Freshman from Australia gives Whitworth an all-around boost when he comes in off the bench
He stands on the side, clapping, as the five starters are introduced to the raucous cheers of the Whitworth faithful.
But it only takes until the first timeout before Pirates coach Matt Logie reaches halfway across the world for the lanky, black-haired freshman to run out and change the pace of the game.
Sydney, Australia, native Christian Jurlina, a 19-year-old wing or shooting guard or power forward – depending on the moment – is the kind of player who fuels a program like Whitworth to win five consecutive Northwest Conference championships.
So how does a Division III program find a player like Jurlina halfway around the world and convince him to come to Spokane? Actually, he found them, with the help of a rival.
“It was a unique recruitment,” Logie said. “We hadn’t met until he got off the plane” at Spokane International Airport.
Asked when he had his official visit to Whitworth, Jurlina deadpanned: “I had not been on campus. The day I arrived was the first day of school.”
Fast forward to the game on Jan. 31 against Northwest Conference foe Willamette. The Whitworth starters struggled to hit their shots, which allowed the overmatched Bearcats to remain in the game.
Jurlina then started driving to the basket. He stepped out and hit 3-pointers. He fought for loose balls and rebounds and carried the Pirates to an 87-58 victory. Jurlina’s 29 points that night were the most of any Pirate all season, and it matched the points from the five starting players, combined.
“The game has really slowed down for him the last couple of months,” Logie said. “The talent was certainly all there. What he’s done well is utilize it. That allows him to be aggressive but under control.”
Jurlina grew up playing basketball in a country crazy about Australian rules football and rugby.
He averaged better than 19 points and six rebounds a game in leading his high school team to consecutive championships in 2011 and 2012.
He then played for the New South Wales U20 team and averaged 22.5 a game in a series of contests against the Chinese U17 national team.
Jurlina wanted to play in college, so he and his father started sending his highlight video to schools in the states.
It didn’t take long to get some feelers from some Division I schools.
“Initially, I wanted to go to Davidson. But the head coach needed a point guard and I was off the list,” Jurlina said. “The other schools were not up to the academic standards of Whitworth.”
But how does a player go from nearly heading to a team that ousted Gonzaga from the NCAA tournament in 2008 to a Division III school in North Spokane? Jurlina said he asked a friend for a recommendation.
Jurlina is friends with Philip Circu, a 6-7 sophomore from Ryde, Australia, who plays at Whitworth’s Northwest Conference rival Whitman College.
Circu “recommended that I try Whitworth,” he said.
So just a few weeks before school started, Jurlina first talked with Logie about becoming a Pirate.
“I got an email from his father in May. He sent video of his games. I really liked what I saw,” Logie said. “There was something about him that just stood out. Certainly, the fact that Davidson felt strongly enough to evaluate him gives it some validity.”
So Jurlina committed without having seen Spokane.
“Coach Logie said it didn’t matter if you were a freshman or a senior. If you are a good player, you will play,” he said. “It seemed like a great opportunity.”
So, he landed in the Lilac City and took a tour of campus on the first day of fall classes.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “Obviously, living half way around the world is daunting. But everything is sweet. Everyone is supportive. I’m enjoying myself a lot.”
Jurlina keeps in touch with his family through his computer.
“To be honest, I haven’t been homesick once. I’m enjoying it that much. Naturally, you miss family and friends back home. We use Skype,” he said. “It’s the next best thing.”
On the hardwood, it hasn’t taken Jurlina long to learn Logie’s system.
Even though he doesn’t start and still makes the occasional mistake, Jurlina averages 10.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, third on the team in both categories.
Logie said he likes to bring his Aussie connection off the bench for a spark offensively and defensively, because he can guard every position.
Jurlina explained that when he was 11, he was very tall for his age. So he started the game by playing center. As other players grew taller, Jurlina began switching positions until he eventually played guard.
“It gave me the opportunity to guard all the positions. That has helped me now,” he said.
Jurlina said he will use the next four years to earn a degree in kinesiology. He also has a 16-year-old sister who is the MVP of her team.
Another future Pirate? “I can ask,” he said, laughing.
Logie said the search for players never stops.
“Recruiting is the life blood of every championship program,” he said. “Our staff has done an excellent job … finding prospects that fit our program.”
Even when the prospect finds them.
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