Coming home wasn’t a tough decision for Jared Christy – it just took him a few years to get around to it.
The Spokane native found himself back in the middle of some fond memories this season when he left the Pacific Lutheran basketball team to play at Whitworth. Christy, a former Ferris High forward, is now playing on a familiar court inside the Whitworth Fieldhouse in front of family and friends.
It took him two years at PLU and a year off from basketball at Washington State before Christy finally found a reason to come back to his roots, and what he found in Spokane was a few old teammates from Ferris who never left.
One of his closest friends, Cody Benzel, hasn’t yet retired his basketball jersey. After high school, Benzel stayed local and found a spot on the Eastern Washington roster.
“It’s been really nice to be able to come back here and play basketball and have my good friend here,” Christy said.
Benzel and Christy were friends on different teams before they came into Ferris together in the 2010-2011 season. In their final year, the pair helped the Saxons win the district championship game against Gonzaga Prep, who had already defeated Ferris twice that season for the Greater Spokane League title.
“That was kind of our claim to fame in high school,” Benzel said.
Now back together near their old stamping grounds, the pair of college athletes are finding it hard to catch up in between two basketball schedules they no longer share. For the majority of the season, both Christy and Benzel have struggled to get any days away from their own teams to watch the other play.
“Our practices have usually been at night and we both usually have games on the weekends, so it’s been tough to actually go watch each other,” Christy said. “But we’ve been checking up on each other to see how we’re doing.”
Benzel was finally handed a night off in Cheney last month when Christy’s former team at PLU visited the Fieldhouse for a conference showdown with the Pirates. Benzel brought along another friend from the old Ferris squad – Cole Karstetter, who left basketball to play football at EWU.
It was the first time the two Eagles had seen their one-time teammate play since high school.
“That was fun,” Benzel said. “It was fun to catch up and actually see him play in person.”
A lot has changed about Christy since he and Benzel rubbed shoulders on the high school court four years ago, particularly Christy’s 6-foot-6, 218-pound frame.
“He was kind of a late bloomer,” Benzel said. “He was tiny and then he just hit this massive growth spurt. He’s huge now.”
With a few more inches comes a bit more confidence on the college courts. Christy, who currently leads the Northwest Conference with 9.3 rebounds per game, was a decent rebounder for the Saxons, but Benzel said after watching him play against PLU, it was clear that Christy’s confidence at the rim has been through the roof.
“He’s got a lot more aggressive, I’d say,” Benzel said. “He really attacks the basket.”
Benzel was hoping to catch at least one more game at Whitworth, but he wasn’t sure last week if he’d be in the stands to watch Christy in his next home game on Tuesday. Fingers crossed he does make it because the Pirates are going to need all the support they can get on a night that they host the Goliath of the NWC.
Whitworth will have a rematch with the undefeated Whitman Blues, who have been the unanimous No. 1 team in the D3hoops.com poll for the entire season.
The Blues (21-0, 12-0 NWC) are riding into the Fieldhouse on an NWC-best 36-game winning streak in conference play.
The fourth-ranked Pirates (19-2, 11-1) last faced Whitman on January 9 in Walla Walla, when they fell to the Blues 91-75.
In that game, the Pirates went into halftime with a 38-32 lead, but they were outscored by 22 points in the second half. That was in part due to Whtworth’s leading scorer Kyle Roach getting into foul trouble midway through the half. With nearly 10 minutes left in the game, coach Matt Logie was forced pull his veteran.
“That really left us void of experience at a point in the game where we really needed it to build on our lead,” Logie said on Monday.
Logie said a full month in conference play has given his team, which features nine new players to the program this season, a lot more experience and confidence heading into Tuesday’s showdown.
“It’s a new 40 minutes and we’ll take what we learned from that film and apply those lessons tomorrow night,” Logie said. “Our guys are excited for the opportunity to compete with them again.”
But maybe not quite as excited as Benzel if he gets the chance to watch his friend battle against one of the best teams in Division III basketball. It could be Benzel’s last opportunity to cheer on Christy from the stands before the season ends.
Benzel and Christy both have one more year of eligibility, so they have another full season next year to come to games as each other’s fans. After that, Benzel said he wouldn’t be surprised if he, Christy and a few other Ferris alumni reunite on the court for some 3-on-3 battles.
“I’m guessing a couple of years down the road if you’re at a Spokane Hoopfest, you might be watching us playing together and on that stage,” Benzel said. “I’m sure in a couple years … you’ll see us on the center court.”