|Backcourt buddies Justin Martin and Zach Richardson are back for another season of breakneck basketball.|
Featuring arguably the best backcourt in small college basketball, the high-octane Multnomah Lions of the Cascade Collegiate Conference are set to resume their record-setting ways Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. when they host Yellowstone Christian College to open the 2019-20 season in Portland.
Sporting the nation's highest scoring offense, averaging 97.57 ppg last year, Multnomah will be led by dynamic guards Justin Martin and Zach Richardson who combined for nearly 50 points per contest in 2018-19. Martin, returning for his senior season, was the NAIA Division 2 leading scorer last season, posting 8 games with 40 or more points, including an NAIA D-2 record shattering 71 points against Warner Pacific.
Richardson is coming off a freshman campaign that saw him finish 8th in the nation in 3 point baskets made with 118, and is the 4th leading returning scorer this season in the CCC with a 17.53 average. A rapidly emerging star, Richardson will give Multnomah a devastating 1-2 punch from the backcourt. Martin also displayed his play-making skills last year when he finished 8th in assists in D-2, and second in the CCC to national assist leader Michael Fink of OIT. Averaging nearly 32 points a game and leading the country in scoring, Martin was oddly left off post-season NAIA All-American teams. Martin, along with Richardson, is primed for a showcase season.
Also returning is 6'7" senior Stepan Zavydovskyy, who finished 3rd in NAIA D-2 last season in blocked shots per game, including a D-2 high 10 blocks vs Simpson (Calif). The Lions will need to replace the front court contributions of graduating senior Ben Grandle from last years squad. Grandle recorded 11 double-double scoring and rebound games last year and was a strong inside-outside threat, once canning 9 3's in a single game last year against Eastern Oregon. Fortunately, Grandle still remains close at hand, having accepted the position of Sports Information Director for the Lions and will probably be the fittest figure on press row this year.
Returning for his 17th season as head coach of Multnomah is Curt Bickley. The always innovative Bickley will no doubt unveil some new offensive wrinkles for a team that set an NAIA record last season with 38 made 3-point baskets in a single game against NCAA opponent Pacific University. The high scoring Lions had 89 points at halftime of that game, enroute to a 147-124 win. Richardson and Martin each had 49 points in that historic contest, combining for 27 of the record 38 three-point baskets.
Saturday's season opening opponent, Yellowstone Christian College, is located in Billings, Montana. Formerly known as Yellowstone Baptist College, they will be directed by new coach Jamil Sanfiel, as their basketball program enters its fifth year as a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association. Sanfiel was formerly an assistant coach at Nebraska Christian for the past 3 seasons, leading them to a NCCAA D-1 tournament appearance.
This will be Multnomah's final year as a NAIA D-2 school. Beginning with the 2020-21 season, basketball in the NAIA will have just one division, effectively merging the current 229 divisions one and two schools. Under the new alignment, all institutions will be able to offer the same amount of scholarships (8). Next season will also see powerhouse Lewis Clark State College out of Lewiston, Idaho, join the Cascade Collegiate Conference, further strengthening a conference that landed two teams in the NAIA D-2 Final Four last year.
A women's game between Multnomah and Yellowstone will start the season's lid-lifting festivities at 11 am on the Lions home court. A few hours later, the electronic scoreboard at Jim Skagen Court should be severely tested!