College basketball hasn’t been a thing of competitive beauty in Spokane this week. But then, ’tis the season for year-end blowout sales.
But in search of underappreciated gems, a night with the jukes still comes highly recommended.
It’s our favorite feud: the Hatfields vs. the McSkys.
North Idaho College and Community Colleges of Spokane renew their compatibly incongruous relationship twice a year – once in an annual tournament that pingpongs between the Coeur d’Alene and Mission Avenue campuses, and again in sort of a moving crap game that lands at neutral sites. Used to be Gonzaga’s Kennel until they were priced out of the place; now they try to meet halfway at a high school gym in the Valley.
“We chose Washington schools because they have shot clocks,” CCS coach Clint Hull said. “We were going to do it at Post Falls last year and we didn’t catch on until late, ‘Oh, shot clocks – we need those.’
“Although after this, we might want to go into stall mode next year.”
Hull was trying to perk himself up Friday night after watching the Cardinals piledrive his Sasquatch 76-56 at West Valley High School, a serious reversal from the three-point victory CCS eked out earlier this month.
That and the records – NIC was 12-1, Spokane 11-1 – ratcheted up the intrigue enough for maybe 500 witness to show up. And blowout or not, it was not bereft of drama.
Waiting for the Sasquatch to make their first bucket was downright harrowing.
In the wild, wonderful world of juco hoops, the atmospheric swings can be radical. A year ago at Central Valley, for instance, CCS rained in 19 3-point baskets to just one for the Cardinals – and lost.
This was the night NIC became acquainted with Preston Wynne, the sweet-shooting guard from Wellpinit who had launched his college basketball career a mere six years after high school.
“It was their first game and we didn’t know who he was,” laughed NIC coach Jared Phay. “By halftime, we figured out he was pretty good.”
But on this night, the Sasquatch misfired on 19 of their first 21 shots of any kind, falling behind 27-7.
Hounded first by Connor White and then Kwame Bates – neither of whom had any help responsibilities – Wynne struggled with the rest of his teammates, the Cardinals defenders mindful of what Phay had cautioned after Wynne had poured in 26 in the game four weeks ago.
“You don’t want to be in a close game with Spokane,” Phay said, “because Preston is going to go get you a bucket. He’s just that good. Clint can draw up whatever he wants to, but (Wynne) is going to go get the ball and he’s going to score.”
That finally proved true in a short span midway through the second half, when he worked free for three pretty midrange jumpers. But that only got the Sasquatch as close as 10 points, and it wasn’t so much a matter of getting over the hump as conquering Everest.
The Cardinals always have some racehorse guards, but it’s their finishers who truly present the challenge to CCS. For instance, even before this game was five minutes old, a 7-footer named Taj Sherman from Mercer Island, Wash., trundled off the bench for NIC and by halftime had 10 points and 11 rebounds. As it happened, that was exactly as many retrievals as the Sasquatch had.
Then there was the case of Michael Middlebrooks, a 6-foot-9 freshman from Rainier Beach who looks like 6 o’clock and plays as if on a trampoline. He had no fewer than four alley-oop dunks on feeds from another Seattle recruit, Keon Lewis – and when Lewis threw him another in the final minute, Middlebrooks was so tired he couldn’t quite catch it. But he managed to bank it in by accident anyway.
To watch a willing soul like 6-5 Marlowe Brim trying to do battle with these giants was to wonder if there is some geographic law that bans their presence on this side of the state line.
“I don’t get the same calls Jared gets,” said Hull, “but I get calls from coaches saying, ‘I got this guy leaving (a four-year school)’ or ‘My guy needs grades.’ And I say, ‘Well, I can offer him $500 tuition, but he has to find his own living and it’s not on the beach. How’s that?’ ”
They’re both junior colleges, but the full-scholarship world of NIC with a national tournament as a grail is a good bit removed from the NWAACC cocoon. And yet competition being what it is, if the Sasquatch are good in their realm, they’re likely to be a handful for NIC.
“I realize how good some of the NWAACC teams are – Spokane would compete well in our conference,” Phay said. “Getting the guys to understand that can be tough, but because we did lose to them last time, they were a little extra motivated to go.”
And now the Sasquatch are motivated.
“We hadn’t been playing our best basketball, but we were figuring out how to win,” Hull said. “To kind of be exposed for more than just a few minutes will maybe open us up to things we have to do.
“They have athletes we don’t see the rest of the year. We need that.”
It’s just hard to think they needed this.