Best of the Northwest
by Jed Tai
When one thinks of the Pacific Northwest, the images of rain, coffee, and the grunge scene immediately come to mind.
It may be time to add college basketball to the list.
Natives of the Northwest would argue that hoops was always on the list. Basketball has historically been a big sport in the upper left part portion of the map, although nationally it may have been known more for the pro hoops scene, especially in the late 70s when the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Supersonics brought home NBA titles. But college ball was also strong. Oregon State was a national powerhouse under Ralph Miller and Washington had some solid years under Marv Harshman. Washington State saw some success under George Raveling and Idaho under Don Monson had some of the best unknown teams in the country. Talents such as Ronnie Lee, Freeman Williams, Steve Johnson, A.C. Green, Detlef Schrempf, and Don Collins all graced the hardwood.
But during the 80’s things would start changing. Miller and Harshman would retire, Raveling moved to the Midwest, and Monson couldn’t quite capture the same success at Oregon. Programs such as Seattle and Portland State would essentially disappear. And by the early 90’s when the likes of Gary Payton and Terrell Brandon graduated, it all seemed to fall quiet again in the Great Northwest.
Starting in the late 90’s, Washington started making some noise. Gonzaga emerged from nowhere to become everyone’s NCAA Tournament Cinderella darlings. And now Oregon has resurged with its fun-and-gun offense. The Pacific Northwest has returned to the national college hoops radar screen.
Behind the success of these programs are some excellent young coaches: Ernie Kent (Oregon), Lorenzo Romar (Washington), and Mark Few (Gonzaga) to name a few. But helping them out are some of the top players in the country. Unfortunately, they are somewhat unseen due to being in Pacific Standard Time and tucked away west of the Rockies. So, when you’re up late at night and are jonesing for some good college hoops talent to check out, turn on Fox Sports Northwest on your satellite dish and soak in some of the action. Here are the top players you should watch out for.
First, our starting lineup, by position:
PG – Luke Ridnour, Oregon
Increasingly in today’s college game, it all starts at the point. And who better to start with than Luke Ridnour? The engine that makes the Ducks’ high-powered offense run, Ridnour burst onto the national scene as a sophomore. He improved in all areas – especially as a shooter – and he became one of – if not the – top point guards in the country. In addition to his production, Ridnour is also one of the most exciting players to watch with his flashy style reminding some observers of Pistol Pete Maravich. He will be a top candidate for Pac-10 Player of the Year honors.
SG – Doug Wrenn, Washington
Sometimes it’s the home-cookin’ that will do the trick. After essentially wasting a year across the country at Connecticut, Doug Wrenn returned home to Seattle and started showing the explosive talent that everyone in the Pacific Northwest knew he had. A tremendous athlete, Wrenn is an unstoppable scorer especially when he gets on a run, and will be a threat to average more than 20 ppg this season (he scored at a 19.5 ppg clip last year). UW head coach Lorenzo Romar will be counting on Wrenn for plenty of points.
SF – Luke Jackson, Oregon
The second half of “The Luke Show” in Eugene is Luke Jackson, who at 6’7″ has the ability to play in the backcourt as well as up front. Extremely versatile, Jackson can not only light up the scoreboard with his shooting/scoring ability, but can also rebound, pass, and defend – last year he recorded only the second triple-double in school history. Like Ridnour, Jackson is a throwback kind of player who gets things done the “old school” way. A nightmare matchup for most opponents, he should have another high-scoring year in 2002-03.
PF – Zach Gourde, Gonzaga
Need experience? Zach Gourde has plenty of it. The fifth-year senior has seemingly been at Gonzaga forever, having started his career as a redshirt when Gonzaga first burst onto the scene in the Elite Eight of 1999. Through his tenure at Gonzaga over the years, Gourde has developed into a fantastic scorer underneath, with a devastating baby hook shot as his go-to move. He has the heart of a lion and plays hard on every possession. With Dan Dickau graduating to the NBA, look for Gourde to put up bigger numbers.
