Men’s Basketball Ranked in the Preseason Top 10



Photo by James Baker.

Daniel Charlton, Sports Editor

As Whitman’s campus settles in for the upcoming winter, three things are for certain: the temperatures will grow colder, election results will feel like a dream and the Whitman men’s basketball team will continue to be competitive on the court. 

In the most recent preseason poll released by, the Blues were ranked #9 in the country. This top 10 ranking displays that the Whitman basketball program has become nationally recognized as a perennial powerhouse in recent years.

Last year, the men’s basketball team made an exciting run in the program’s first appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament. Following their miraculous run to the Sweet 16, Whitman ended the year ranked #7 in the nation, yet the overall feeling on the team was that they still had more to prove.

“I think this year’s team will go even farther than last year’s squad. We are young but talented,” said junior guard Tim Howell, the Blues’ leading scorer last year at 19.5 points per game.

Despite losing five seniors and seeing three underclassmen transfer to other schools, the Blues have still maintained their spot in the top 10. In addition to Howell, Whitman returns six key players from last year’s roster, including senior Christian McDonald, the team’s second leading scorer at 14.5 points per game, and sophomore Austin Butler, the team’s leader in rebounds, steals and assists. Eric Bridgeland, last year’s Northwest Conference coach of the year, also returns for another season at the helm.

One of the most exciting outlooks for the 2016-17 season, however, is the influx of talent into the roster. In addition to five first years in the recruiting class, the Blues have welcomed two transfers to the team this Fall: Ben Beatie, a sophomore from Trinity University in Texas, and Jase Harrison, a junior from the Academy of Art University in California.

Sophomore Jack Stewart guards senior Christian McDonald in practice. Photo by James Baker.

“The first year players have done an extraordinary job of meshing with the returners on the team. They have combined a willingness to engage with a fierce competitive drive that helps keep our practices focused and concrete. I could not be more pleased with the seven new faces we brought in this year. Not only are they stand-up guys off of the court, but they are great basketball players to boot,” noted senior guard Christian McDonald.

McDonald himself has only recently returned to the court after suffering a knee injury six months ago. If the team is indeed going to make a deep run in the 2017 NCAA tournament—as the Whitman community hopes—it may be vital for McDonald to recover fully and remain healthy.

Howell also commented on the next-man-up mentality of the team and the important role that the incoming players will hold in their first season with the Blues.

“Being such a young team, I feel like our new guys will play a huge role for us on the court this year. They each bring their own unique talents to the team, which is what we will need as the season approaches. [I’m] very excited to see the growth and development of these young players moving forward,” Howell said.

The road to the NCAA tournament, however, will not be easy for the Blues. Whitman will play eight perennial tournament contenders throughout the season, including #7 College of Wooster, #17 Marietta College and #12 Whitworth University. Whitman may face one of the most competitive schedules in the country and therefore the Blues have worked tirelessly in preseason practices to ready themselves for this slate.

Junior JoJo Wiggins makes a basket in practice as his teammates look on. Photo by James Baker.

“Tough spring and fall workouts is what we needed to prepare ourselves for one of the toughest schedules our program has ever faced,” added junior JoJo Wiggins, who should be a key fixture in the low post this season.

Wiggins, McDonald and Howell all shared similar sentiments regarding the team’s goals for the season. “I would say that our goals as a team have not changed from last year’s. We aspire to win a league title, a league tournament title and a national championship,” McDonald said.

Whitman will kick off its season at home against crosstown rival Walla Walla University at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10. After games in the Northwest Conference Classic and Daytona Beach Shootout in Florida, conference play will begin in earnest in January.

The Blues are sure to bring a mixture of talent, perseverance and determination throughout the course of the season. Whitman’s preseason top 10 ranking indicates that the Blues may challenge for a Northwest Conference title and—if the ball bounces just right—perhaps a national championship.