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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho guard Quinn Denker keeps faith Vandals can ‘make a run’ at Big Sky Tournament

Idaho guard Quinn Denker, a transfer from Cal State San Marcos, is hopeful the Vandals can make a run at the Big Sky Tournament.  (Courtesy of Idaho Athletics)
By Peter Harriman The Spokesman-Review

The late Latah County magistrate William C. Hamlett first laid eyes on the University of Idaho and the law school from which he graduated in the early 1970s. Ever after, he said Moscow and UI reminded him of Wainwright College from Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy comedies of the 1940s.

Chances are Quinn Denker has never seen “Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble” or “Babes in Arms.” However, Idaho’s junior guard and leading scorer, averaging 12.7 points per game, who came to the Vandals following a year at California State San Marcos, near metropolitan San Diego, sees the same things in Idaho that called to mind for Hamlett a simpler, rose-tinted time in a college town depicted in film.

“I wanted to be part of a college team where everybody in town loves the school,” says Denker.

The Vandals are 11-19 overall, 5-12 in the Big Sky Conference with one regular -season game remaining tonight at Portland State. The Vandals have tantalized fans this season with occasional top-flight performances to offset six straight losing seasons, Denker feels the rabid support that was kindled when the Vandals under coach Don Monson in the early 1980s were Big Sky Conference giants, NCAA tournament participants and nationally ranked, continues to warm him and his teammates.

“The fans who witnessed that know how great Idaho can be. That is part of the reason I came here,” he says.

Denker echoes Idaho coach Alex Pribble’s constant assertion the Vandals are on an upward trajectory. Even after Idaho was rolled in its final home game against Montana last Saturday, 80-57, and Pribble acknowledged “it feels like we ran out of gas a bit.”

Denker adds: “This team has the best culture of any team I have ever been on.”

Last spring, after the coaching staff turned over, Idaho had only three returning players. It essentially built a new team.

“We were 15 dudes learning a new defensive system while learning to play together,” says Denker.

The whole season has been a rush for the Vandals as they try to implement everything coming at them in terms of team building. But as Idaho looks ahead toward finishing the season on a high note at the Big Sky Conference tournament in Boise March 9-13, Denker insists he believes “more than ever we can make a run at this.”

Next year “if we fix a couple of things, we have the potential to be a powerhouse.”

At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and toting the college student’s ubiquitous backpack, Denker looks like practically everyone on campus. A coach’s son, he has Division I first -step quickness, a good handle and a jump shot. But his game is built on knowledge and instinct more than on awe-inspiring height or unreal athleticism.

Idaho guard Quinn Denker, a transfer from Cal State San Marcos, is hopeful the Vandals can make a run at the Big Sky Tournament.  (Courtesy of Idaho Athletics)
Idaho guard Quinn Denker, a transfer from Cal State San Marcos, is hopeful the Vandals can make a run at the Big Sky Tournament. (Courtesy of Idaho Athletics)

He did, however, make quite an impression early. On Dec. 28, when the Vandals were hosting Sacramento State, at the end of a nail -biter Idaho’s Tyler Linhardt threw an inbound pass from the backcourt baseline to Julius Mims near midcourt who high-pointed the ball and directed it to Denker, who buried an off-balance buzzer-beating 3-pointer for a Vandals victory. It was ESPN’s play of the day.

While Denker would just as soon savor a momentary triumph, he admits his teammates bring it up all the time.

“I am very much a person who likes to live in the moment,” he says. “But my teammates will not let me live that down. That was a good one.”

Since then, Idaho has endured more setbacks than triumphs.

“We have had bad losses and big wins. There has been a lot of injury stuff with this team. We have not been able to establish a consistent lineup,” Denker says. “I definitely underestimated how hard it was going to be with a new group of individuals who had never played together before.”

But overall, finding his way to Idaho after a year playing in junior college followed by a coaching change at Cal State San Marcos that prompted him to enter the transfer portal has worked out for him, says Denker. Having come from winning programs in high school and college, he acknowledges he has never lost games like this but adds, “This team has been very rewarding. Good dudes. Really good dudes.

“Moscow has been great. I have grown to like this place a lot.

… The Big Sky is a fun conference to be in. There is a lot of history there. People really love their schools and take it personally.”

Denker hopes to continue playing basketball beyond college as long as possible and then become a coach.

“My purpose on this planet is to play basketball and to glorify God,” he says. “When I am done playing, I want to go into coaching. I just want to be around this game forever.”

In the mean time for Denker, there is undiscouraged optimism for what the Vandals can accomplish at the Big Sky Tournament and especially next year, when they hope to return all but one graduating senior, D’Angelo Minnis.

An enduring trope from the Andy Hardy movies was pulling together to win the day. Mickey Rooney went through life hearing from appreciative fans versions of “Listen, kids, I think our time has come. … Let’s put on a show.”

At modern -day Wainwright College in Moscow, Denker is similarly enthusiastic.

Stay tuned.