On the hunt again

Falcon men’s basketball team reloads with new players

Daniel Newman and Kyle Morrison

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Looking at the athletes that the Seattle Pacific University men’s basketball team graduated last year, including three starters and two key players off the bench, it might be tough to envision them repeating as GNAC tournament champions.

 

But the Falcons, armed with key returning players and a great recruiting class, they are making it their mission to do just that and win the conference championship in the regular season. 

 

“Last year, there was an urgency to it, because we had so many guys back,” Head Coach Grant Leep said. 

 

“This year, we’ve had to kind of pull back a little bit as we teach our program culture and the team environment the team atmosphere we want to create. We have to make sure that we’ve communicated that to everybody.”

 

How well the new players are adjusting to the atmosphere will be tested almost immediately, as the Falcons non-conference schedule includes five of the eight teams that were in the NCAA DII West Regional Tournament last year. It begins with Chico State University on Friday, Nov. 8, and Cal Poly University of Pomona on Saturday, Nov. 9. 

 

“If we handle it the way that we’re hoping to, and that we think we’re capable of, it’s gonna do just huge things for us come March when all the rankings and everything else comes out and they select the teams for the Regional,” Leep said. 

 

The Falcons were going to begin last year’s season against those same two teams, but the games were cancelled due to fires in the California area. 

 

That was not the only monumental moment of the non-conference season for the Falcons, as just two games into the season, they would lose guard Gabe Colosimo for the year due to a knee injury. 

 

The Falcons would begin their season with two wins and three losses, before winning seven in a row. But the Falcons would hit another bump in the road, losing three in a row, including a 29-point loss to Montana State Billings. 

 

But again, the Falcons would put it all together, winning the next ten games to finish out the regular season with a 16-4 conference record. This record would earn them the second seed in the conference, behind only Saint Martin’s University.

 

After defeating Northwest Nazarene University in the semifinals of the GNAC tournament, the Falcons defeated Western Oregon University 78-66, becoming tournament champions for the fourth time in their history.  

 

The Falcons season ended in the round of 32 of the NCAA DII basketball tournament against Saint Martin’s, but it was still a highly successful season for the team.

 

Despite last year’s success, Grant Leep’s program remains poised to have an even better season this year. 

 

“We want to keep pushing it, we’d love to be back at a point where we are competing for the conference championship again, we’d love to be in a situation where we are competing for it outright and the conference tournament championship … that’s our standard,” Leep said. 

 

In order to improve on last year’s results, SPU will need a lot of production from new faces in order to feel the voids left by six graduating seniors who played major roles in last year’s conference championship. 

 

Fortunately for the Falcons, they have brought in an incredible class of recruits. 

 

For exmple, forward Shaw Anderson from Kelso High School was the State of Washington’s 3A player of the year last year, and forward Clayton Whitman was the State of Washington’s 2A player of the year last year. Also, Zack Paulsen from Curtis High School was a four-time Washington state tournament participant in high school, giving him lots of knowledge on what it takes to be a part of a successful program. 

 

SPU will also bring back a solid core of returning players to help the Falcon’s new collection of young talent acclimate to the expectations of the upcoming season. 

 

Guards Gavin Long (2018- 2019 second team all GNAC) and Harry Cavell will both return to start for the Falcons coming off of seasons where both players averaged over ten points a game. Guards Sharif Khan, Divant’e Moffet and Braden Olson are also coming back, giving SPU some needed veteran depth. 

Some other tough conference opponents that the Falcons will face include Azusa Pacific University, Concordia University-Irvine, Sonoma State University, Point Loma Nazarene University and division III rival University of Puget Sound.

 

They will also be challenged during conference play by ten teams all looking to knock SPU off their championship pedestal. With all this in mind, it is easy to see that the SPU men’s basketball team is going to have an exciting and challenging year.