Hooptown USA - Hall of Fame

Basketball 96'

Whitworth Mens 1996 Basketball - Hooptown USA - HALL of Fame 2022

They didn’t get the winning shot to go, or the whistle to blow. No spoiler alert is necessary to report, nearly three decades later, that the national championship eluded the Whitworth Pirates of 1996.

They didn’t get the winning shot to go, or the whistle to blow. No spoiler alert is necessary to report, nearly three decades later, that the national championship eluded the Whitworth Pirates of 1996.

Anyway, it can be argued they did something grander.They got the school president to shut down the school. They launched a last-minute caravan -- six buses, countless cars -- that covered 400 miles to reach the title game. And mostly they revealed Spokane's nascent appetite for a basketball cause and diving cannonball-style into those delirious moments -- not that the players recognized it as it happening.

"I was just playing and feeding off the electricity," said Nate Dunham, a senior who had experience with a small school doing big things growing up in little Almira. "No way I thought people would still think of it as special in the story of Spokane basketball."

But the Pirates of '96 were special, as acknowledged by their induction into the Hooptown Hall of Fame.

The basketball madness of March is a different animal for the Whitworths of America, in a universe not ruled by the office bracket pool and "One Shining Moment." The Pirates were still members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in the mid-1990s, winning their way into the organization's raucous Division II tournament -- 32 teams, six days, one steamy fieldhouse in Nampa, Idaho.

Of course, before that crescendo were many mezzo moments, one dating back a decade.

Warren Friedrichs came to Whitworth in 1985 as the school's seventh head basketball coach in just 11 years, a steadying hand whose clerical demeanor -- he had once studied to be a minister -- masked a fierce competitiveness. He'd restored dignity to the basketball program and got the 1991 team to nationals, falling in the first round.

The heart of the next wave was Dunham, a State B champ at Almira/Coulee-Hartline who had won over Friedrichs' admitted bias toward recruiting from larger high schools by "making every right play." The other starter inside, Jeff Arkills, might take only four shots a game, but the coach retooled his offense the year before just to accommodate him in the lineup ("He'd take a charge in Hoopfest on concrete," Friedrichs marveled).

Slashing Roman Wickers was a Navy veteran who hadn't played in high school. Gabe Jones was a rangy wing with a smooth, if streaky, shot. Nate Williams arrived from junior college to lead the nation in 3-point percentage at better than 56 percent. Off the bench came an equally eclectic group. Jeff Mix was another B school alum from Spangle. Sean Weston had been the starting point guard who selflessly embraced a new role. John Beckman took 80 percent of his shots behind the arc and was the team's only bona fide extrovert. Louis Vargas was president of the school's Hawaiian Club. And freshmen Greg Jones, Tyler Jordan and Doug Schulz would all play on Whitworth's next national tournament team in 1998.

Also in reserve: motivation. In 1995, the Pirates had climbed as high as No. 5 in the NAIA poll, only to stumble in their last three games and miss the tournament. The next fall, Dunham and Beckman designed a team T-shirt that featured a dunking buccaneer on the front and the legend "Pirate Redemption Tour" on the back over the season schedule -- ending in Nampa."I asked them, 'Are you sure? You've got to wear this thing in every gym,' " Friedrichs recalled. "They were pretty insistent. It was a confident group -- almost too confident."

But they could back it up. In Nampa, they blasted Howard Payne by 30 points in the opener, making a tournament record 17 3-pointers. They rallied from nine points down in the second half to beat MidAmerica Nazarene. Against tournament host Northwest Nazarene, the Pirates shot 63 percent, and after hitting a 3-pointer just before halftime, Wickers made a show of cupping a hand behind his ear."Just trying to get the crowd into the game," he insisted. "Ours and theirs."

Yes, Whitworth had staked out a section that was growing with each game. And when the Pirates rallied again to beat William Jewell in the semis on Monday, Whitworth president Bill Robinson made the call to cancel classes. "We're in a meeting on Sunday, raising scenarios, and I turn to the faculty president and ask how they would feel about it," Robinson recalled. "He said he thought they'd be fine. So I asked, 'How about you?' and he says, 'Oh, I'm going -- a friend is flying me down.' "

At 7 a.m. Tuesday, buses with 400 Whitworth students left campus, arriving an hour before tipoff -- one group of nine males stripped to the waist with torsos painted to spell "W-H-I-T-W-O-R-T-H." The full Pirate contingent numbered nearly 1,000, including Robinson, a basketball Jones who hollered substitution options and other advice. "I'm a little embarrassed about how much ownership I felt," he laughed.