C – Phillip Ricci, Oregon State
Ricci may be undersized height-wise as a center (he’s actually more of a PF, but is the center on our squad), but he may be the best post player in the Pacific Northwest. A warrior inside, the former junior college star who redshirted two years ago shook off the rust and made an immediate impact for the Beavers to the tune of 16.1 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, leading the team in both categories. He’ll continue to be the Beavers’ top threat in the paint and should earn All-Conference honors no matter what the team success may be.
Off the bench on our All-Pacific Northwest squad are:
G – Marcus Moore, Washington State
Although he could play a number of positions on the floor, the 6’6″ Moore makes his impact for the Cougars at point guard, where he uses his size and athleticism to his advantage. He has continued to improve on his shooting and ball-handling to add to his game. If it weren’t for WSU’s lack of success, Moore would have a higher profile nationally as he could be one of the more versatile players in the country.
G – Casey Frandsen, Portland
After a non-descript freshman year where he scored a grand total of nine points, Frandsen broke out in a huge way as a sophomore in 2001-02. It now would take only a couple of minutes to score nine points as he became one of the country’s top scorers and three-point shooters. He saved some of his best games for the top teams – 29 vs. Gonzaga and 28 vs. Duke being two such examples. Frandsen is a definite bright spot on an otherwise building Pilots squad.
G – Chris Hester, Eastern Washington
The returning Big Sky Newcomer of the Year will be poised for a big senior season. Despite being undersized at 6’3″, Hester still has the ability to score amongst the trees inside, and battle on the boards. If he has added any range to his game (he only attempted one three-point shot all of last season), opposing teams better watch out. He’ll try to lead EWU to their first ever NCAA tournament appearance.
F – Cory Violette, Gonzaga
Zach Gourde’s partner in crime in the paint for Gonzaga is none other than Cory Violette. Also a tough and fearless player, Violette not only plays tough underneath the basket, but can step outside from time to time as well. He earned a pre-season nomination for the Wooden Award, the fourth Gonzaga player in as many years to earn such a nod. He could average a double-double for Mark Few and the Zags this season.
F – Brian Jackson, Oregon State
Jackson has plenty of talent, but often let things get in the way – foul trouble on the court, and attitude issues off of it. But under new OSU head coach Jay John, the senior may get it together for his final go-around. He has a great body to battle inside and can step out and hit the perimeter jumper.
Some top newcomers to keep an out for in 2002-03 include:
G – Lamar Hurd, Oregon State
After originally committing to Baylor, this Texas native decided that going somewhere further than home and being a part of a building program was the way to go. New Beavers head coach Jay John certainly isn’t complaining. Hurd, who once dished out 32 assists in a ballgame in high school, could very well find himself in the starting lineup sooner than later.
G – Andre Joseph, Oregon
The graduation of Freddie Jones to the NBA leaves a hole at shooting guard for the Ducks, but JC transfer Andre Joseph may be the one to fill it. Joseph – at 6’3″ – would seem to have the edge in height for the starting spot over 5’10” returnee James Davis, and his scoring exploits in junior college (22.3 ppg) should endear him to the offense-oriented Ernie Kent.
F – Seth Scott, Portland State
Scott was recruited by several big programs, but decided instead to come aboard Heath Schroyer’s building program at Portland State. If he lives up to his reputation, he could fill the void left by the departure of All-Big Sky Conference performer Anthony Lackey. He’ll see plenty of action from the get-go.
F – Jonathan Tinnon, Idaho
This former high school teammate of Aaron Miles in high school in Portland will make his Division I debut as a member of the Vandals. The 6’8″ Tinnon has the wingspan of a seven-footer and knows how to knock down the high percentage shots inside. He also comes from a JC program (Southeastern in Iowa) that has churned out solid Division I players in recent years, so expect him to see plenty of playing time.
F – Ian Crosswhite, Oregon
Crosswhite may be the most intriguing newcomer on the entire West Coast – and it’s not because he redshirted last season. International players are all the rage these days, and Crosswhite certainly qualifies as one as he originally hails from Australia. Like most imports, Crosswhite can play inside and outside – and at 6’11”, it makes him even more special. If he’s not starting, it won’t be because of lack of skill, but rather lack of experience on a deep and talented squad.