Shantay Legans wasn’t his lively, fist-bumping self when the Eagles earned a share of the Big Sky Conference title on Thursday night.
Eastern Washington’s third-year head coach smiled more on Saturday when the Eagles downed Weber State 78-69 at Reese Court to claim the outright title, but not as much as usual.
His mother, 70-year-old Susan Legans, died on Wednesday due to health complications in the family’s hometown of Santa Barbara, California.
Legans, 38, missed the first practice of his career Wednesday after getting word of his mother’s passing. He will fly to California on Monday to attend the funeral, three days before the Eagles open conference tournament play in Boise.
“It’s been an emotional few days,” said Legans, who played college basketball at both California and Fresno State. “But I’ve been around a great group of guys and a great group of people.”
According to an obituary in the Santa Barbara News-Press, Susan “ inspired all those who knew her to make the most of each day given, filling it with love, laughter, and a little trash talk.”
Susan was a big-time hoops fan, Legans said, often calling him after games to give her two cents on the game and officiating.
“She saw me win championships as a player,” Legans said after confetti came down on Reese Court on Saturday. “I wish she could have seen this.”
In a 2002 article in the San Francisco Chronicle that reported on Legans’ transfer from California after his junior season, Susan predicted his son’s future.
“Shantay doesn’t think he’s some NBA stud or the greatest point guard to come down the pike,” Susan told the newspaper. “ But he thinks he could have a future as a player or coach, probably overseas.”
Legans, who has an impressive 41-17 Big Sky record as head coach and a 4-2 conference tournament record, said he’ll have his mother on his mind as he chases his first ticket to the Big Dance.
“She’s the type that would have hid her death from me, just so I wouldn’t be distracted,” Legans said.
EWU is now aiming for the program’s third NCAA Tournament berth, which would only happen if the Eagles win the one-bid league’s Big Sky Conference Tournament.
But if the Eagles were to get upset next week, their season would continue in the NIT, which guarantees a spot to every regular season champion that doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
EWU’s most recent NIT appearance was 2003, a year before the program clinched its first NCAA berth.
The Eagles have loftier goals than the college basketball’s second-best postseason tournament.
“The NIT is a bad word right now,” Legans said.
Peatling for MVP?
EWU senior forward Mason Peatling’s body of work in Big Sky Conference play –18.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.75 assists per game – is a big reason the Eagles cut down the nets Saturday.
The 6-foot-8 Australian forward has also won the conference’s Player of the Week award four times.
The most efficient player on the conference’s best team often earns MVP distinction.
So should Peatling win the honor next week when the all-Big Sky teams are announced?
“I believe so, yes sir,” Legans said.
When asked if he was the Big Sky MVP, Peatling sidestepped the quesiton.
“We’re the regular season champs,” Peatling answered. “I’m glad to be part of a great team, and we’re going to take it one step at a time.”
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