By Harry Cummins
Seeking to bring order out of the chaotic forces that concern every basketball coach, seasoned mentor Curt Bickley at Multnomah University has experienced a recent metamorphosis in his methodology.
Bickley arrived at unheralded Multnomah Bible College in 2003, on the wings of a decorated 10-year high school coaching career that netted him nearly 200 wins, 2 Iowa state championships and 4 Coach of the Year honors.
At Multnomah, Bickley found himself saddled with limited financial resources, few scholarships, and only the promise of playing time at a no-name school in which to attract future players. As a result, Bickley soon adapted an offensive scheme dominated by the 3 point shot and a school identity was soon formed on the feats of undersized practitioners of basketball's most celebrated shot.
The landscape was altered in 2015 when a renamed Multnomah University joined the NAIA as a member of the Cascade Collegiate Conference. In 2018, a 5'9" shooting guard, Justin Martin, catapulted Multnomah into the national spotlight with his whirlwind heroics and back-to-back national scoring crowns. His 70 plus point games became the stuff of legends. Still, the team continued to lack any roster depth to support a starting five.
One by one, the Lions began enticing taller and more skilled players to their Portland, Oregon campus, culminating in their current 2022-23 roster that now features no less than 8 players ranging from 6'6" to 7 feet. Bickley no longer will live and die with the 3 point shot and can now deploy a deep bench that can be maneuvered in shifts much like an ice hockey coach does with changing lines. The coach also has the 'upward mobility' backing of new university President Eric Anthony Joseph, himself a former triple- jump champion, along with Michael Anderson, a personable VP of Athletics, who comes with impressive power lifting credentials of his own.
Propelling the Lions into the new season will be returning cornerstone players Zach Richardson and Tyrese Taylor. Richardson is a 5th year graduate senior whose 27.6 ppg scoring average was runner-up in 2020-21 to NAIA National Player of the Year Kyle Mangas. Richardson has registered 50 and 49 pt single-game scoring outbursts in past seasons. Taylor is an all-conference center nightly posting double-double performances.
Charles Jones, an NAIA pre-season All-American and a former Juco Player of the Year transfers to Multnomah this season from cross-town NCAA D1 Portland State. Quentin Jones is an athletic 6'9" transfer from North Carolina A&T and LSU Shreveport. Containing the Jones boys will be an essential task for Multnomah opponents this year.
Returning for his senior season, Taylor Peppinger is back as the leading returning 3 point shot maker in the Cascade Collegiate Conference. 6'9" forward Dante Sofia from Liverpool, England looks to collect a cluster of rebounds for the Lions in their journey down the yellow brick road that hopefully will lead to the 2023 NAIA National Basketball Championships in Kansas City come next March.
Filling up the stat sheet every game along the way will be Jr. guard Neyland Block, whose all-around game resulted in 10 pts, 6 reb's and 5 assists per game last season in a limited capacity. His emergence in pre-season workouts stamp him as a serious breakout candidate
Key contributions are also expected this season from steadying veteran guard Wallace Ungwiluk discovered in an Alaskan outpost on the edge of the Bering Sea, and from explosive Texan Amande Uchime, while other NCAA transfers 'Squeaky Wilkins and Zen Goodridge bring much more than their colorful names to the party. Mix in Nigerian Michael Okoye and talented Pacific Northwest natives Will Casebolt, Leonel Gallegos, Alex Newkirk and Brady Grier and this team is loaded.
So much so that rapidly developing 7 foot post Will Kietzmann and heralded San Diego prep star Derrien Carter-Hollinger may be forced to take a red-shirt season when they could well start for most teams.
Coach Bickley will celebrate 20 years as the Lions head coach this year, poised on the threshold of the journey that is the 2022-23 season. A new basketball theology, so to speak, has evolved at the small college with spiritual beginnings. A new reading of traditional text is emerging and Bickley and assistant coaches Tayo Gem and Quinn Curry will be deeply challenged to unify this treasure- trove of scattered talent.
Interdependence cannot be an elective study . Sacrificial integration must be quickly cultivated and forged thru the crucible of one game at a time.
Game 1: October 29 Multnomah University vs Pacific Union College (Calif.)
P.S. Fallback plan still remains... 22ft, 1 3\4 inches away