The opponent was another "home" team -- nearby Albertson College, with a lineup featuring four players whose careers had started at NCAA Division I schools. Yet once more, this time on regional TV, the Pirates battled back from six points down with under 2 minutes to play to tie, but Williams -- banged by defenders on a 10-footer -- missed at the buzzer. Albertson would win in overtime, 81-72. "One of the things I remember most is all the teams staying in the same hotel," said Dunham. "The first night, it's this hive of activity. And then every day, half of them would go home until we were the only ones left.

"I would have loved to have won it, but it doesn't haunt me. The journey was incredible."For everyone -- the team, the kids on the bus and the new converts tuned in back home in Hooptown USA.

Stacy Clinesmith

Stacy Clinesmith - Hooptown USA - HALL of Fame 2022

So what carries more weight -- a résumé or a recommendation? The case of Stacy Clinesmith hardly produces a clear answer.

Consider merely these three points on her basketball vitae. First Spokane player in the WNBA. Still winning Hoopfest championships midway through her 40s -- a full 17 years after her first. And now coaching at the school where Spokane's basketball obsession plays out in front of 5,500 fans every game, among the top 10 in attendance in the nation.

Now consider this endorsement, from the most prominent pioneer of the women's game in the city's history -- culled from Clinesmith's high school past: "You could play five on two," the late Linda Sheridan once offered, "and if one of the two was Stacy Clinesmith, most of us would have a hard time winning." So perhaps it's best to skip trying to parse their relative worth and take them in tandem as Clinesmith's passport into the Hooptown Hall of Fame.

Maybe throw in the good fortune, too, that Stacy Clinesmith chose this sport in which to make her mark. Marvin and Nikki Clinesmith were more than dutiful when it came to carving out both support and opportunity for their daughters, so it could have been almost any game, really -- except softball ("I did baseball as a kid because softball was way too slow," she said). She was also a dominant soccer player who was twice MVP of the Greater Spokane League and scored 60 goals.

"A lot of people told me I should stick with soccer because I'm only 5-foot-5," Clinesmith said. "That's probably another reason I picked basketball -- people telling me I shouldn't." Now that's a window into her conviction. Fact is, 5-5 or not, Clinesmith was maybe even more fearsome on a basketball court, imposing her will on outcomes in outsized fashion. It's a gift her coach at Mead, Jeanne Helfer, recognized immediately -- though she remembers first having to deal with a slightly different willful side.

"She was a ninth grader at Northwood, but she'd come over to play soccer because freshmen were eligible," Helfer recalled. "I ran into her in the hallway and asked what she was doing here and she said, 'I got in trouble -- I jumped out a window.' And so I laid into her, but all the while I'm trying not to laugh. One thing about Stacy, she knows how to have fun."

Winning enhances the fun, of course, and at Mead she wound up in the middle of it. The Panthers were 78-9 in her three years, winning a state title over powerful Kamiakin her senior year after losing two head-to-heads earlier in the season. "The culture Jeanne built there, I think, was a little before its time," Clinesmith said. "You see it more now, but she ran those practices like college practices. She would push you really hard, but in a way that made you want to do your best not to disappoint her -- or yourself. She was just really fundamental in my career."

But Clinesmith made those practices challenging, too. "We couldn't run a press against her -- she'd annihilate it," Helfer said. "I even brought in boys to slow her down and that didn't work. All those years, she could have dominated those games singlehandedly, but that wasn't her style." When she took her game out of the Spokane bubble, it was only to find further success. Her teams at UC Santa Barbara reached the NCAA tournament all four years and Clinesmith was All-Big West three times -- culminating in her being the 30th selection in the 2000 WNBA draft by the Sacramento Monarchs.

The league was only three years old at that point, and yet Clinesmith was now stepping in among legends -- Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Ticha Penicheiro. Every day of her three WNBA seasons, she noted, was "a fight for your livelihood," but an affirmation, as well -- of those high school and college successes, yes, but also of a more solitary struggle. "Somebody's picking you -- paying you -- to be part of their team, and the thought of that still brings tears to my eyes," Clinesmith said. "It's kind of like the culmination of everything you've done. My grandparents had a wheat ranch (in Adams County) and I remember being home from college and going to the little gym at Benge School -- doing ball-handling drills and grabbing any person I could after harvest to play me one-on-one. It's all those little things you do to become better."

Now, more than a decade into a coaching career, she tries to get that message across in her role as an assistant at Gonzaga University, where Spokane's love affair with the game plays out every tipoff. Her gratitude for the circumstance is boundless -- "I didn't know how good it would be here" -- and for the opportunity to invest in her community the way it invested in her. "Spokane calls itself Hooptown USA now, but it kind of always has been and especially for girls," Clinesmith said. "There were people here like Ron Adams and others who put time and energy into growing the game. I remember going to clinics, ball handling and shooting, every Sunday and later talking to my friends at college and having them tell me, 'We didn't have anything like that.' It's just become part of what we are here."

