Pacific University basketball building foundation
Pacific University head basketball coach Justin Lunt understands that despite winning just four conference games last season and finishing in a tie for last in the always tough Northwest Conference, they're building something in Forest Grove — and hopefully that something results in more wins than losses in his second Boxers season on the hardwood.
"As far as where we're going, we knew this was going to be a process," Lunt said. "But we'll be much improved next year and we'll keep improving with recruiting, development and establishing our culture. I think by year three we'll be a playoff team in our conference."
Despite the losses in 2018-19, it wasn't by any means a total loss for the first-year coach who came to Pacific from the University of Puget Sound, where over 12 seasons he accumulated a career record of 180-129. In fact, Lunt was pleased with how his team performed, considering what his roster gave him to work with. The Boxers had just two seniors on a roster that boasted eight freshmen and sophomores, yet still managed to win 10 games despite the wealth of inexperience.
"It was a great first year, with a lot of learning and adjusting," the coach said. "You tend to take things for granted regarding culture when you've been somewhere as long as we were at UPS, so we worked really hard on building our culture from the ground up."
Culture is important to a lot of coaches, and Lunt is no different. However, while many throw the term around without any real appreciation for what it means, Lunt seems to understand that you can't build something without a sound foundation, and his foundation is built on three simple things: establishing behavior, a system of belief and experience — all things that are built over time.
"Our behavior at UPS was so ingrained, but when you come into a new job it's back to square one," Lunt said. "We had a lot of guys last year who were new to this. Now they have some experience and can continue moving forward."
One of those new players was junior Marcus Wallace, who came to Pacific after two seasons at Monterey Peninsula Community College in California. Wallace wasted little time making his mark as a Boxer, leading the Northwest Conference in scoring and field goals made, while finishing second in steals en route to an honorable mention all-conference selection. Lunt said it's now inherent upon them to put pieces around Wallace for next year, something he feels they did a nice job with in recruiting over this past offseason.
"I thought we did some good things and showed some promise with some young talent, but recruiting was such a big thing for us this offseason," Lunt said. "We have 30-plus guys coming in and some really talented kids."
Of course, 30 seems like a lot, but with a junior varsity squad and a limited amount of time to recruit prior to his first year in Forest Grove, Pacific had room for additional personnel to groom for upcoming seasons — and they took advantage of it.
"Recruiting last year was a scramble, but this year we had a whole year under our belt," the coach said. "We have some talented guys coming in and I think we did a good job with that. Having said that, they're freshmen and they take time to make real impacts, but three or four will really help us next season."
Talent is just part of he and his coaching staff's equation when it comes to recruits. They want good students, they want hard workers, and they want motivated young men who won't need to be told what it means to get better.
"We want self-starters," Lunt said. "Having guys that work really hard and don't need to be told to do things is really important. We only have 19 weeks to work with our guys, so that's 33 weeks that we can't be involved. So we have to find guys we don't have to force into the gym. If you have guys that don't want to get better, it's just a waste of time."
He also wants four-year players. When he took the job he was told by outsiders that getting high school kids to Pacific was a tough row to hoe, but he believes a good program is built on the backs of four-year athletes and he made that happen in this year's crop of recruits, filling roughly 80 percent of the class with players from the prep ranks. Lunt said the school and its academics sell themselves, but he also sells prospective student athletes on the small town atmosphere that's just a hop, skip and jump from a Trail Blazer game or the Oregon coast.
"We tell guys, you're in a small town, so you're going to focus on school and you're going to focus on hoop," the coach said. "After all, if they're into all of the distractions, those aren't the guys we want to recruit anyway."
Lunt also understands the value of community involvement, and he dove head first into Pacific, Forest Grove and its surrounding areas, working with local high school coaches as part of clinics and summer basketball leagues. In return, they've embraced him, his family and his team.
"There's a lot of pride in athletics here and we get great support," he said. "We weren't very good last year, but our last game against Linfield was a packed house."
There were a lot of shake-ups in the league this offseason, with one of the conference's premiere coaches, Whitworth's Matt Logie, leaving for a Division II opportunity and a number of key seniors graduating across the league. As a result, Lunt is aiming at a top-4 finish and believes the Boxers can make the conference playoffs. But aside from the obvious "winning" portion of things, in the short term he's just hoping to see progress in the journey the team started just more than a year ago.
"My hope is that when we walk into our first meeting in the fall, we'll see our returning leaders talking and telling the younger guys how we do things and what this is about," he said. "I don't believe in captains, I believe in developing leaders. All good organizations are driven from within, and that's where we're trying to get to."