CWU vs Simon Fraser mens basketball

Central Washington’s Malik Montoya (4), seen here against Simon Fraser last season, is the only returning started to the Wildcats team. Central opens the season at Gonzaga tonight.

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Having a new head coach, staff and 10 new players, it’s going to be an adjustment for the Central Washington University men’s basketball team.

Not winning a Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) tournament game since 2013 and two years in a row of .500 play or less in league, the university decided to let go of former head coach Greg Sparling, who amassed a 386-253 record in his 23 seasons.

It’s now an opportunity for first year head coach Brandon Rinta, who was hired last April, to implement his style of play into a revamped team.

“We want to try and play hard defensively,” Rinta said. “We always want to keep that end of the floor a priority. Offensively, we want to try and play fast, but we also I think as much as anything offensively we want to pride ourselves in playing unselfishly and moving the basketball.”

And the Wildcats struggled on the defensive end of the court last year. They ranked second to last in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of 77.3 points per game. Their scoring margin was plus 1.3 and a reason for their 10-10 conference record.

“Goal No. 1 this year is to continue to improve,” Rinta said. “There’s a chance to continue to improve all year long.”

Rinta had a highly successful coaching career at Lewis-Clark State College where he spent his last seven seasons. He posted a 164-62 win-loss record. He brought home three Frontier Conference championships and took his team to the NAIA national tournament five times.

His roots run deep into Central, once a player on the roster from 1999-01 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health fitness education.

“I have a lot of respect for this program,” Rinta said. “The reason I have so much respect is because I played in this program, that gives me a personal experience as far as the tradition that this program has. We’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves as a coaching staff and as a program to live up to the expectations and the tradition that has been set by the teams before us.”

It was tough for him to leave Lewis-Clark State, a college that had many similarities to Central in regard to how they view athletics, the community and college.

But there was only one program he saw himself leaving that for.

“If I’m honest with myself, there was really probably one place that I would ever consider leaving that,” Rinta said. “And that was Central, and for the opportunity to arise, it was definitely one I couldn’t pass up.”

CWU is now ready to establish who they are as a team, with a few weeks of practice in and preparing for a big season opener against the NCAA Division I No. 3 ranked team in the country — Gonzaga University.

It will be a tough test, but Rinta is excited for the chance to see his team in action in Spokane.

“It’s going to be a really good team and really good environment,” Rinta said. “And I think it’s going to be a good test for all of us within this team to figure out where we are at. We talked about the margin for error and it changes from game to game based on who you are playing.”

Having a plethora of transfers and freshmen, there is one starting returner and that’s junior Malik Montoya who averaged 7.1 points per game. Rinta has enjoyed seeing the intensity the junior brings on the floor and based off what he has seen, can tell he brings a winning type of temper to the team.

CWU had the GNAC Freshman of the Year last season, Khalil Shabazz, but when Sparling was released, Shabazz decided to transfer to the University of San Francisco. He was ninth in scoring (15.3) and shot 44.7 percent from the floor.

Central picked up transfer junior Gamuan Boykin who could cause menace for their opponents. He is coming from Yakima Valley College where he played one season, ranking fourth in the Northwest Athletic Conference in points per game (21.6) and shot a superb 45 percent from beyond the arc.

Rinta has vaunted about the incoming recruits he has brought in.

“I have been impressed with how hard all of them have been working,” Rinta said. “I’m excited about all of them, I think all of them have a bright future here. Some maybe sooner than others, but we’re going to give them opportunities in games to show how they can help this program and this team this year.”

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