Little kids don’t dream about playing basketball at North Idaho College.
Certainly not Nate Pryor.
However, the former West Seattle High star landed in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he toiled for two years in relative obscurity while clinging to the hopes of playing for the Washington Huskies, the team he grew up idolizing.
“As a little kid, I always wanted to come to the UW,” said the Husky men’s junior point guard via a teleconference. “I would always be at the games. I would just be a fan of UW.
“So for me to get an offer from UW, that made it more motivating to do what I have to do.”
Pryor’s deferred dream took a circuitous route from West Seattle. He verbally accepted a scholarship with Seattle University before rescinding the agreement and committing to Washington five days later in April 2017.
However, failing academics forced him to spend a year at Elite Sports Northwest, an Issaquah-based basketball prep school before arriving at North Idaho.
“We get Division I kids that for some reason didn’t make it out of high school and we help them get things in order whether that’s basketball-wise or academics,” NIC coach Corey Symons said during a phone interview. “We help them grow up and help them learn that there’s a detour route here in your plans.
“We tell kids, the way you did it in high school obviously didn’t get you to where you want to go. So now, you’ve got to buy into what we do and buy into our track record. We get kids moved on. Do what we ask on a daily basis. If you do what we ask, we’ll get you at the next level.”
During Pryor’s stint at NIC, a junior-college powerhouse, the Cardinals posted a 59-3 record while Pryor shined in front of small crowds from Wenatchee to Pendleton, Oregon, and Rock Springs, Wyoming.
As a freshman, the 6-foot-4 point guard averaged 18.9 points, 5.3 assists, 2.5 rebounds while shooting 52.9% from the field and 23.6% on three-pointers in 32 games.
The next season, Pryor tallied 16.8 points, 4.1 assists, 2.8 rebounds while shooting 52.6% from the field and 35.5% on three-pointers.
Symons, who joked “I’m the crazy guy that’s put my career in the hands of 18- to 20-year-old kids,” has overseen several reclamation projects during his 17 seasons at North Idaho.
However, he’s never seen a point guard like Pryor.
“He’s an unbelievable facilitator,” Symons said. “I’ve coached almost 20 years now. I’ve coached NBA kids and high-level college kids, but I don’t know if I’ve coached a better point guard than Nate that has a high IQ and understands the game of basketball and how it’s supposed to be played.
“For a kid like Nate, he had dreams of playing at Washington straight out of high school and that just didn’t happen. Kids kind of get that, ‘Hey this is my last chance. I’ve really got to get things going here to make that happen.’ Most of them kind of — for lack of a better term — hit that rock bottom when they don’t make it out of high school. And they realize, this is their last chance to do what they want to do.”
If North Idaho College represents rock bottom for Pryor, then it’s also the launching pad where the UW guard reclaimed a career that he admittedly nearly ruined due to poor academics.
“I just had to get my grades right,” said Pryor, who led West Seattle High to the Class 3A state semifinals in 2017 before joining UW’s recruiting class that included Jaylen Nowell, Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Bitumba Baruti and Michael Carter III.
Pryor and Wright are the only remnants of coach Mike Hopkins’ initial recruiting class.
Whether it’s the byproduct of his perseverance, determination, loyalty or a combination of those traits, Pryor appears to play with an edge that’s in short supply for a slumping Huskies team that’s 1-5 and off to its worst start since 1993.
“Most of these players don’t go down that route,” Pryor said. “They’re either straight out of high school or they’ll just go a prep year and then go D-I. My route was a little tough, but I didn’t want to give up on myself because I knew where I wanted to get to.
“I felt like people for sure slept on me on where I was at and what route I was going. People want you to be successful in life, but sometimes you’ve just got to go down a tough route. That’s what I did and I’m just happy to be here.”
Pryor, who logged just 16 minutes in the first three games, attributed a hip injury that forced him to miss two weeks during the start of training camp as one of the reasons for his slow start. He also needed time to find a role in the backcourt and establish chemistry with leading scorer Quade Green.
“I was timid to say something,” Pryor said. “Now that I’m a little bit more comfortable and we know what we’re supposed to do, I feel like I can say stuff to my teammates.”
In the past three games, Pryor has been a catalyst as a backup while averaging 10 points, three rebounds and three assists. He also started the second half of UW’s 66-58 loss to Montana last Wednesday.
Hopkins hinted at possible lineup changes heading into Sunday’s 7 p.m. non-Pac-12 matchup against Colorado (4-1) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“There’s some guys that are really bright spots for us,” Hopkins said. “Still figuring out the combinations and getting into that solid eight-man rotation for sure.”
With the possible exception of backup center Riley Sorn, no UW player has received more praise from Hopkins than Pryor.
“He plays with an excessive amount of energy, which is inspiring,” Hopkins said. “I keep using the words ‘non-agenda basketball.’ What does that mean? He plays like an old-school point guard that’s trying to lead the team to win, which I think is critical.
“He’s still just scratching the surface with our system. But he is a guy that can get us into our offense. He’s exceptionally intelligent and he plays and competes to win and for the symbol on the front of his chest rather than the one on the back.”
Nearly 260 miles away, Symons recalls similar stories about Pryor.
“He was good enough in our league to put up 30 every night if he wanted to, but there were games when he would score 10 (points) and dish the ball because that’s what we needed to win,” Symons said. “He’s a coach’s dream to be honest because he’s a win-at-all-cost type of kid.
“It’s quite different when you leave North Idaho and end up at UW, so I knew it would take him a little to get used to the system and their style of play. … But he has an opportunity right now and it might have taken longer than he expected, but he’s turning his dreams into reality now and that really is quite remarkable.”