Growing up just 2 miles apart on the family farm in Brewster, Wash., brothers Clay and Wade Gebbers and their cousin, Michael Taylor, were nearly inseparable.
Whether it involved work in the orchards, chores around the home or weekend and holiday get-togethers, they shared the experience – along with the other 16 first cousins, all of whom still reside in the Brewster area and help with the family farming operation.
“It’s just such a small town, and we all work and play together,” Taylor said. “And when you’re farming, it’s every single day. There’s not really an offseason … well, I guess there is the basketball season.”
Yes, there is the basketball season – that time of year when the community of Brewster raptly turns its collective attention to its high school basketball team, which won three State 1A boys championships from 2003-07, with at least one of the two Gebbers brothers or Taylor on the roster.
And it was prior to the start of the 2010-2011 basketball season that the three were reunited in the same backcourt at Whitworth, where all are major contributors on an unbeaten Pirates team (21-0 overall, 12-0 Northwest Conference) that made an unprecedented move into the No. 1 spot in the D3hoops.com top-25 poll earlier this week.
Taylor, a 6-foot-4 senior and first-year transfer from the University of Montana, leads the Bucs in scoring with an average of 18 points per game, while Clay Gebbers, a 6-1 senior, and his brother, Wade, a 5-11 sophomore, have combined to average 14.4 points and 5.2 assists.
When asked how he managed to assemble such a talented trio of guards from the same small hometown, Whitworth head coach Jim Hayford gave much of the credit to the Gebbers’ older brother, Johnny, who played for him as a Pirate in 2003-04 after transferring from Gonzaga.
“Johnny had a great experience here and then convinced Clay he should come here, too,” Hayford said. “Then Wade did what every good little brother should do – he followed his older brother here.
“It just took Michael a little longer to get it figured out. But, fortunately, he made it here, too, before graduating college.”
Taylor’s route to Whitworth was, indeed, circuitous.
After leading Brewster to a second-place finish in the 2006 State 1A tournament and being named the 1A Player of the Year, the son of Bears head coach Tim Taylor signed a letter of intent with Eastern Washington, where he was named the Big Sky Conference’s freshman of the year the following winter.
An offseason coaching change at Eastern prompted a quick, and unexpected, transfer to Montana, where Taylor redshirted in 2007-08 before spending the next two seasons as a backup guard for the Grizzlies and deciding last summer to rejoin his cousins at Whitworth.
“First off, it’s been a blast,” Taylor said of his decision to drop down to the NCAA Division III level to complete his college career. “But I never thought I was ever going to leave (EWU). You go to a school, planning to play there and have a great career, but things change – and in my situation it just happened to be twice.”
Clay and Wade both made soft-sell recruiting pitches to their cousin, who Hayford calls “the most complete basketball player I’ve ever coached,” but admit their urgings were probably not the deciding factor in getting the ultra-talented Taylor into a Whitworth uniform.
That “honor” would belong to Taylor’s wife, the former Taylor LaMoreaux, another Brewster resident who had just completed her sophomore season as a member of Whitworth’s women’s basketball team.
“I think we did play a part in his decision,” Wade Gebbers said. “But I’m not going to say we played a bigger part than Taylor. That wouldn’t be fair to her, because she’s the No. 1 reason.”
Taylor is not about to argue with the younger Gebbers’ assessment, claiming he was past ready to find a fix for his long-distance relationship with his fiancé. And he has no regrets about putting a D-III cap on his college basketball career.
“It’s been great,” Taylor said. “I get to do a lot of things for this team both offensively and defensively, and that’s more of what I was used to in high school. And these two (Clay and Wade) help a lot, because I’m so used to playing with them.
“They’re both great players, and I think we feed off each other really well.”
“With all three of them, people are always asking, ‘Are they ones (point guards) or twos (shooting guards)?’ ” Hayford said. “Well, in my opinion, all three of them are 1.5s. And that’s probably the best thing about them, is that they’re interchangeable.”
Clay Gebbers, according to Hayford, is the best defensive player in the Northwest Conference.
“He always draws the toughest (defensive) assignment, and takes great pride in holding other team’s top scorer below his average,” he said. “And it’s a rare night when the other team’s best player reaches his average when he’s playing Whitworth.”
Hayford considers Wade Gebbers to be as quick as any player in the NWC – “probably because he’s the youngest and all the other cousins were always chasing him around.
“And he’s starting to learn, now, how to change speeds and use his quickness as his strength.”
Still, it was Taylor’s decision to join his cousins at Whitworth that has had the biggest impact on the Pirates’ fortunes.
“He’s an outstanding passer. That’s what he does the best,” Hayford said of Taylor. “But at the same time, he’s nearly a 50 percent 3-point shooter, who is also great off the bounce. And people forget that he’s also a 6-4 guard, so he brings great size to the position, as well.
“We knew, with Eric Beal graduating last spring, we had room for a playmaker, and I’ve never coached a player more versatile than Michael. So we just plugged him into Eric’s spot and hoped.
“And he didn’t disappoint.”