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For Northwest Christian boys, family is key ingredient

Basketball is a family business for Northwest Christian head coach Ray Ricks, left, and his son, Ryan. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Basketball is a family business for Northwest Christian head coach Ray Ricks, left, and his son, Ryan. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The Northwest Christian players are a close-knit group. They’re bound by faith, family, the game of basketball and lately by illness that struck one of their own.

The Crusaders will be wearing their emotions on their sleeves at this week’s State 2B boys tournament. During warmups, they’ll don T-shirts bearing the message, “#Micahstrong,” for teammate Micah Henry.

The junior point guard had just been promoted from the junior varsity squad when be began to feel dizzy during practice. The diagnosis: a non-cancerous brain tumor that left him tired but in good spirits.

Selflessly, Henry gave up his roster spot. Treatments begin next week, but in the meantime he’ll serve as a statistician as the Crusaders take a 24-2 record into Thursday’s quarterfinal against defending champion Morton-White Pass.

“We all love Micah – he’s a great friend and great teammate,” said junior guard Ryan Ricks. “I think it’s helped us come together as a team.”

Ricks knows more than most about basketball bonds. For much of his life, his father, Ray, has been his coach, and they’ve been together again on the court since Ryan made varsity last year.

“I love playing for my dad.” Ricks said. “Through the years, I’ve seen him coach, but he’s even better now that I’m playing for him.”

Ray Ricks has done it all for Northwest Christian. A member of the 1989 state title team, he’s coached boys basketball for 16 years. He led the Crusaders to four straight titles from 2006 to 2009, and won another championship in 2011.

Having a son on the team has been “unique,” Ricks said. “I’ve learned to keep the business on the court, and if he wants to talk basketball at home, then we’ll talk all he wants.”

“Sometimes you have to take the coaching hat off,” Ray Ricks said.

That won’t happen this week. With five starters back from a team that finished fifth at state, the Crusaders are contending for another title. Three of them are first-team all-Northeast B, including Ryan Ricks (who averages 15.1 points and four assists); senior guard David Olds (13.3 ppg) and 6-foot-7 junior post Ashe Cox (16.5 ppg and seven rebounds).

Also in the starting line-up are senior post Nathan Sander, who recently signed to play football at Montana Tech next year, and senior point guard Ian Starkey.

“This is the most complete team we’ve had in a few years,” Ray Ricks said. “We’ve done a good job – I hope at the end of the season we can say that it was a great job.”

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