By Harry Cummins
For most college basketball teams reeling from a just concluded 1-24 won-lost season, this would be a woebegone summer of commiseration.
Instead, the pliable Multnomah Lions of the NAIA's powerful Cascade Collegiate Conference, are mere months away from unveiling the pieces of an entertaining jig-saw puzzle that if contoured correctly will represent one of the most enthralling comeback stories in small college basketball circles.
Hope has replaced despair almost overnight at this small university situated on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Michael Anderson starts his second season as Multnomah's athletic director, willing to absorb the blows from a covid-riddled first season in exchange for laying down the building blocks for future success.
Off the court, a nation-wide recruiting effort has yielded dividends in the form of a Texas/California harvest of high school seniors and transfer athletes. The new arrivals are highlighted by freshman guard Derrien Carter-Hollinger of San Diego's Foothills Christian High School, a 6'4 rim-slasher and disruptive defender. Height has also been added to a traditionally undersized front court with the addition of 6'7 Terin Johnson and 6'8 Tyrese Taylor.
In a corresponding development, 6'3 leaper Jaeden Ingram has transferred back to Multnomah for his sophomore season, after his breakout freshman season two years ago. This impressive influx of new talent will pair with the nation's leading returning scorer in the form of Zach Richardson, who finished runner- up in the scoring race last year to graduating senior and NAIA Player Of -The-Year Kyle Mangas of Indiana Wesleyan. Richardson has already posted career high games of 49 and 50 points as he enters his junior year of eligibility.
The most fascinating piece of this puzzle will emanate from the coaching ranks, where two- time NAIA scoring champion Justin Martin returns to his alma-mater to accept the position of Lead Assistant Coach under veteran Head Coach Curt Bickley. Martin, who once scored a record 74 points in a single game and 71 in another, will be charged with injecting some of that on-court excitement into his players. Martin is expected to also be handed an expanded role in play-calling and player conditioning.
Coach Bickley is nearing two decades of coaching experience and is instrumental in putting Multnomah on the basketball map with their long-range shooting heroics that once netted an NAIA record 38 made 3's in a single game. Bickley finally has the on-court personnel to shift some of the emphasis away from the 3 point shot, but always expect some new wrinkles from this innovative coach.
Indicative of the sea-change afloat at Multnomah, the freshman basketball program has been jettisoned in favor of a new Player Development League, designed to work as a permanent feeding network for the varsity basketball program. It will be headed by Assistant Coach Jason Patterson, a key builder of player relationships for years at the NAIA school.
Also joining the staff at Multnomah this coming season will be 4-year former player Quinn Curry, who will oversee housing, academics, travel, community outreach and NAIA eligibility issues.
Like any formidable jigsaw puzzzle, the best way to begin is by grouping similar pieces together, perhaps assembling the borders first, even if you're not sure how they all will eventually fit. Multnomah University basketball has done just that. They now await shapes and colors to interconnect in forming a cohesive future.
The 2021-22 season is set to begin in Pocatello, Idaho on October 30, as the Lions travel to meet NCAA Division 1 Idaho State University in an exhibition game.
|Zach Richardson is the NAIA's leading returning scorer|