Former Husky has had to deal with several injuries on the team and a new lineup, but he remains positive in the Falcons’ quest for a 13th consecutive berth in the NCAA Division II tournament.
At a Seattle Pacific men’s basketball practice last week, new coach Grant Leep discovered that there was a bracket loose on the basket.
He joked that he was surprised it had not fallen off and hit someone. It has been that kind of season for the Falcons and Leep, who was promoted to head coach after assisting Ryan Looney the previous seven years.
With no returning starters, it was going to be a rebuilding year in any case, and then on the first day of open gym last September, point guard Gabe Colosimo tore an ACL.
The Grant Leep file
Playing highlights: Three-time all-state selection for Mount Vernon High School, led team to second-place finish in state as a junior and third place as a senior. … Holds all-time three-point percentage for UW men at 42.9 percent (60 of 140). Was a team captain for the Huskies as a senior in 2002, averaging 7.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. He led Pac-10 in three-point percentage that season, making a school-record 52.7 percent (39 of 74).
Did you know: He and his wife, Allison, have two daughters: Avery, 6, and Harper, 3.
That proved to be a sign of things to come. Tre Miller, a transfer from North Dakota State who could have made a big impact, has yet to play this season because of a bad back. Three other key players are either out for the season or have missed significant time.
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But if you think Leep is dwelling on the fact that the 8-10 Falcons’ 12-year streak of NCAA Division II tournament appearances (the longest active streak in Division II) is in jeopardy, you’d be wrong. His enthusiasm and positive energy are contagious, and he knows that starting three true freshmen this season will be helpful in years to come, even if it means a bit of struggle in the short term.
“It’s natural for me to be positive, but at the same time we do have a level of expectation that we want to achieve, regardless of what our situation is,” said Leep, who was a high-school star at Mount Vernon High School before playing four seasons for the University of Washington. “So that part has been frustrating, yes, but the effort that we’re getting from our guys, the improvement that we’re seeing from when we first started till now, are things that just keep us going.
“This group has shown all year long that there’s just a grit about them and a resilience to them, even when our backs are against the wall.”
Leep, who holds UW’s career three-point percentage record, has switched from the methodical motion offense that Looney ran to a more up-tempo style. That has led to more points and an exciting brand of basketball.
“I think part of it is it lines up more with who I am and the style that I enjoy as a coach and that I believe in,” Leep said of the change. “We’re getting out and trying to push the ball a little more, and that’s something that we’ll continue to do.”
Leep, 37, is married to former UW volleyball player Allison Richardson. They met in the UW training room during Leep’s sophomore season, and it was during that time he decided that he wanted to be a coach.
He got his start with a year as an assistant at North Seattle College, then spent two seasons as an assistant at Spokane Community College and four seasons at Eastern Washington before joining Looney at SPU.
Leep had chances to go to a higher level in recent years, but decided to stay at Seattle Pacific.
“I’ve really enjoyed this level a lot,” he said. “I think there’s such a great balance between the student and athlete component, and then being at a school as great as SPU is from an academic standpoint. We get a lot of really driven and motivated kids coming through and it’s just been a lot of fun being a part of their lives and watching them develop as they come through the program.
“Now I’m excited to take an even bigger step in that regard, being the head coach, being a part of their development not only as players but as young men.”
Leep doesn’t have to look far for advice. His coach at Mount Vernon was Mac Fraser, one of the state’s all-time greats who won three state titles at the school. Fraser comes to some SPU games, and Leep speaks with his old coach often.
“He’s not coaching anymore, but he’s as sharp as it gets from a basketball mind,” Leep said. “He’s a very valuable resource for me. We talk strategy, we talk player development. I’ve never been around a guy who is just so good at developing and building relationships, and that’s something that’s very near and dear to me as a coach and that I want to bring to this program.”
Leep has had a lot to deal with in his first season, from trying to keep injured players upbeat to keeping his team feeling positive despite more losses than the program is used to. The fact that Leep went through similar struggles at UW gives him insight into how his players are feeling.
Leep was a seldom-used player on an NCAA tournament team in his freshman year, went through an injury in his sophomore season, was a key player off the bench as junior and a starter for most of his senior season. In his final three years at UW, the team struggled.
“When I look at how I can relate to these guys now, I’ve kind of been through every situation through my playing career, which has been a valuable resource for me,” he said.
For SPU to reach the NCAA tournament this season, it will have to win the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament, and that is not out of the question.
Coleman Wooten, the team’s top scorer and second-leading rebounder, is just a sophomore and had a 35-point game last week. Tony Miller, the team’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder, had a 34-point game earlier this month.
Leep must balance the urge to win now with what is best for the program in the long haul, and the future certainly seems bright.
“Obviously, that streak (of making the NCAA tournament) is something that’s pretty cool,” Leep said. “That’s a big deal but if we’re only making decisions based on trying to keep that streak alive, then we’re sacrificing something in the long term. If we need to take some time to rebuild the culture and rebuild the foundation of what we want to do going forward, then it’s gonna be well worth it down the line.”