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Eastern Washington University Basketball

Eastern Washington basketball coach Shantay Legans reflects on career during Northwest Passages virtual forum

Shantay Legans has racked up wins at an impressive clip at Eastern Washington.

The fourth-year head basketball coach ranks third all time in Big Sky Conference winning percentage (.732) and has the Eagles (12-6, 11-2 Big Sky) on the cusp of back-to-back conference titles.

Legans, the reigning Big Sky Coach of the Year, led EWU to the Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game in 2018 and 2019 before winning the regular-season title in 2020.

But the coronavirus pandemic took away the Eagles’ chance at a possible third NCAA Tournament appearance last season, leaving the 39-year-old Legans still in pursuit of the Cheney program’s ultimate goal.

Legans, who appeared on a live Q&A segment of Northwest Passages on Thursday, has had intimate experiences with “The Big Dance” as a player.

Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review

He was a three-year starting point guard at California, which qualified for the NCAA Tournament his sophomore and junior seasons in 2001 and 2002.

The former scrappy, undersized facilitator (5-foot-10) reflected on his college career on Northwest Passages, recalling when the Bears locked up with some of the best teams in the country in the then-loaded Pac-10 Conference.

“We faced Arizona and Stanford, who were at that point No. 1 in the country. UCLA and USC were in the top 15. My junior year we were vying for a Pac-10 (now Pac-12) championship.” Legans said.

“Playing against the top talent in the country was something to behold. You didn’t really know (the gravity of the situation) because you just thought that was what it was supposed to be like. But as you get older, you begin relishing those times, miss those playing days, waking up and playing with those guys and that’s something I miss dearly.”

In a Pac-10 littered with future NBA draft picks, Legans, who admittedly wasn’t the greatest athlete coupled with his size disadvantage, used his fortitude to flourish.

“You had to play with a certain kind of edge. You had to be a little crazy to be a point guard at that size and that level,” Legans said. “My teammates would probably tell you I was little out there sometimes in the games, because I was so intense and so focused on winning.”

When former Arizona State star Eddie House tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s (then known as Lew Alcinder’s) Pac-10 single-game record of 61 points, Legans had a career-high 28 points in the Bears’ 111-108 loss on Jan. 8, 2000.

In a lopsided loss to rival Stanford, Legans had his lone collegiate dunk. Legans, who played his senior season at Fresno State, downplayed the shot.

“They will say I did,” Legans said. “It was more of a ‘grazer,’ like my players call it in (video game) NBA 2K, but we were down 51 points, so it didn’t really matter. … By that point, the game got switched over (on TV networks) and nobody was watching anymore.”

EWU wraps up its regular season on Wednesday and Friday when it hosts Idaho State (12-8, 7-4) at Reese Court.