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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  Idaho basketball

College basketball 2021-22: New home, new hopes as Idaho men seek to establish identity

By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

For a team that won a single game last year and brought in nine new players, the star of the Idaho Vandals’ early season will be their unique new home, the Idaho Central Credit Union Arena.

Until all the newly minted Vandals can establish an identity equal to their dramatic new venue, the building beats the ballers. Where things go from there, however, is in the hands of a bunch of first-year players and several holdovers who will determine the trajectory of Idaho’s program.

Vandals coach Zac Claus expects this season’s team to be more explosive and to have an easier time scoring and playing at varying tempos than last year’s group that was able to keep many games close but struggled mightily to score points, especially in up-tempo games.

Idaho is also going to be long on experience. The Vandals have added graduate transfers in 6-foot-2 guard Mikey Dixon from Grand Canyon University, 6-5 Jemeil King from Bellevue University and 6-3 Nolan Bertain, a Portland native who most recently played at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

“He’s a great shooter. He can knock down the 3-point shot. He brings maturity, and he’s a great teammate,” Claus said of Bertain.

Grand Canyon also gave the Vandals a junior transfer, Rashad Smith, a sturdy 6-4, 200-pounder.

“He’s arguably our best defensive guy,” Claus said. Also, “he’s the best passer on the team.

“The older guys bring offensive dynamics and physicality to the team,” Claus said.

Dixon “is as accomplished a scorer as we have.”

Dixon has been around. He played a season at Quinnipiac, a season at St. John’s and two at Grand Canyon before finding his way to Idaho. He’s a reliable 3-point shooter, who might pair well with sophomore Gabe Quinnett, 6-4, of Moscow, who averaged almost 10 points a game on 43.9% shooting from 3-point range last season. Claus said Idaho will “absolutely rely on” Quinnett for leadership.

The Vandals also return 6-10, 260-pound Tanner Christensen, from University High School in Spokane Valley. He was the leading rebounder last season, averaging 4.3 per game, and he gave the Vandals a presence in the lane, shooting 48.2% from the floor.

“He did a nice job out of the chute,” Claus said.

Christensen gives Idaho experience far beyond his class ranking, since he picked up his basketball career last season following a two-year LDS mission. Another returning player, Ethan Kilgore, 6-5, 210, should build on his 4.1 points per game scoring and 2.3 rebounds as a freshman.

In the paint, the Vandals are also looking to 6-7, 245-pound Philip Pepple, a junior from Shoreline, Washington., who played a couple years of junior college ball at Casper (Wyo.) College and a season at Southern Illinois University before coming to Idaho.

“He’s big and strong. He’s a physical presence who can protect the rim and rebound,” Claus said.

Trevante Anderson, a 6-1 junior transfer from Tacoma who played three seasons at San Francisco, and King, 6-5, give the Vandals an ability to get to the basket from the perimeter.

“I like these guys,” Claus said. “We have guys that have the potential to accomplish really good things.”

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