You can’t miss all the banners at Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Felix Friedt has one all to himself, but it’s not hanging on the wall. Every time he scores – which is often – a black, red and yellow German flag flutters from the east end of the court.
“That’s really neat, but I wish I knew who’s doing that,” said Friedt, shaking his head.
In four years at Whitworth, Friedt has figured out almost everything else, adapting to a new culture both on and off the court. A senior from Düsseldorf, Germany, he is the leader of a Pirates team that’s chasing its fifth Northwest Conference men’s basketball championship in six years.
It gets better. In May, the academic All-American will graduate with a degree in International Business. Two weeks later, he’ll marry his high school sweetheart and move on to graduate school.
The whole experience has been great, although fleeting.
“I remember being a freshman and everybody telling to make the most of it,” Friedt said. “I didn’t think so at the time, but it’s gone pretty fast.”
Adapting to American culture wasn’t too hard. Friedt had a head start in 2006 as an exchange student in Longview, Wash. He had “the perfect host family,” which included a teammate at Mark Morris High School. He also met Cassie, now his fiancee.
He returned to Germany, graduated from high school and contemplated a return to the United States. Basketball was the ticket, and several schools showed interest.
One showed more than the rest. Friedt’s decision was easy after then-Whitworth coach Jim Hayford traveled eight time zones to recruit him.
“That was pretty impressive, to be honest,” Friedt said. “I didn’t think any coach would make it out to Germany. That sealed the deal for me.”
Freshman year “was definitely an eye-opener” for the 6-foot-8 Friedt, who grew up idolizing Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
“I had to go through the practices on the defensive side and learn all the lessons and sets,” Friedt said. “Ever since the second year, I started a few games, got more comfortable.”
With Friedt at the post, the Pirates won 48 of their next 49 games and reached the Division III national tournament. In the last two years, Whitworth went 52-5.
“I can’t remember a play where he didn’t execute the play correctly,” Hayford said.
Last year’s team was one of Whitworth’s best. Friedt’s teammates included Michael Taylor, the Division III national player of the year; David Riley, the fourth-leading scorer in Whitworth history; and Clay Gebbers, considered one of the best on-ball defenders in recent Northwest Conference history. All were seniors.
“The success is nothing I would have ever dreamed of,” said Friedt, who averaged 12.4 points and 7.4 rebounds and was an all-NWC second-team selection.
The Pirates’ season ended in the Division III quarterfinals. It also turned out to be the last game for Hayford, now the head coach at Eastern Washington.
“I didn’t expect it,” Friedt said of the coaching change, “But it was well-deserved for Coach, in my opinion.”
Still, that meant a senior year with a new coach and starting lineup.
“I wasn’t thrilled about that at first. But I had to embrace it.”
New coach Matt Logie could sympathize. As a senior at Lehigh, he too had to cope with a coaching change in his senior year.
“He wants to have the best senior year he can,” said Logie, adding that Friedt took up the leadership role by “dragging the guys to the gym and leading by example.”
This year, Friedt is averaging 16.8 points (third in the NWC) and nine rebounds (first) as the Pirates lead the conference by two games entering this week’s homestand against Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran.
“We know we have a target on our backs, but we’re not afraid of it,” Friedt said.
Other teams are focusing on Friedt, who often has to kick the ball back out as opponents collapse on him.
“It’s tough,” Logie said, “because he works so hard to get the ball inside, but he’s taken that in stride. He’s also become a better passer.”
That’s been a part of the Pirates’ success as they chase another championship banner.