Federal Way High School boys basketball coach Jerome Collins summarized his former player Malik Montoya’s journey to Central Washington University.

“A true fighter fights when his back is against the wall,” Collins said. “Everything is not going to go the way you planned it in life, but what you do with those times when you are challenged determines your outcome.”

Those were the exact words of encouragement he gave to his former player when he was questioning what to do with his college basketball career.

Even though Montoya was playing Division I basketball for Seattle University 40 minutes from his hometown of Federal Way, he wasn’t happy.

Now, one year later, he is making an impact on both ends of the court as a member of the Wildcats.

According to the NCAA, Montoya is one of the 689 Division I players to transfer schools in 2017 and take advantage of a new opportunity. After all, when one door closes, another opens.

LOVE FOR THE GAME

Montoya grew up always loving the game of basketball.

“My dad introduced me to the game when I was 2 years old and I have just always just kept it with me, especially since we moved around a lot,” Montoya said.

As he got older, he played varsity basketball under Collins and averaged 17.9 points his junior season.

“He’s always been a raw talent and a competitor,” Collins said. “He can shoot the 3-ball, he can pass, he can handle the basketball and play great defense.”

Heartbreak came his senior season when he suffered a knee injury and had to watch his team win a 4A State Championship from the sidelines.

“It was a big loss when Malik went down and he was tested,” Collins said. “He was there with us every step of the way, but he couldn’t perform on the floor.”

DIVISION I OPPORTUNITY

Despite his injury, Montoya’s name traveled among Division I coaching circles where he had many offers until he decided to sign his letter of intent to play with Seattle University.

His time with the Redhawks was sporadic as he only played in 13 games his freshman season before suffering another knee injury against the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He also did not like some of the decisions his coaching staff made at the time.

“I feel like they wanted me to redshirt my sophomore year after coming off my injury,” Montoya said. “I was feeling really good and getting in my groove, and (because I didn’t want to redshirt) they weren’t going to play me. It is what it is and I knew I had to keep working hard.”

His minutes diminished his sophomore season, but he was still able to score seven points against both Eastern Washington and the University of Washington. His final Division I game came Dec. 28, 2016 against UC Davis.

After the 2016-17 season, Seattle U decided to make a coaching change and brought in former Eastern Washington head coach Jim Hayford. Unfortunately for Montoya, it didn’t help his college basketball career.

“We just didn’t get along and was indecisive if I was going to get a lot of playing time or not,” Montoya said. “I made up mind and told myself, ‘If (the coach isn’t) going to play me, then I don’t want to be here.’ I didn’t want to go through the same thing as my sophomore year.”

During that time, Montoya was also going through some personal struggles and made the decision that Seattle U was not the right fit.

“It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, because I knew basketball was my release,” Montoya said.

It was then that Central Washington assistant coach Drew Harris reached out to see if Montoya was interested in signing. Montoya was a defensive-minded player and the Wildcats needed help after finishing last season near the bottom of the conference in multiple defensive categories including scoring defense, opponents’ field goal percentage, and opponents’ 3-point field goal percentage.

This season, Montoya is not only third on the team in blocked shots but second in steals, as well.

“Defense has always been mandatory since high school,” Montoya said. “If you weren’t going to play defense, then you weren’t going to play.”

LIFTING THE OFFENSE

Not only has Montoya helped Central Washington on defense, but he has also created a much-needed spark on offense.

With the plethora of injuries the Wildcats have endured to scorers like Naim Ladd and Drake Rademacher, Montoya has stepped up to average 13.5 points per game over the last three weeks and has made 65 percent of his 3-point shots.

“He hits the open shot, he creates for others and has knocked all the rust off,” Sparling said. “When you don’t play a whole lot for a couple of years at the Division I level and then you are asked to play a lot of minutes, you have to adjust.”

DROPDOWN TALENT

Sparling and his coaching staff have had no problems finding former Division I talent. Harris himself dropped down from Seattle U after his junior season in 2010.

Since then, the Wildcats have had four former Division I athletes on the roster.

“These guys just want fresh starts,” Sparling said. “If they are getting a raw deal where they are at in their mind then they can transfer.”

Just look at Montoya; he might be wearing the same colors that he wore in Seattle, but his minutes have increased, his point total has increased and, most importantly, he’s happy where he is at.

“I love it here,” Montoya said. “I have the support, everyone is friendly and it wasn’t really what I was expecting.”

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