The 2011-’12 Viking men’s basketball team returned home to Western Washington University's Sam Carver Gymnasium on Jan. 28 since their time on the collegiate-level court.
After over a decade of evolution towards the game of collegiate ball, the team gathered to commemorate their accomplishments and the national title brought to Bellingham during the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Prior to the Western v. Western Oregon men's basketball game, the banquet was held for the former championship team. Players and coaching staff from the 2012 championship team reunited together with their families in the gym’s Hall of Fame room.
Brad Jackson, the Vikings head coach from 1986 to 2012, now retired and coaching the Sehome boy's basketball team, said that the accomplishments this team managed to achieve will only get bigger as time goes on.
This championship was one for the Washington state history books, as there’s been only one other team in the state to win a basketball NCAA national title, being the Puget Sound Loggers in 1976.
Zach Henifin, a forward in the 2011-’12 title, said during the championship run they faced adversity throughout their journey. Henifin and former players recalled that team chemistry played a big part in their wins.
“All of us were confident in each other, and that brought the best out of everybody,” said Rico Wilkins, a guard for the Vikings' 2011-’12 championship run. “The chemistry was so crazy that we felt like there was no way we could lose.”
After over a decade, the game of collegiate basketball looks different to past players and coaches from their time on the hardwood.
From rule changes to the revolution of the three-point line in the mid-80s, there are many factors that play to the growth of the game.
Jackson believes that a major factor in the change of today's game is the players.
“One thing that continues in terms of the development of college basketball is the players. They play so much at a young age, and not just locally but nationally,” Jackson said. “A lot of kids that end up playing college basketball are starting to specialize a lot earlier.”
Now with rules preventing fouls such as hand-checking, Jackson believes the game can still be physical but different from over a decade ago.
Jackson said that nowadays, there are great athletes who know to space the floor with teams filled with three-point shooters, seeing today's basketball as more of an open game.
“In terms of college, they’re faster paced and people just have gotten little, so the big man's obsolescence now,” said Henifin. “We didn’t really have a legit guy we fed the ball because everybody could shoot the three, so we kind of played that new-age basketball, but we still ran an offense slower than today.”
Overall, what this team accomplished has made its mark on the Western community as a whole. Former Vice President for Student Affairs and Academic Support Services Eileen Coughlin said it best during the team's homecoming in 2012, saying that this team put Western on the map.
“We’ve played over 100 years of basketball and won it one time,” said Jackson. “We were on the cusp a few times but that just adds credence to the quality of kids and coaching that's been at this school.”
For everyone involved in the Western 2011-’12 men’s basketball national title, the celebration was a chance to reconnect with former teammates who have continued their lives as champions.
“I’m happy we’re able to get everyone together,” Henifin said. “There are a lot of old faces I haven’t seen in a while, and it’s awesome to see players with their young families getting together.”
Kota Sato (he/him) is a sports and recreation reporter for the Front and third-year student at WWU. Majoring in news/editorial journalism, he enjoys writing most on topics that revolve around American football or basketball.