It's been a hall of fame evolution, and Stacy Clinesmith has been at the heart of it.

Fred Crowell

Fred Crowell - Hooptown USA - HALL of Fame 2022

He would jump in his car and point it west on Highway 2, stopping at each little school -- Reardan, Davenport, Wilbur -- to spread the word of his new venture. Or he'd make an appearance at a church or youth group in Spokane, delivering inspiration along with his brochures. At home that night, Fred Crowell would beseech his head coach, "Lord, if you get me 50 kids, I'll get the other 50."

So in the summer of 1971, 108 boys gathered for a week at Riverview Bible Camp near Cusick for the first of what is now NBC Camps, Crowell's modest local notion turned global juggernaut. He recruited a few coaches to assist with the basketball instruction and took charge of the motivating, while his wife, Susie, commandeered the kitchen. Operations don’t get more mom-and-pop than that -- and if Susie was soon barbequing 1,500 pieces of chicken every summer Saturday, it never outgrew that spirit.

More than 50 years later, upwards of 450,000 kids have participated in some aspect of the NBC experience -- camps, clinics, touring teams, college prep sessions, varsity academies. It's nearly impossible to find a local player who reached the college level that didn't go through the Crowell funnel, to say nothing of the countless campers who embraced the life messages they received well into adulthood after they'd let go of basketball.

That remarkable reach -- and the testimonials that grew out of it -- makes Fred Crowell a perfect fit for the Hooptown Hall of Fame.

"He had a huge heart for seeing people succeed," said Crowell's daughter, Jennifer Ferch, now the chief operating officer of NBC Camps. "I think we know when people believe and care in us. It was obvious to kids that Dad cared."

That care endures even in the wake of his passing in 2021 at the age of 79.

An all-stater in high school in Anacortes, Crowell went on to play at the University of Idaho where NBA Hall of Famer Gus Johnson was a teammate (and occasionally borrowed Crowell's prized '54 yellow Buick to tool around town). The segue into coaching was immediate. He handled the Idaho freshman team as he worked on a master's degree and then, at the age of 23, was hired as head coach at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

But struggles with administration made his two years there and four at Samford University in Alabama a decade later less than rewarding, and four years as coach of Athletes in Action's barnstorming team kept him on the road too much.

So in 1971, the Crowells relocated to Spokane, where he and a partner launched Northwest Counseling Services. And in what would be known today as a side hustle, he also planted the seeds for Northwest Basketball Camp with that first gathering on the Pend Oreille River.

The camp culture was still in its infant stages. The famed Conifer camp had been going at Snoqualmie Pass for a decade, and Marv Harshman had started the Cougar Cage Camp at Washington State that would later mushroom under George Raveling.

Crowell's vision wasn't necessarily grander, but it was rooted in something more than just basketball, going back to when -- following his wife's lead -- he committed his life to Christ.

"Fred was an amazing motivator and he loved basketball"

Said Danny Beard, who had coached with Crowell at Samford and finally succumbed to his entreaties to join the NBC team. "But he was also very much a man of God and saw that he could use principles of his counseling to help kids be better students, sons, daughters, teammates, friends -- better people. He wanted kids to understand that God loved them. But it wasn't Northwest Christian Camp; it was Northwest Basketball Camp."

As the numbers grew, it was clear kids responded to the equation. Parents, too. Much of NBC's growth, domestic and

abroad, has come from suggestions -- and groundwork -- by campers' parents who desired camp sessions closer to their area, or in a sport other than basketball.

In Year Two, the camp moved to what became its main campus at Silver Lake. It grew to four weeks in 1974, and added a girls' session the next summer. International tours became a regular feature in the 1980s, along with expansion -- to Oregon, Alaska and Canada and beyond. Now NBC reaches into 20 states and provinces and six countries, with 250 weeks of annual instruction that serve more than 10,000 campers a year.

And in time, "anybody who was a serious basketball player -- or wanted to be -- came to NBC," said Beard.

It all seems very far away that first summer of Fred teaching defensive stances in a hot gym in Cusick and Susie cleaning scrambled eggs off the kitchen walls after the mixer got cranked up too high.

As with many endeavors, as his daughter noted, it's been a combination of vision, serendipity, grace and, mostly, hard work. And, yes, expertise.

