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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘We are here to compete’: Idaho introduces Alex Pribble as new men’s basketball coach

Idaho basketball coach Alex Pribble talks during an introductory press conference at ICCU Arena in Moscow, Idaho on Monday.  (Courtesy of Idaho Athletics)
By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – The urgency for the University of Idaho to get from here to there was graphically illustrated by this:

While Gonzaga advances in the NCAA Tournament, the Washington State women bask in the lesser joy of having played in the tournament, and the WSU and Eastern Washington University men at least have the NIT on their résumé, Idaho has not had a winning record since the 2017-18 season when the Vandals went 22-9 .

So, the expansive club room at the UI’s ICCU Arena was full of hopeful fans, athletics department staff, press and players as new Vandals’ coach Alex Pribble was introduced Monday.

Pribble, associate head coach at Seattle University the past four years, helped the Redhawks to back-to-back 20-win seasons. Before that, at St. Martins, in Lacey, Washington, he took over a program that had gone 6-22 the previous year and compiled four straight winning seasons and two consecutive trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament, including reaching the Sweet 16 in 2019.

In his introductory press conference, he cautioned against expecting a quick fix in Moscow. But he promised “we are here to compete for championships.” Pribble said of the UI leaders who hired him, “I appreciate their belief in me. I am not going to let them down.”

Idaho Athletics Director Terry Gawlik said Pribble was a search committee’s unanimous selection among “50 highly qualified candidates,” including four who interviewed for the position. Because the UI must seek board of regents approval to offer five-year contracts, Gawlik said Pribble’s contract “will start with (a three-year deal) that will morph into a five.” The salary is competitive with the top of the Big Sky Conference, she said.

Pribble, 37, said coaching the Vandals culminates a 10-year journey to become a Division I head coach.

“It felt like the right fit from the start,” he said of the Idaho position.

The Vandals will space the floor and play fast on offense. “It will be rare to see two players on the court who don’t shoot the basketball,” he said.

However, Pribble said, “the biggest difference will be on the defensive end. We will compete and be physical and passionate on both ends of the floor.”

While he acknowledged the importance of the transfer portal in building teams now, Pribble said he was more interested in retaining players he recruits. These players must be successful academically and talented athletically and they must exhibit high character. He pointed out that at both St Martin’s and Seattle University his teams had a 100% graduation rate.

He said success in games at Idaho will rise from a culture of success in the classroom, on the practice court and in the community – a culture that will be built a day at a time. While he expects the Vandals to mirror his own playing career at the University of California, Berkeley, where he advanced from being a walk-on to a scholarship player who took part in 76 games by competing fiercely, he also wants the Vandals “to play with joy.”

Pribble said he was familiar with the Big Sky Conference and has “the utmost respect” for the league’s player talent and the coaching.

He touched on diversity as a valuable attribute in building a team. Idaho may be unique among Division I schools in having an enduring relationship with the Northwest’s tribes. Titus Yearout, from the Nez Perce Tribe in Lapwai, redshirted with the Vandals this past season, and in recent years, Chance Garvin and Trevon Allen, who were both enrolled Umatilla tribal members, had successful playing careers at Idaho. The university celebrates the regional tribes annually at a home game.

“That is something I am excited about,” Pribble said

While he highlighted his confidence in his ability to turn around the struggling Vandals, Pribble acknowledged an uninterrupted rise to championships is unlikely.

“Adversity is going to come,” he said. “That is no surprise.” But teams will find their way through it because of the culture instilled in the classroom, on the practice court and in the community, he said.

Early in his tenure at St. Martin’s, when his team was mired in a losing streak, Pribble said his athletics director, Bob Grisham, sent him a text: “You’re doing it the right way. Stick with it.”

“It’s going to be the same thing here,” said Pribble. “It is going to take time. There will be highs and lows.”

All of this resonated with Terren Frank, Idaho’s 6-8, 229-pound redshirt sophomore whose promising five-game start last season was cut short by a dislocated ankle that sidelined him for the year.

“A new coaching change will be good. A lot of new players will come in. I don’t see any downside,” Frank said of Pribble’s promise to change the culture of Idaho basketball.

Frank, who played 14 games as a freshman at TCU in 2020-21, and 29 games at Vanderbilt in 2021-22, pointed out “I’ve transferred twice already. As a player, I’m going to stay here next year.”