be looked upon to be the man as the eighth-seeded Pirates (19-7) play unseeded Berea (Ky.) College today at 12:45 p.m. (PST).
The venue has changed since Whitworth made its championship run in 1996 before losing in OT in the championship game. It has moved from Northwest Nazarene (Idaho) College to the new Idaho Center. And Mix, a chiseled 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward, who is rock-solid proof that daily weight lifting does have its rewards, has changed roles.
Two years ago, the Liberty High school graduate was a key reserve in Whitworth’s memorable March march. In a tournament semifinal win, he converted 5 of 5 shots and scored 13 points. In the title game, Mix played 14 minutes in the second half and chipped in with seven points and seven rebounds.
“I’m not just a fill-in guy anymore where I just have to get rebound here a rebound there to help out the team,” said Mix. “I wouldn’t say I’m a go-to guy, but I’m more of a leader in a sense that I have to do a lot more things.”
Mix, a senior starter the past two seasons, has put up his best numbers this year. In the final week of the regular season, he scored 41 points in two road games to take over as the team leader with a 14.1 points-per-game average. He’s also pulling down a team-high 6.71 rebounds per game and regularly is assigned to guard the opponent’s tallest or most physical player.
Mix’s accomplishments earned him first-team honors in the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges.
“I was a little surprised. I didn’t expect it,” said Mix.
But his comment comes as no surprise.
Although Mix shows aggressive moves on the court, especially in the paint, his natural demeanor is gentle and mild-mannered.
“My feeling,” said Whitworth coach Warren Friedrichs, Whitworth coach Warren Friedrichs, “is on a team of 12, you need the bulk of them who come to work and get the job done every day. He leads by example.”
He also plays with pain, and still, not a peep.
Mix sprained his left ankle in a game in February and has reinjured it three times since. But the Pirates have had a two-week layoff - a result of losing to Pacific Lutheran University in an NCIC playoff game - and that has given Mix and the others a chance to heal. Starting guard Ryan Nelson rested his sprained wrist and reserve forward Doug Schulz has had time to strengthen his sore knee. “The time off has been excellent. We really needed that,” Friedrichs said. Today’s opponent brings a 20-9 record across two time zones and a six-game winning streak. The Kentucky team is known for its 3-point shooting and runand-gun style. However, it best outside shooter, senior Danny Frazier, broke his hand in a playoff game. The 6-0 senior was the Mid-South region player of the year and averaged a team-high 20.3 ppg. The team averages 84.5 ppg while Whitworth’s average is 78.2.
Berea’s inside game belongs to Gary Burns. The 6-7 sophomore is averaging 10.1 rpg, 12th best in the nation. He’s also scoring 10.4 ppg behind guard Scott Moore (18.8 ppg) and forward Kelly Day (13.2). Mix will be assigned to guard Burns. “We’ve got to come in with the attitude that we’re going to own them for the first 5-10 minutes of the game,” Mix said. “That’s kinda what we did two years ago. We got on them right away and they pretty much gave up.”
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ON THE AIR Today: Whits vs. Berea, Ky., 12:45 p.m./KSBN 1230-AM