When Garrett Hull went down near the 3-point line and clutched his leg, he recognized immediately he had again done real damage to his right knee.
It was the same knee that had been surgically repaired when he was a junior in high school, after he suffered what he called “the real deal”: tears to his ACL and meniscus. Hull recovered from that, returned for his senior year at Ellensburg High School and played basketball and baseball for Community Colleges of Spokane for two seasons before transferring to Whitworth in 2017.
But the injury he suffered in November 2018 on the Fieldhouse floor was particularly crucial for the Whitworth men, who were at the time ranked 14th nationally in Division III basketball.
That team went on to win 21 games but none of its three matchups with Whitman, including the Northwest Conference Tournament title game that sent the Blues – and not the Pirates – to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Playing with Kyle (Roach) and all those guys, you wonder always: What if I was out there?” Hull said this week. “Yeah, I definitely missed being out there, but it brought me to this year.”
And that has been a pretty good consolation for the Pirates’ guard.
This year, the Pirates are NWC co-champions with Linfield and have secured the top seed in the four-team conference tournament, which begins Thursday night.
Whitworth (20-5) hosts Pacific Lutheran (14-11) at 7 p.m. at the Fieldhouse, while Linfield (20-5) hosts third-seeded Whitman (18-7) in the other semifinal. The championship game will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, hosted by the highest remaining seed.
On a personal level, this year – officially Hull’s last of eligibility – gives Hull a chance to accomplish what he and the Pirates weren’t able to a season ago, and it allows him to be seen as the leader he didn’t need to be in the shadow of the four seniors on last year’s squad.
“It definitely (feels) for me that I had two senior years,” Hull said, “but it’s good. I kinda like it.”
Hull made his first start of the season on Dec. 16 against Mary Washington and has started all 18 games since then. He averages the second-most minutes (27.3) on the team and leads the Pirates in rebounding (6.1 per game) despite being listed at 6-foot-1.
“I think it helps a lot that he’s athletic and gritty,” senior Sam Lees said. “When there’s a ball that he wants, he’s gonna go get it. He just wants things more than most players on the floor.”
Hull’s 9.3 points per game are fourth most among Pirates regulars. He essentially took the place of Jordan Lester, who was averaging 11.4 points per game before he suffered a season-ending knee injury five games in.
It was the second time in three seasons that Hull had stepped in for Lester. Two years ago, Lester went down with a meniscus injury in the ninth game of the season, and Hull started the remaining 19 games, including a playoff loss to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Lester returned to his starting role in 2018-19, and Hull went back to the bench only to see his season end after five games – the only five Lester and Hull have played together in their three seasons at Whitworth.
When Hull was healthy, he was employed to bring instant energy, particularly on the defensive end. So when first-year coach Damion Jablonski set out to bolster the team’s defense this season, it helped considerably that Hull returned.
“He’s all grit and heart, and his perseverance to get back from his injury as he did is pretty inspiring,” Jablonski said. “He’s always brought his heart and passion and toughness to the game, and so those intangibles are huge strengths.”
As a team, Whitworth has allowed 75.1 points per game this year compared to 81.6 a year ago. One of its best defensive efforts came on Jan. 3 at home against Pacific Lutheran in a 75-59 win, the Pirates’ first of two wins over the Lutes this season.
The Lutes, who are 0-6 against the other three NWC Tournament teams but 10-0 against the conference’s five others, boast the best scoring defense (71.3) and opponent field-goal percentage (41.9) among the nine NWC teams. But they also average the second-fewest points, at 76.9 per game.
In three seasons, Hull has played with two conference players of the year in the since-graduated Roach (who won the award in 2017-18) and current senior Ben College, who was named Wednesday as the recipient of the Northwest Conference’s top individual honor.
Because of that, Hull hasn’t needed to be the scorer like he was in high school. But teammates said his mentorship in all sorts of other ways has been crucial to the Pirates’ success.
“You never wish something like that (injury) on someone, but I am very thankful to have him this year,” Lees said of Hull. “He’s one of the best teammates you could ask for.”
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