"He had tools to help you get better," she said. "You can care, but if you don't have any tools to move the needle on talent and skills, it's going to limit your impact. We want mentors with insight. He truly was a maverick in the sport -- being able to give people quick, easy, intuitive changes that would make a big difference in their games."

And their lives. For thousands of NBC campers, Fred Crowell has been a hall of famer for a long time.

Shann Ferch

Shann Ferch - Hooptown USA - Hall of Fame 2022

To appreciate the basketball dimension of Shann Ferch, it's necessary to move beyond the 31x50 box of a Hoopfest half court -- though for a Spokane audience, that's pretty much the only context there is.

It's how we know him. Through the 1990s and into this century, the participant numbers of Spokane's downtown 3-on-3-palooza soared toward 28,000, and yet there was pretty much just one face: Shann Ferch -- a circumstance made all the more curious by the fact that he never appeared on the event's poster.

People -- even the players -- came out to watch Shann Ferch.

It's why he's this year's Hoopfest wing honoree to the Hooptown Hall of Fame.

That and the jump shot: that ridiculously well-honed stroke, delivered from both an impossible apogee and impossible distance.

"He was the Stephen Curry of Spokane," marveled Nate Williams, a noted long-distance shooter himself who played both with and against Ferch in Hoopfest and countless pickup runs. "Even when you knew it was coming, it was so pure and he'd get such elevation. Plus, he had just a little fadeaway. I'd jump with everything I had in me and couldn't block it."

Ferch's teams never won back-to-back Hoopfests, but he did something maybe more difficult: he won three times across nine years with nine different teammates. The first group -- Mark Crowell, Ken Sugarman and Dave Wilson -- took the elite men's division in 1994. Three years later he teamed with Drake Charles, Todd Doolittle and Jose Hernandez. Two runner-up finishes followed before Ferch threw in with Williams and his fellow Whitworth alums Jeff Arkills and Nate Dunham to win again in 2002.

That group had actually played together in 2001, reaching the semis, when Ferch put on another exhibition -- winning both a Toyota RAV-4 in the half-court shooting contest and the 3-point contest. To some astonishment, his qualifying half-courter was a pure jump shot, delivered as if he'd been toed-up on the arc.

So where was this shot crafted?

In the gyms on Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations in Montana, where his father Tom -- a shooter of renown himself on the masters circuit even into his 80s -- coached high school players who grew up making fearless art with their passing and shooting. On the East Side playground in Livingston in the shadow of the Absaroka Mountains, where he'd practice and play up to 10 hours a day in preparation for high school seasons that twice ended in state championships, one with his brother, Kral. At NBC Camps at Silver Lake, where he would meet his wife, Jennifer, and find another guiding light in her father Fred Crowell, the founder. At Montana State and Pepperdine, and later in Germany's Bundesliga, where he shot 52 percent from the international 3-point line.

But it's those Native American players -- Jonathan Takes Enemy, Elias Pretty Horse, Jarvis Yellow Robe -- and teams from his boyhood that especially resonate with Ferch, who remains in touch with many.

"I just remember thinking, 'They can really shoot it,' " he said. "It's amazing how well they shoot from deep, and then they really pass it and play very fast. I found it kind of magical."

A distinguished writer in addition to his work as a professor at Gonzaga now, Ferch cops to looking at such things "through a poetic lens," but also came to know through his father and brother there was work to be done to make the magic. Hence the plyometric training that in time developed a 42-inch vertical jump.

"There was a reason our high school team had 10 guys who could dunk, and five behind their heads," he said.

Grad school beckoned after his year in Germany, though Ferch certainly didn't leave the game behind -- playing with touring teams against Top 10 colleges, working camps, playing five times a week to this day. And when he and Jennifer made their way back to Spokane, they found this new toy awaiting them each June.


He's made it a point to enjoy it at all levels -- playing with his wife in the coed division, and with his father, brother and another 80-ish friend in the geezer bracket. But even into his 50s, Ferch couldn’t resist the lure of the elite games. Naturally, he has some insight into putting together a contender.

"One outstanding defender -- for us that was Jose and Jeff Arkills," he said. "It doesn't really matter if you have a big guy, but you have to have someone who can stop a big guy. You certainly need a legit scorer, and if you can add another that's pretty ideal. The year I played with Todd Doolittle, we were never challenged -- well, except for the game we both shot bad, and we had to play seven extra games coming back through the loser's bracket."

What else?

"No mid-range. No down-corner jumpers that make the rim five feet higher."

Also, indulge in a sausage between games. And catch up with as many old friends as you can. For as driven as he was by the competition, Shann Ferch has always searched for that "soul of life" balance that requires faith, fun and service.

