In pick-up games with youthful opposition, 70-year-old Jon Heimbigner plays a cerebral brand of basketball, often conserving energy, using screens and patiently waiting for the open look.
Fifty-two years removed from his senior year at Odessa High – he once led the Tigers to the state tournament as a 6-foot-1 center – Heimbigner can barely get off the ground, and he isn’t beating defenders off the dribble.
He’s in better shape than the overwhelming majority of men his age, though, helping the 100-miles-a-month runner become the gritty defender that’s earned more than a dozen gold medals at the Washington State Senior Games.
“God has given me a body I have kept in pretty good shape. My knees, hips and ankles are good,” said Heimbigner, a player/coach who will be sending four senior men’s basketball teams to this weekend’s senior games in Olympia. “I’m a decent shooter and pretty good defender. Defense is the ultimate equalizer.”
For the last 20 years, Heimbigner, a Spokane men’s league regular, has assembled senior games teams loaded with former local high school and college stars, each wanting to play the game as long their body allows.
In 1998, Heimbigner’s squad took second in the world, he said, when the format was regulation 5-on-5 basketball. The format for the four teams in four senior age groups this weekend is 3-on-3.
Past rosters have included Ron Cox, Eastern Washington’s former all-time leading scorer, and Jim Thacker, a former Idaho guard who later coached at Walla Walla and Lake City high schools.
Teams from the four age groups headed to Olympia this weekend also boast some recognizable names, including former Washington State star Dan Steward, making his 16th senior games appearance.
Former Deer Park star Doug Watson, who went on to play at Montana Western, is on a team with former Reardan star Jack Soliday, two men with a combined 25 years of Washington State Senior Games experience.
Watson once scored 50 points in a game at Deer Park, Heimbigner said, and he can still score in bunches. Soliday, a hoops-rich namesake in Reardan, went on to play at Centralia College. Soliday, 69, hasn’t strayed from the hardwood, despite a car accident last year that severely injured his shoulder.
“A lot of these guys I am playing with and against now, I was playing with them 45 years ago,” Soliday said. “There’s camaraderie. We have fun, even through the aches and pains.”
Heimbigner, who is playing in the oldest age division (70-74), is teamed up with former Spokane Community College player Harvey Depew. His team’s age groups have collectively won 32 golds, three silvers and a bronze.
“Most of these guys are tough defenders,” Heimbigner said. “And when you go to the senior games, some good players aren’t in as good as shape, and we can take advantage of that.”
The teams, which go by the moniker Papermill Printing, begin their games Saturday at Olympia High School.
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