Winter or summer, Jeffrey Forbes loves to drive the lane.
A 1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo sits in the family garage back in Federal Way, Wash. It needs a little TLC, but so do the young players on the Eastern Washington basketball team. For now, they come first.
“They’re looking at me as a leader and to follow my direction,” said Forbes, a senior guard and a model student-athlete who hopes to reach the finish line this season with another trip to the Big Sky Tournament.
Last year, it was Forbes who punched the Eagles’ ticket into Big Sky semifinals with a forceful steal in the waning seconds of a quarterfinal playoff game against Idaho State.
“That was a great memory,” Forbes said.
He hopes to build a few more in his last two months as an Eagle, starting with tonight’s home game against Northern Arizona. The Eagles, 1-3 in the conference, are chasing a repeat trip in the Big Sky Tournament and will count on the dependable Forbes to help get them there.
It starts in practice, which Forbes likens to the garage back home.
“You have to keep going hard at it in practices, like a tuneup,” Forbes said. “And you need to use the right gas.
“Then you just get out there for games and ride.”
It doesn’t hurt that Forbes offers a special additive: A winning attitude from his days at Federal Way, which he led to a state title in 2009.
“Jeff does a great job of staying positive, but even if he has a poor shooting night he accepts the role of keeping his chin up and having others do the same,” coach Jim Hayford said of a player who has played 106 games in his career and could break Marc Axton’s eight-year-old record of 119 by the time the season ends.
Along the way, Forbes has scored 920 points, ranks ninth in school history with 109 career steals and is fourth in 3-point shots made (159) and attempted (424). As a sophomore he set the single-season record for free-throw accuracy, hitting 54 of 60 attempts for a 90 percent mark.
He also made 55 3-pointers in the 2010-11 season – 13th-most in Eastern history.
“He knows what it takes to win and his work ethic is outstanding,” Hayford said. “He shoots the ball well, plays hard and has tremendous speed.”
So does the pace of a college basketball career, which Forbes says has gone by faster than he’d planned.
Halfway through, the Eagles hired Hayford, an adjustment that was smoother than expected.
“I think (the transition) has gone well,” Forbes said.
“He’s a player’s coach. He lets you play your game and he relates to us as human beings as well as players.”
That could apply to Forbes’ larger experience at Eastern. Basketball was the pitch during recruiting, but Forbes is sold on the small classrooms and the overall academic experience. He will graduate this spring with a degree in communications and a minor in African-American studies.
After that? Forbes will go into the job market, but first will give the pros a shot.
“It’s a lifelong dream,” he said.
And when that sweet ride is over, there’s another waiting in the garage.