For Shawn Stockton, basketball has always been about family.
Along the way, the family got bigger and so did the stage.
Pickup games with brothers and cousins in Spokane … two state title teams with the same close-knit group at Ferris High School … and finally another NCAA tournament with a new band of brothers at the University of Montana.
“As a senior I can’t pick a better way to go out,” said Stockton, a guard on the Grizzlies’ Big Sky championship team who will be playing in his second NCAA tournament in three years.
The Grizzlies open the tournament today in Albuquerque, N.M., against Wisconsin.
“It’s an ultimate goal and one of the reasons I came here,” Stockton said. “I knew I’d have a chance here.”
Family helped with that, but Stockton will slam-dunk the notion that a foam basketball and net came standard in every boy’s crib.
“There was no pressure to even play sports – ever – but you are around it constantly,” said Stockton, whose older brother Steve played football and basketball at Whitworth. Cousin David plays at Gonzaga, and younger brother Riley is on the court at Seattle Pacific.
“We’ve been blessed athletically,” said Stockton, whose uncle John also played a bit. “But from day one (parents Steve and Mary Ann) installed the hard-work ethic. And we’re all pretty good students.”
Basketball wasn’t Stockton’s first choice.
“It was football all the way,” he said. “Then I got hurt my junior year and had a really good basketball season.”
Better than good, actually. Stockton was the MVP of the State 4A tournament, helping Ferris to the first of two straight titles. A year later, the Saxons did it again, completing an astonishing 58-0 run that broke a decades-old state record for consecutive wins at the big-school level.
He still stays in touch with former teammates Jeff Minnerly, Jared Karstetter and others, and they even share a Facebook page.
“We talk constantly,” Stockton said.
All five starters moved on to college sports, but only Stockton is still playing college basketball.
“One of the reasons we recruited him was his level of toughness and competitiveness,” said Montana coach Wayne Tinkle, also a Ferris alum. “We knew he could run the show on the floor, but our level of competiveness was a deficiency of ours, and I think you can parallel that each year with Shawn, our teams have gotten more and more tough.”
The adjustment to Division I was tough on Stockton, but he settled into the role of being the first or second player off the Grizzlies’ bench.
“Going into (college ball) I know it was a big step,” Stockton said. “But you really get an appreciation of players who are that good. And if you don’t work hard you’re not going to get on the court.”
He’s been there plenty, starting 16 games in his career and averaging just over two points a game while averaging 15 minutes on the court.
Tinkle sees him as a steady presence off the bench, and sometimes more.
Against Eastern Washington last week in the Big Sky tournament, Stockton helped rally the Grizzlies in the second half with a huge 3-pointer from the corner that brought a big cheer at Dahlberg Arena.
“That was unreal, and that’s by far the loudest it’s been,” said Stockton, whose team beat Weber State the following night for the Big Sky’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Along the way he’s found a new family: Montana teammates Will Cherry, Art Steward and Mathias Ward share a place off campus, while other players frequently drop by.
Which begs the question: How does Stockton compare these two winning experiences?
“It’s two completely different things,” he said. “You made a different run. But there is a chemistry that we have on both teams. Everybody hangs together and learns how to get along.”
Meanwhile, his parents “have seen every game they could” – and perhaps some they shouldn’t.
“My dad would drive over from Spokane after work for a game, then drive back the same night, even when it was icy,” Stockton said. “That was cool, but I did worry sometimes.”
And when it’s over?
“Eventually I will look back and see what a great ride it here and I wouldn’t change that for anything,” Stockton said.
He will graduate this year with a degree in business marketing, but hasn’t ruled out coaching. Neither has Tinkle, who credits Stockton with “a great understanding of the game.”
“I want to stay involved in sports as much as I can,” Stockton said.