The list of successful basketball players from Silverton, Ore. isn’t a long one. The small town located 15 miles from Salem is known more for their Davenport Days festival than big-time athletes.
Zach Gengler knows the odds. He also knows what it’s like to beat them.
Gengler, a freshman at Portland State, is enjoying big-city life, all while excelling where he feels most comfortable—the basketball court.
The 6-feet 2-inch guard, who was named Oregon 5A player of the year as a high school senior, finished off a decorated career that saw him rise from small-town boy to the most decorated player to grace the halls of Silverton.
Terry Manning, long-time coach and teacher at Silverton, has seen Gengler’s evolution first hand.
“I’ve coached him since he was in second or third grade. Everything that was asked of him, he did. Playing freshman year on varsity, he did everything that was asked of him. Took his coaching very well,” he said.
Despite all of Gengler’s accolades coming out of high school, Manning sees a world of potential still yet untapped.
“I see a huge upside from him, because he wants to be good—that’s probably his most enduring quality. He actually works at it, not just saying it. He’s got the will to do well, but also the will to prepare to do well.”
After leading the Foxes to the Mid-Willamette Valley Conference Championship as a senior, Gengler sought something bigger. He knew just the place.
“One of the reasons I came (to PSU) is that I wanted to live in the city. I figured, what better way than to have it paid for,” he said with a sheepish grin.
With his early success—he is playing significant minutes as a freshman on a senior-laden team—he receives plenty of support from his quaint hometown in Marion County. And, as you would expect, he is grateful for the love from home.
“We (Silverton) are such a small community, and I look at it…I’m very fortunate, because so many people have your back and support you. People will drive up from Silverton or Salem all the time just to watch me play…It’s great to have people like that.”
Gengler, it seems, was born to overcome obstacles and find success. The youngest of seven children, he knew the meaning of competition from an early age. Constantly beaten up by his older siblings, he learned early on that in order to succeed, he would often have to beat people that were bigger and faster than him.
“I started playing basketball when I was four. My brothers all played, my sisters all played—it seems like from the time I can remember, in our house, it was all sports.”
His parents, he says, were the rock to keep everyone grounded.
“My parents were so supportive of all of us. For them it was work, sports, work and sports. They were awesome.”
Despite his success on the court, basketball wasn’t his first love—he was all about soccer as a child—but fortunately for his current head coach Tyler Geving and PSU, he quickly fell in love with the sport.
“Around sixth grade, I don’t know what happened, but…basketball just became a better fit for me,” Gengler said.
It isn’t his only love, however. Any summer day, you can usually find Gengler on the golf course.
“Oh man, I just love the game. All summer long, I just want to be on the course. It’s definitely my second favorite sport. When basketball is over, I’m going straight to golf.”
Geving, in his fifth season at PSU, says Gengler’s character stands out when you first meet him.
“Zach is a good kid…a smart kid, and a natural leader.”
He can play a little ball, too. In the first half of the conference opener against Idaho State, PSU was struggling to find a rhythm. Shots weren’t falling, and they saw the game slipping away.
Within three minutes he hit a 3-pointer, two runners and a mid-range jumper. His explosion not only kept PSU within shouting distance, but it seemed to calm the rest of the team down as well.
“He has a great feel for the game and picks things up quickly,” Geving said. “He is a better defender than I anticipated as well. He knows how to be in the right position. Very high basketball IQ.”
There seems to be an overwhelming theme when coaches talk about Gengler—a good, smart kid—which bodes well for him once basketball ends. He has big dreams beyond basketball. Portland, the “big city,” according to Gengler, is where he belongs.
“I’m from a small community, so I’ve always loved Portland. And as soon as I’m out of college, I want to live and work downtown. I’ve always wanted to live down there.”
A business or economics major (he hasn’t decided yet), Gengler knows that the window of a college student-athlete is small and closes fast, and he must enjoy it before the real world comes calling.
But for now, he’s just enjoying the ride.
“You have to earn it every day at this level. I’m happy with my role. I’m one of the youngest players, and I know that things will always be changing. I just have to enjoy it.”
What the future holds for Gengler, he doesn’t know yet. He’s not supposed to, and that fits him just fine. He’s met a lot of friends at PSU, enjoys dorm life—“They’re like apartments,” he says—and just wants to enjoy everything.
As the season rolls on, it appears that Gengler—high basketball IQ and all—will see his role grow. His shooting is something that sets him apart, and when games get tight, his ability to stretch the floor will be a valuable asset.
Then, when his career’s over, he’ll hit the links for a little golf and feel right at home.