"It's been a lot of joy," he said. "Basketball's not very important in my life, if that makes sense, but it's very important for the brotherhood and friendship through the years. And that brotherhood in this town takes care of each other."

And celebrates hall of fame moments. Shann Ferch has made plenty of those.

Briann January

Briann January - Hooptown USA - HALL of Fame 2022

Regrets? Briann January has had a few. "I'm still upset that my sister has three state championships and I have zero," she admitted, a small laugh betraying the lack of a true grudge.

But in truth, so much of what January has achieved in a life in basketball has been predicated on leaving nothing to regret. In her preparation, practice and play -- especially in a 14-year WNBA career -- the Lewis and Clark High School graduate set an exacting standard for herself and the teammates she prized.

That example and her accomplishments go hand in hand in mandating her entrée into the Hooptown Hall of Fame.

Consider what may be a career-defining play from her days with the Indiana Fever, on their way to the 2012 WNBA championship. Down 0-1 in a best-of-3 East final against top-seeded Connecticut, January missed a breakaway layup in the closing seconds of a tie game. But rather than give up on the loose ball heading out of bounds, she dashed to cut off the Sun's Allison Hightower, dove toward the Connecticut bench and, just inches off the floor, saved the ball to teammate Shavonte Zellous, whose jumper beat the buzzer and sent the series to a deciding third game the Fever won on the road.

"The neat thing is," January later told ESPN, "I've had a ton of emails from coaches who say, 'I showed this to my team, because you exemplify hustle . . . and never giving up.' That was cool to hear, because that's how I love to play."

And it goes back to when her third-grade soccer buddies talked her into playing on their YMCA team, the Royals.

Barry and Sally January's middle daughter was never going to be a one-sport wonder -- not with dad a karate instructor and the house full of black belts. Later, January would win a state high jump title for LC. But when Jim Redmon, LC's girls coach at the time, enlisted her in the eighth grade to play on a short-handed summer team, he saw immediately that basketball would be her calling.

"We hadn't seen that level of speed and quickness," he recalled. "But she also played with purpose. Not a lot of players that age do."

The purpose was defense. It's not that January was unable to score, but simply drew more gratification out of distribution and defense, something that never left her. She would twice be Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year at Arizona State, and was picked to the WNBA's All-Defensive Team seven times.

"It's just the competitive nature in me," she said. "Making my opponent uncomfortable, making things as hard as possible -- that was fun for me. Getting a turnover, leading the break and getting an easy two points hyped me up. It ignited our teams."

"Terrific Tigers"

The Tigers were certainly ignited. After a decade of indifferent success, they went to the state tournament three straight years, and though a state title eluded her, three consecutive championships followed her graduation -- her sister, Kiara, was part of those -- and Redmon recalls getting a congratulatory call from January on the bus ride home.

By that time she was at ASU leading the Sun Devils to four NCAA tournaments -- including the Elite Eight twice. As she did in high school, January elevated her game each year, and in 2009 she was the No. 6 overall pick in the WNBA draft.

That's a commitment, not a knack. January recognized that at each step, each year, her teams needed more from her if they were to continue on an upward arc. Often it played out in-season; her regular-to-postseason numbers went up in nine times in the 12 years she was in the playoffs.

She regards her being drafted by Indiana -- her home for the first nine seasons -- as being "so lucky," joining a team that made the WNBA finals in her first year and being surrounded by veterans that left her space for error and growth, even as expectations grew. The championship season of 2012 when she was coming off ACL surgery and rehab was a special reward, though for January getting a championship for teammate Tamika Catchings -- "to me, the best to do it," she said -- was the special part.

In fact, January came to feel that her career wasn't one of transformative moments -- like being a WNBA all-star in 2014 -- so much as one of transformative people who "changed my trajectory.

"That's playing for Jim and him coaching me hard," she said. "My first thought was, 'What's his deal?' But he saw something in me and wouldn't let me settle. It was the same with Charli Turner Thorne at ASU. I remember a meeting after my sophomore year that changed my approach and focus and that led to being drafted. And then having a mentor like Tamika who showed me what being a pro was about. I've been blessed with some amazing people in my life."

She played in Phoenix, Connecticut and finally Seattle before retiring in 2022 with 3,084 career points and 1,339 assists -- 14th in the WNBA history. She played more years as a pro than she did in getting there. And there was a seamless segue to coaching, as an assistant with the Sun.

"Fourteen years -- if you'd told me that as a rookie, I'd have said no way," January said. "But what sticks with me are the relationships and trying to make those around me better.

"I pride myself on the teammate I was."

In Hooptown USA, she's the hall of fame kind.