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Nov. 1, 2018 was a special day for Brandon Rinta and Drew Church.

The Central Washington University men’s basketball team was opening up its first game of the 2018-19 season at No. 3 Gonzaga University in an exhibition in front of a sell-out crowd — as always — at McCarthey Athletic Center. CWU was against not only some of the most talented players in Division I, but one of the most formidable coaching tandems in Mark Few and Tommy Lloyd, who are nearing 20 seasons together on the floor.

The Wildcats, however, were under new leadership and perhaps have their own Few and Lloyd duo in Ellensburg. That day in Spokane marked the beginning of Rinta and Church’s eighth season together, but on a new exploit at CWU after spending the last seven seasons at Lewis and Clark State College.

And now, Rinta and Church are preparing for their 10th season, side by side.

“There are very few out there that I know of that have been together as long as (Church) and I have been together in the basketball world,” Rinta said. “… The fact that we’re going on 10 years together, you can’t put a price tag on that as far as what that means for the program and just our comfortability and continuity together.”

EARLY DAYS AT LC STATE

Church and Rinta connected after Church finished playing two seasons at Columbia Basin College (2008-10) and then transferred to LC state a year before Rinta arrived as head coach. Church didn’t transfer to play, but helped coach at Genesee High School for one season and then approached Rinta the following year.

“We always joke about that first year,” Rinta said, who was at Northwest Nazarene for five seasons as associate head coach before LC State. “That first year, we had a few conversations as far as what would be best for the program. Drew to play or Drew to coach? That’s how bad we were as a team, not to knock Drew’s ability on the basketball court.”

Church became a student assistant and then later a graduate assistant as he earned his master’s from Wayne State College in 2015.

In those seven seasons, Rinta and Church qualified for the NAIA National Tournament five times, won three Frontier Conference championships and two conference tournament titles. In 2016, LC State went 29-5, ranked as high as No. 3 in the NAIA polls, and Rinta was Frontier Conference coach of the year. Over those seven seasons, LC State compiled a 164-62 record.

After each year, Rinta saw the progression in Church, and even during his stint as a student assistant, coaching players that were the same age or even older than him, he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.

“It was few and far between that he would give me his opinion on what we needed to do during the game and that I didn’t do it,” Rinta said. “I had complete trust in him that if he had something that we thought we should do, we did it. And I can’t tell you how many games that we won and I would look back after and just say, ‘Man, I’m glad I had you sitting next to me.’ The adjustment that he brought to the table has been the difference in many of our games.”

And maybe that’s why they both complement each other so well and have continued to work together after all these years.

“The things I see are different than the things he sees and his strengths are some of my weaknesses and my strengths are some of his weaknesses,” Church said, who began coaching at the college level at 20 years old. “I think all of that coming together makes us a pretty good duo on the bench.”

Said Rinta: “It’s good to surround yourself with coaches that see the game differently than you. And it became very apparent that Drew saw the game differently than me. He looked at through different lenses. He noticed different things.”

MORE RESPONSIBILITY

That first season at CWU was challenging as expected for Rinta and Church. CWU finished 10th in the GNAC with a 5-15 conference record and also finished 10th in scoring defense, allowing 81.7 points per game.

In terms of the defensive approach, Rinta made some adjustments: Give Church the responsibility of handling the defense.

The Wildcats, who finished seventh in the GNAC, narrowly missing the GNAC tournament with a 10-10 conference record, completely transformed its defense. And it helped spark their five-game winning streak midway through the season to put them in the hunt at the conference tournament, allowing an average of 63 points per game during that stretch. CWU finished the season first in the GNAC in scoring defense (70 points per game) and fourth in field goal percentage defense (.447%)

“It’s been a progression every single year as far as I’m looking how can I give (Church) more ownership, because he deserves it,” Rinta said. “Last year, completely turned our defense over to him, and I find it ironic that at the end of the year, it was the best defensive team.

“… He had some opinions on how he thought that we could be better defensively and over the course of that first year it became very clear to me that his opinions and points were extremely valid. I think it just got to the point where it was obvious to me that it was in the program’s best interest for him to take the defense.”

What changed?

“We were more of a pressure defensive team that first year where we were in the passing lanes, denying, whereas as (last season), one pass away we were sitting in a gap,” Church said. “What that did is it limited penetration to the basket — made it harder for the offense to get higher percentage shots. We’ve always been good at not fouling, whatever defense we’ve played, that’s something coach takes a lot of pride in and we’ve always been amongst the best in our conferences about not fouling. So, combining that with not fouling and limiting penetration, that’s where we were able to give up under 70 points per game.”

On Monday, Church was named one of the most impactful assistant coaches in Division II by Silver Waves Media, and for Rinta, it’s easy to see why considering the influence Church had this past season alone.

“The fact that he was honored didn’t surprise me at all,” Rinta said. “I think it’s well deserved.”

Rinta knows Church won’t be his lead assistant forever — as much as he’d like him too — and it will be a matter of time before Church takes the next step in his coaching career.

“I would love to sit next to Drew for the rest of my career but I know that’s not going to happen,” Rinta said. “He is as ready as you can get to be a head coach.”

Luke Olson: lolson@kvnews.com; on Twitter: @lukeolsonb

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