MOSES LAKE — North Idaho College didn’t even win the NWAC East last season, but the Cardinals got hot at the right time and won their first Northwest Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament.
That’s how tough the conference is, the past three NWAC Tournament champions have come out of the East. Playing in a conference that includes North Idaho, Walla Walla, Spokane and Yakima Valley takes a big punch just to get to the postseason.
Second-year Big Bend head coach Mingo Scott set out to make his lineup bigger and more athletic this season to see if they can’t muscle their way back into tournament contention. He returns trigger-man Koby Huerta, a 5-foot-10, sophomore out of Kentwood to run the show at the point guard.
Scott was successful in adding size and athleticism to the lineup with Joey Andrews, a 6-5 shooting guard from Riverton, Utah, that’s back after taking a year off from basketball. They also added Seraphin Decker, a 6-3 guard, transfer from Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, Ariz. At 6-3, Decker, who averaged 14 points and six assists a game at Tohono O’odham, can create matchup problems on the perimeter.
Big Bend also returns 6-8 Miles Brown, who averaged 11 rebounds and 10 points at the post a year ago. The old guy, Denis Ulyanchuk from Moses Lake is another wide body to the mix at 6-6. The 23-year-old former Chief has the ability to run the floor and is expected to contribute at both ends of the floor.
“What I learned last year was that we needed to get bigger and more athletic, and we did that. The East is such a beast conference that we have to play more intense and focus on playing hard and playing with energy every single night,” Scott said. “Our goal is to get up and down the floor, but we’re looking to take advantage of individual matchups and run some set stuff too.”
On the perimeter, they have Huerta at 5-10, but then they also have Andrews (6-5) at the shooting guard. Maurice Smith (6-5) at the small forward. Denis Ulyanchuk at power forward at 6-6 and Miles Brown, a 6-8 post.
“This is a different looking team than we had a year ago. We were so tiny that we had to run the floor, but this year we have some other options. I can move those bigger guys on the perimeter, where they’re shooting over 5-10, 6-foot. The key is to play hard every single possession.”
The bigger, athletic lineup gives Huerta a lot of options on the offensive end, he said.
“We’ll definitely stick to our game plan, which is run the floor, because that’s what Coach Mingo likes to do. But now we can stretch the floor a lot more because they can run, then go down low and that makes the offense that much more dangerous,” Huerta said. “Defensively, we’ll man up. We’ll be a lot better because we’re a lot bigger on the wings and that wingspan helps get a piece of their entry passes.”
Brown, a 6-8 sophomore out of Sandy, Ore., averaged a double-double last season, and had to do a lot of the heavy lifting on the glass. More inside guys means more boards, which feeds the outlet. But with an average of 6-5, 6-6 across the blocks, it opens a lot of doors.
“I think it will take a lot of pressure off me with the rebounds,” Brown said. “We’re also a little older as a lineup. I think it helps the chemistry, because we can focus on the things we need to get better.
“I’m going to try to be a bigger scoring presence down low this year. We play in such a tough conference that we work for rebounds, but I want to see if I can’t contribute to the scoring more this season.”
The Runnin’ Vikes will open the season with seven consecutive road game, beginning No. 23 with Tacoma at the Skagit Valley Turkey Tournament. The are also scheduled to play Peninsula (Nov. 24) and Northwest Indian College (Nov. 25).