A year after the men’s basketball program made history with its first Big Sky regular season championship after going 19-9, expectations and buzz around the program were at an all-time high. Yet there is no comparing that team with this year’s squad, which went 12-16 after the departure of former head coach Heath Schroyer and six seniors, including star forward Seamus Boxley.
Washington assistant Ken Bone was hired to replace Schroyer, who defected to Fresno State to take an assistant’s job. Bone was left with a very different team than the one that made that championship run. Gone were Boxley and highflying Blake Walker. The Vikings also lost NCAA assists leader Will Funn, who averaged 8.1 assists a game in 2004-05.
Despite a depleted team, the Vikings battled through the season and hope for the future emerged. Jake Schroeder, a key bench player last season, became the Vikings’ leading scorer, with 12.5 points a game, and also led the team in steals with 38. A senior, Schroeder was an emotional leader in a locker room that featured many new faces.
One new face, junior-college transfer Juma Kamara, proved to be the Viks’ most versatile player. At 6-foot-6, Kamara used his length to get to the bucket while shooting 52.7 percent from the three-point line. Kamara was second on the team in scoring at 11.4 points a game.
Sophomore point guard Ryan Sommer was perhaps the most important new addition, anchoring the team with his clutch shooting and intensity. Another valuable contributor was Anthony Washington, the Vikings’ burly 6-foot-9 center who came on strong towards the end of the year.
In all, the Viks played some effective ball when they wanted to, including an impressive 54-52 win over Oregon at Mac Court in December. However, two three-game losing streaks and a six-game losing streak marred an otherwise solid year.
The team played one of the most intense and exciting games of the year in their final home game against Montana, a game the Viks had to win to advance to the Big Sky tourney. The Vikings grabbed a nail-biting 93-92 overtime win over the Grizzlies on the strength of some late free throws and hardnosed defense to sneak into the tourney.
The game featured a near brawl as the final buzzer sounded when senior Josh Neeley got into it with Montana guard Kevin Criswell. Both benches rushed over to break the two up as officials and coaches from both teams tried to prevent a full-on disaster.
Just days after the incident, Portland State would play a tough Eastern Washington squad featuring freshman phenom Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey was too much and scored 38 points on 12/16 shooting, sending the Viks to their second first-round tourney knockout in a row.
Early impressions indicate next year’s squad will be even better. Bone scored a talented recruit in JC transfer Deonte Huff, who averaged 23 points a game at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, Calif., and the core group from this year’s team is returning. Look for 15-18 wins next year and a third straight trip to the Big Sky tourney.