For Whitworth basketball coach Matt Logie, it’s always been about the journey.
Last year’s trip was extraordinary, taking Logie from the East Coast back to his Northwest roots – and his first head coaching job. Along the way he got help from a strong senior class, and together they guided each other back to familiar territory – a 26-4 record and another deep run in the NCAA Division III tournament.
“From Day One we were tied at the hip,” said Logie of Whitworth’s outgoing seniors. “How my first year as a head coach went would also determine in a lot of ways how they walked away from the program feeling about their experience here at Whitworth.”
That included seniors Felix Friedt, Jack Loofburrow and Michael Taylor. They were joined in late summer – just before classes began – by Logie’s first coup as a head coach.
Junior college transfer Idris Lasisi, who had only one year of eligibility left, helped lead the Pirates to their third straight Northwest Conference title, the NWC tournament championship and their sixth straight appearance in the DIII tournament.
Getting Lasisi was more than luck, Logie said.
“We’ve worked hard to identify people who can help us, where other people might not have identified Idris as someone who can help them,” he said.
“Luck is found where talent meets opportunity.”
Once the season began, opportunity gave way to Logie’s first big challenge: injuries to forwards Loofburrow and Mack Larkin, and a loss to Montana Tech that ended Whitworth’s 41-game home-court winning streak. Larkin was out for several weeks, Loofburrow for almost two months as Logie juggled his lineup.
“Anytime you slide one chair over you go from making suggestions to making decisions, and you have a lot of eyes and looking to you for leadership,” said Logie, who was named NWC Coach of the Year.
Despite the twin burdens of injuries and expectations borne of past success, the Pirates won their first four conference games.
“The coaching staff and Matt kept the emotion running and kept them going, and for any coach that’s a great testament to his ability,” said athletic director Aaron Leetch, also in his first year at Whitworth. “They did a great job of game-planning with the players we had available and didn’t allow that (the injuries) to get to us.”
After a rare home loss to Whitman, the Pirates got back their health and their groove and won their next 13 games before losing in overtime to Virginia Wesleyan in the third round of the national tournament.
“When you look back, it’s always about the journey, but the high point for me is definitely the relationships I’ve built with these young men,” Logie said.
Now he’ll try to forge new relationships in recruiting while replacing all-NWC first-teamers Friedt (16.8 points and 8.7 rebounds a game) and Lasisi (16.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), plus key bench players Loofburrow (9.5 ppg) and Taylor (3.8 ppg).
The Pirates return three starters, including Larkin (7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg), but the leadership will come from the veteran backcourt of starters Wade Gebbers and Dustin McConnell (7.7 ppg), and sixth man Colton McCargar (4.7 ppg).
Gebbers, the Pirates’ third-leading scorer with 12.8 points a game, also averaged better than three assists.
“With Wade you never have to question his effort,” Logie said. “He thrives on the moment, and he’s not afraid of the big shot. All of our staff and players have a ton of confidence in him.”
Replacing Friedt will be a challenge, but Logie saw plenty of progress from sophomore-to-be Taylor Farnsworth, a 6-foot-8 Mead High School product who got a season’s worth of experience on the practice floor against Friedt.
“He’s worked extremely hard to put himself in position,” said Logie, who added he has “a number of good players in our program. They just have to parlay those experiences into confidence.”
Recruiting is ongoing, but Logie expects to retain assistants Damion Jablonski, Jase Wambold and Matt Melka. “By May or June we should have a good idea of who our top targets are,” said Logie, while noting that Lasisi wasn’t signed until late August. “So you never know.”
“It’s different from Division I, where you have a more hard-and-fast timeline. Our job here is to find people who may have slipped through those cracks and that fit into the culture here and are excited about the type of experience they might have at Whitworth.”