The 2020-21 college basketball season is reaching a midway point, and it is a good time to start asking a pertinent question about NCAA Division I college programs in Washington.
Who are the top five players in each program’s history with ties to Washington high schools?
The criteria is straight-forward:
1. The player has to have finished a (D-1) college career.
2. Half the player’s rating comes from what he accomplished at EWU, while the rest of it is split between what he did in high school, and what he did or has been doing as a professional.
SBLive Washington polled coaches, longtime school administrators and sportswriters before finalizing a top-five list:
(all photos courtesy of EWU athletics)
1. RODNEY STUCKEY
High school: Kentwood (class of 2004).
College tenure at EWU: 2005-07.
Signature statistic or honor: Stuckey registered two of the top four points-per-game season averages in Big Sky Conference history – and his 24.6 average ranks No. 2 all-time behind Idaho’s Orlando Lightfoot (25.4 ppg).
Skinny: Not only is Stuckey easily the best player to come out of Cheney – you could also make a case he is one of the best players to ever come out of the Big Sy Conference. After the all-state, two-way guard led Kentwood to the Class 4A title in 2004, he dominated the Big Sky in his two seasons – scoring 1,438 points with 283 assists and 279 rebounds. In both seasons, he averaged more than 24 points per game – and set the school’s single-game mark of 45 points against Northern Arizona. Months after being named the conference player of the year, the two-time All-American was picked No. 15 overall by Detroit in the 2007 NBA Draft – EWU’s highest selection ever – and played 10 seasons in the league. His No. 3 jersey has been retired by the university.
2. BOGDAN BLIZNYUK
High school: Beamer (class of 2014).
College tenure at EWU: 2014-18.
Signature statistic or honor: The do-everything forward holds school and conference marks – and an NCAA Division I single-season record for most consecutive free throws made with 77, set in 2018.
Skinny: Going from late bloomer to all-time Big Sky scoring leader – Bliznyuk’s story is as good as it gets. Even though he was an all-4A SPSL North forward, he got little recruiting attention out of Beamer. On the tip of a sportswriter (of all people), then-coach Jim Hayford offered him a scholarship – and the payoff was significant. He became EWU’s career leader in games played (138), wins (86), minutes played (4,265), made field goals (776), made free throws (467) and points (2,169) – and recorded the school’s first triple against Northern Arizona (2016). He also led the Eagles to the postseason in all four seasons, and was the 2018 Big Sky MVP.
3. ALVIN SNOW
High school: Franklin (class of 2000).
College tenure at EWU: 2000-04.
Signature statistic or honor: Not only the Eagles’ first NCAA Division I All-American in basketball, Snow was also the school’s first Big Sky most valuable player in any sport.
Skinny: Known as a hard-nosed defender – and fiery leader – Snow was a big reason the Eagles rose to Big Sky supremacy in the 2000s under former coach Ray Giacoletti. At point guard, Snow was the first EWU player to earn conference first-team honors three or more times, including being the Big Sky MVP in 2004. And on that 2003-04 squad, considered the best in school history, Snow guided the charge to nabbing the school’s inaugural NCAA Division I tournament berth, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. By the time he left, Snow’s 1,396 points were tops in school history as a D1 program (No. 9 now), and he went on to have a 10-year pro career before becoming a players’ agent.
4. MARC AXTON
High school: Foss (class of 2001).
College tenure at EWU: 2001-05.
Signature statistic or honor: Axton was known as an ironman performer during his college career, never missing a practice or game – and starting the final 99 consecutive games of his career.
Skinny: Very few recruits have come to Cheney with higher expectations out of high school than this sharpshooter, who was a force as a junior in Foss’ run to the 2000 state title, then tallied 41 points in a memorable state-tournament game against favored Garfield as a senior in 2001. That high scoring output didn’t wither in college, either, as a three-year starter for the Eagles. He was EWU’s top perimeter shooter, and left as the school’s all-time leader in 3-point shots attempted (499; now No. 5) and made (184; now No. 5). His 1,319 points were No. 2 at the time for D1 players behind Snow – and sits at No. 11 now.
5. JACOB WILEY
High school: Newport (class of 2012).
College tenure at EWU: 2016-17.
Signature statistic or honor: Wiley and former teammate Bogdan Bliznyuk tied Rodney Stuckey’s EWU single-game scoring mark of 45 points – in the same 2017 game against Portland State.
Skinny: This frontcourt terror was sort of a college-basketball vagabond, having played at three schools in four years. But what a performer he was in his one season with the Eagles. The Big Sky player of the year averaged 20.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 2.4 assists per game as a senior – and finished as one of 12 player in school history to average 20 or more points. Wiley also recorded the rare “double” – being named a honorable mention All-American (2017) after being an NAIA All-American at Lewis-Clark State. Though undrafted, Wiley has played minutes in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets – and now plays professionally in Canada.
Editor’s note: Hall of famer and former NBA player Ron Cox was omitted from this list because he played with the Eagles while they were an NAIA school. Cox is one of the program’s all-time great performers in the 1970s.
(Rodney Stuckey feature photo by Keith Allison – CC BY-SA 2.0)