La Grande, now is the time

November 08, 2008 10:57 am

If you are a basketball fan and you live in the area, then you probably should be an Eastern Oregon University fan.

The Mountaineer women’s team has been very successful in recent years. They have won five conference titles in the last six seasons.

The men’s team has seen a complete transformation. Flash back four years ago: EOU men’s basketball finished the season 4-22.

It was head coach Ryan Looney’s first season at Eastern. In his second year the team had its first winning season in awhile, finishing 17-11.

Then came year number three. The Mountaineers won 23 games and lost only eight. That season, EOU fell to Warner Pacific in the conference championship game.

Despite a No. 24 national ranking, Eastern was snubbed from the national tournament.

After a bitter ending, the Mountaineers bounced back with the best season in school history last year.

Twenty Six wins, a conference title, a national tournament win and the school’s first male All-American, not a bad year.

This season may top all of them. And, it’s time for La Grande to take notice.

I’ll use a line from my favorite movie, “Hoosiers,” when head coach Norman Dale tells the town that his team “not only deserves but demands your respect.”

This is a current top 10 team in the country. Granted, this is not Oregon, Oregon State, Gonzaga, Duke or North Carolina, but this is great basketball.

Many of the schools in the NAIA feature former NCAA Division 1 players who had the talent to play at that level, but want to play more.

A few years ago, Southern Oregon’s Shea Washington may have been one of the nation’s most dominant players. I’m not talking about just in the NAIA, but at any level.

If you missed out on last season’s phenomenal year, I’ll admit you missed some great moments. But, it’s not too late. This year’s team could surpass last season’s incredible feats.

I had the fortunate opportunities to travel with the Mountaineers’ women’s team to the national tournament two years ago and the men’s team last season.

I have seen terrific small college basketball. The athletes at this level are amazing. The atmosphere at national tournament games is as electric as any I have ever been a part of.

The same can be said for the atmosphere at Quinn Coliseum on Friday and Saturday nights in December through February. The EOU student section, or the Quinn Crazies, make the gym one of the loudest in the conference.

Not to mention Quinn Coliseum has the usual bleacher referees. I swear some of these parents never miss a call. Just kidding, readers, it’s all in good fun.

Again, I’m asking you to come out if you are a basketball fan. You will not be disappointed.

In the five years Looney has been at Eastern, he said this is his most talented group.

The Mountaineers’ first real test of the season comes tonight against nationally ranked Lewis-Clark State. I’ll see you there.

Barrett Henderson is a sports writer for The Observer. Reach him by e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it