Community Colleges of Spokane coach Jeremy Groth identifies with obscurity better than most.
He continues to make the best of it.
Before helping Concordia of Irvine, California, reach back-to-back NAIA national title games in the early 2000s, Groth once set the Washington state all-time scoring mark from his tiny Curlew outpost.
The buzz-cut sharpshooter totaled 2,447 points in his career, lighting up several scoreboards in crackerbox gymnasiums around the Panaroma League.
Twenty years later, Groth’s CCS squad is led by a self-made sophomore with an even humbler background.
When the Sasquatch (17-3, 7-0 East Region) play top-ranked North Idaho (18-1, 6-0) on Wednesday night in their annual “Border Battle” at NIC’s Rolly Williams Court, CCS will be paced by North Idaho Christian School’s Garrett White, who has grown into one of the Northwest Athletic Conference’s most productive players.
White (22.2 points, 8.3 rebounds per game) was homeschooled and opted to play for the small Hayden school, an allegiance borne from older brothers and sisters who also competed for NICS, a member of the Mountain Christian League.
NICS plays its home games at nearby Holy Family Catholic School against the likes of Hayden’s Christian Center, Spokane Classical Christian and others. There is no state tournament at that level.
White, a 6-foot-5 small forward who also didn’t play for any of the area’s AAU teams, was virtually unknown to Groth, who, despite his extensive area prep basketball knowledge, admittedly hadn’t heard of North Idaho Christian.
“Other guys you might hear about or see their names in the newspaper or something,” said Groth, whose team advanced to the NWAC Tournament semifinals last season. “Especially when they’re only 30 miles away. But he kind of came out of nowhere.”
In his lone game against a relatively bigger North Idaho school, White poured in 32 points in a nonleague victory against 3A member Priest River, adding 12 rebounds and three blocks.
“I always felt like I had something to prove because I came from a really small school and nobody really heard of me,” White said. “I didn’t really think college basketball was a possibility until about my senior year.
“I’m not sure anyone from the Mountain Christian League has ever played college basketball.”
Eastern Washington coach Shantay Legans informed Groth about White months after he graduated high school and played in an EWU open gym.
Legans liked White’s ability, White said, but thought a couple years of junior college basketball would go a long way. When Groth invited White to a CCS open gym after Legans’ call, White swiftly proved he belonged.
“I played good defense that day,” White recalled. “I didn’t shoot too well, but coach (Groth) wanted to get the recruiting process rolling and sign me.”
White made a smooth adjustment, averaging 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds as a freshman last season.
White, who says he spends around five hours a day sharpening his craft in various gyms, is even more efficient as a sophomore.
He ranks second in the NWAC in total points (421) and field-goal percentage (50.7%), fifth in free-throw percentage (88.2%) and is 10th in total rebounds (158). White has also hit 41 of his 103 3-point attempts (39%).
“He doesn’t have a real smooth-looking shot, but he’s a great shooter,” Groth said. “He can get to the rim and posts well at our level and he’s a mismatch defensively.”
White scored a career-high 38 points against Everett earlier this season and had 31 against Chemeketa and Centralia.
Several NAIA and NCAA Division II schools have shown interest in White, according to Groth.
“He’s just a winner. He’s an extremely hard worker who has a chip on his shoulder,” Groth said.
White points to a higher power.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at if God hadn’t put me there,” White said. “God has blessed me tremendously and the reason I work as hard as I do is because I don’t want to waste the gifts He’s given to me.”
Cardinals still rolling
NWAC sanctions haven’t slowed down the NIC men’s team.
The top-ranked Cardinals are cruising past NWAC foes and also own wins over NJCAA members College of Southern Idaho, Snow College, Central Arizona and Cochise.
The Cardinals won back-to-back NWAC Tournament championships in 2018 and 2019, but the titles were vacated after NIC was hit with league violations last summer, including student-athlete benefits that involved housing.
The program was also hit with a reduction in student-athlete grants and aid for three years, and head coach Corey Symons was suspended for the first 10 games of the season.
NIC is also banned from the 2020, 2021 and 2022 NWAC Tournaments.
The Cardinals, who send their best players to the NCAA Division I level on an almost annual basis, returned a wealth of experience from last season, including one-time Washington commit Nate Pryor (15.2 ppg).
NIC also added Division I transfers to its roster this season, including guards Christian Guess (Missouri) and Joey Naccarato (UMass-Lowell).
NIC handled rival CCS in both of its meetings last season, including 96-67 in Coeur d’Alene and 99-65 in Spokane.
The last time CCS beat NIC was Feb. 17, 2018, a 107-87 decision in Spokane.
“NIC is still a very talented team and it should be a battle,” Groth said.
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