Pacific men's basketball tips-off conference slate this weekend
After what could only be described as an odd and abbreviated 2020-21 season, Pacific University's men's basketball team is off and running, and head coach Justin Lunt is excited about what he's seen on and off the floor with this season's squad.
"I really, really like this group," Lunt said, "And I think a lot of momentum carried over from last year's team."
The Boxers only played 12 games last season due to COVID, and against just four schools, but while young and still relatively inexperienced, Lunt has seen a lot of potential over the team's first six games.
Pacific is 3-3, including a split in two games as part of the Ken Schumann Classic Nov. 19-20. They open their conference schedule this Friday, Dec. 3, with a game at George Fox, and will make their home conference debut the following night at 6 p.m. against Pacific Lutheran at the Stoller Center in Forest Grove.
Lunt said it's been exciting to have fans back in the gyms after going more than a year without them, and he's tried to instill that gratitude in his players who — like all young people — have been through a lot over the last 18 months.
"It's been awesome having crowds again," the coach said. "I've talked to our guys a lot about just being grateful for having the opportunity to play in front of fans again."
This year's Boxers are playing without arguably their best player, Ethan Moss, who tore his ACL during the team's second practice. But while down, they're certainly not out, making up for the loss of Moss by way of a rotation of a dozen players logging more than 10 minutes a game.
Lunt said that's maybe more players than they're used to giving significant time, and they'll likely whittle that down in the coming weeks, but with the youth of the roster, the experience is allowing the coaches a better look at who is — and maybe isn't just yet — equipped to be on the floor when it matters most.
Some of those players have been senior Mario Mora, junior Jacob Bulger, who offers both an inside and outside threat, Ethan Chung, and Antoine Stitt. Stitt is yet to play due to nursing an ankle injury, but much is expected upon his return. The coach also mentioned freshmen forward Cooper Rolfs, Drew Gumin and guard Lucas Winkler as being significant assets to this year's team despite being a bit wet behind the ears.
"He's (Lucas) one of the best freshmen I've ever coached at this level," Lunt said. "He's extremely talented, but also just very smart and very mature for his age. He's got a chance to be one of the top newcomers in our conference."
Additionally, 2020 Forest Grove High School graduate Guy Littlefield is getting his first real action after sitting out last year's abbreviated season with an injury, and Lunt said he's been very impressed with Littlefield thus far. The 6-foot point guard is playing almost 20 minutes per game for the Boxers, averaging nearly seven points and four assists, while shooting nearly 50% from the field.
"Guy's made some big plays for us," Lunt said. "He's really gotten in there and figured stuff out. Sure, he's made some mistakes that all freshman are going to make, but he's getting familiar with things and he brings such intangibles to the table. He's a great leader on and off the floor."
The coach said he doesn't entirely know what to expect from the Northwest Conference this season, but said Linfield was picked in the preseason to win the league and added that Whitworth is probably playing the best basketball right now. But he said behind them he expects his team to be in the mix for at least that third spot.
The conference schedule is starting early this season and because of that Lunt believes there's opportunity for his team to maybe get ahead of the curve. In many cases teams — including Pacific — are still figuring things out, and he views this weekend's games with George Fox and Pacific Lutheran as a real chance to get things moving in a positive direction.
"It's going to be interesting, and I think a real dogfight this year, which is why these games this weekend are so important," he said. "If we can win these or at least get a split, it could be very beneficial for us down the road."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.