As a 6-foot-4 point guard at his high school in California, Kyle Roach was used to being the tallest person around.
But it was clear when he first got to Whitworth that he would be looking up a lot more often, specifically in his dorm room, which he would share with Ben Bishop.
“I wasn’t used to a lot of height and big people, so I walked into the dorms with my dad, and (Bishop) was with his dad, who is also a very large man,” Roach said of the 6-foot-8 Bishop, who he’d never met before. “I thought, ‘I’m pretty sure that’s my roommate.’ ”
They’re still roommates 3 1/2 years later, a run that is nearing its end. While they plan to live in the same house the rest of the semester, each basketball game could be their last together as the two captain the Pirates into the Northwest Conference Tournament semifinals against Linfield on Thursday night at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
As two of three freshman recruits that year – CJ Johnson, now a student assistant coach, was the other – Bishop and Roach were expected to play significant roles off the bench immediately, and they did. Bishop averaged 11.5 minutes per game, and Roach 16 in their freshman seasons.
The expectation they would get to play right away was a big draw for both: Bishop from Olympia High School, Roach from Marin Academy in Marinwood, California.
“We both came in having a good idea we would get minutes,” Bishop said. “That experience in tough situations in our first two years helped us moving into leadership roles.”
Bishop’s teams in high school weren’t particularly successful, but he averaged 10.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a senior and attracted the attention of George Fox, Carroll College and Whitworth.
“Ben has been everything we thought he would be in terms of an anchor in the low post, smart, physical defender, and a very trustworthy anchor on both sides of the ball,” said Matt Logie, in his eighth year as Whitworth head coach.
Bishop has started all 52 of Whitworth’s games the past two seasons, and this year leads the team in blocks with 20. He averages 7.8 points per game and shoots 66.1 percent from the field.
Roach ran the point for his high school team. Whitworth coaches first took official notice of him during his junior year.
As a high school senior, Roach started scoring more, from 25.8 points per game as a junior to 35.8 as a senior. He also grabbed 9.8 rebounds per contest in his final season.
“He was putting up ridiculous scoring numbers,” Logie said. “Here we have a 6-4 point guard, and all of a sudden we’ve got a 6-4 scorer that’s capable of playing point guard. That’s one of the reasons you’ve seen his ceiling so high.”
Last year, Roach was a Division III All-America selection and the Northwest Conference Player of the Year, an honor that went to Whitman’s Austin Butler this season. This week Roach, who averages 17.8 points per game this year, was named to the NWC first team along with Whitworth junior Ben College.
Roach and Bishop were co-captains as juniors and have been again as seniors.
In their four seasons the Pirates are 93-16, including three NCAA Division III Tournament appearances.
But that tournament streak – which, for the program, is 12 seasons – is in jeopardy.
Whitworth (20-5 overall, 12-4 NWC) is ranked No. 7 in the West, one of eight regions from which the NCAA pulls its 20 at-large bids.
If the Pirates beat Linfield (17-8, 10-6) for the third time this season and win Saturday’s conference championship game – against either top-seeded Whitman (24-1, 16-0) or fourth-seeded Puget Sound (12-13, 8-8) – they would claim the NWC’s automatic bid.
But if they don’t, the selection committee would need to dig deeper into the rankings than it has recently for the Pirates to get in the 64-team field.
Either way, Roach and Bishop are nearing the end of their college careers. Roach said he hopes to play basketball abroad next year. Bishop, an international business major, is open to various options.
“It’s gonna be weird not living with him because we’ve gotten so used to it,” Roach said. “But I think it will be exciting to see where we go in life, and I’m sure we’ll stay in contact and be there for each other in the big moments.”
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