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Gonzaga Prep senior guard Chris Sarbaugh earns chance to lead

Gonzaga Prep's Chris Sarbaugh goes up for an easy basket against Ferris last season.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Prep's Chris Sarbaugh goes up for an easy basket against Ferris last season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Chris Sarbaugh has made himself into a basketball player.

The Gonzaga Prep senior laughs when he recalls his humble beginnings. In the fifth grade he could barely jump.

“We used to joke about it, that I could slide the Cheney phonebook under my feet when I jumped,” Sarbaugh said.

His vertical now is 32 inches.

He’s been a streaky shooter the past two years. He spent the last seven months trying to exchange streaky with consistent.

“I was streaky as heck last year,” said Sarbaugh, who averaged 8.7 points per game, third-best for G-Prep. “I was not confident at all in my shot. This year I’ll be making a lot more jumpers. I have a lot more confidence.”

When he landed on varsity as a sophomore, Sarbaugh knew his minutes could be limited because there were four NCAA Division I athletes in the starting lineup.

“At Prep, if you can’t play defense you don’t play,” Sarbaugh said. “The fastest way to get onto the court is to play defense. That’s why I got my chance as a sophomore. I felt I brought energy to the team and that’s what earned me my minutes.”

Sarbaugh, who is headed to Gonzaga University, is ready to have his best season.

“He’s primed to have an outstanding senior year,” Bullpups coach Matty McIntyre said. “Last year the ball went through Ryan Nicholas. We’re definitely going to run things through Chris this year.”

And not just because the 6-foot-3 Sarbaugh is the Bullpups’ point guard.

“Sarbaugh will be a menace this year,” Mead coach Glenn Williams said.

Sarbaugh is greatly motivated by the disappointing end to G-Prep’s season last year. The Greater Spokane League-champion Bullpups went to state believing they could challenge for the championship. They opened with a 65-33 win over Auburn. Then things came to an abrupt conclusion with a 60-59 overtime loss to Federal Way and a 48-45 setback to Decatur.

“Ever since our last game, Coach and I have talked about it every day,” Sarbaugh said. “We want to get back and prove we belong at state.”

“We felt like we had a team to win the whole thing,” McIntyre said. “It just didn’t work out that way. It’s definitely going to add some motivation for Chris and our seniors. It’s going to help guide our vision.”

In terms of leadership and production, Sarbaugh has some big shoes to fill with the graduation of the 6-7 Nicholas, the GSL’s most valuable player last year.

“He’s a playmaker, a creator,” McIntyre said. “He knows we’re about team basketball, but he can pick and shoot his shots. He gets to the rim. He can play above the rim. We’re going to need him creating in the paint.”

When Sarbaugh gets into the paint, McIntyre is sure something good will happen.

“He’s got a knack at finishing,” McIntyre said. “He can finish with both hands, but he can finish with his left hand in traffic better than most kids at the high school level.”

Sarbaugh’s quickness and athleticism fuel his defense.

“He anticipates so well,” McIntyre said. “He sees the game a few steps ahead of everybody.”

No wonder McIntyre envisions Sarbaugh having more than a token spot on the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ roster.

Sarbaugh’s tuition will be free because his late father was an Irish history professor at GU.

“He can play Division I,” McIntyre said. “He knows it will be very difficult, but he’ll love the challenge. That’s the type of kid he is.”

Sarbaugh wouldn’t accept the opportunity to play at GU just to wear a jersey and warm a spot on the bench.

“I would not do that to myself. I’m too competitive,” said Sarbaugh, who also was being recruited by San Diego, Boise State, Montana and Denver. “I feel like I’ll be able to earn my time.”

Sarbaugh has some unfinished business at G-Prep to attend to first. He and senior wing Parker Kelly (14 ppg) will be called upon to help a young team develop. Six players will be new to varsity.

“They’ll have to play defense,” Sarbaugh said. “That’s what will get them playing time. All of our offense will start with our energy on defense. All of our wins will start with defense.”