Jan. 3, 2007
Story and Photo by Brandon Hansen
With time waning and the pressure mounting in a heated Big Sky Conference men's basketball match-up between Eastern Washington University and the Montana Grizzlies on Dec. 30, EWU head coach Mike Burns had the team he wanted out on the floor.
Kellen Williams, Matt Penoncello, Brandon Moore and Rhett Humphrey didn't start the game, but they certainly finished it. Those four players came off the bench in the contest's final minutes and contributed mightily to the 74-71 victory over a Grizzly team that was picked to finish first in the Big Sky Conference by the media. The Grizzlies are the two-time defending Big Sky Tournament champions.
"We told our guys that whoever works the hardest is going to play," said Burns, who picked up his first career victory against the Grizzlies.
And for Humphrey, working hard at basketball is something that he's been doing his entire life.
"Every kid dreams about growing up and playing for the hometown team," said Humphrey. "I'm living that dream."
The 5-foot-11 guard played his high school ball for Cheney High School, which was led by a Hall of Fame head coach that just so happens to be Rhett's father. Denny Humphrey amassed a 552-275 record during his 34-year tenure as a head coach. His teams qualified for 15 state tournaments, including nine as the coach of the Blackhawks.
"There were quite a few dinner conversations when we would talk about basketball," said Rhett.
The younger Humphrey averaged 11.6 points as a senior, and led the Blackhawks to the State 3A Tournament as a junior where he scored 48 points in just three games.
After playing for Whitworth College and Wenatchee Valley Community College, Humphrey had the opportunity to come back home to Cheney and play basketball for the hometown college team.
He asked Burns if the Eagles needed an extra practice player and walked on to the men's basketball team two years ago during the spring.
"I wasn't expecting to play very much, but things just kind of fell my way," said Humphrey.
During the 2005-2006 season, he averaged 16.1 minutes a game off the bench and scored a season high 15 points against Idaho State when he knocked down five of six three-point attempts in a 94-87 road win. He had 11 points against Marquette and 10 against Montana State in Bozeman, Mont.
Through EWU's first 14 games this season, Humphrey is averaging 11.0 minutes off the bench. He has 14 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists and six steals in the 11 games he has played.
"He is a phenomenal kid," said Burns. "You just knew he was going to work extra hard -- he's of great character."
Humphrey, along with the three other players who came off the bench against Montana, made a statement for the Eagles. He finished with five points and a pair of assists in 23 minutes of action.
It showed just how good this team can be, especially after EWU dropped its league opener 82-79 to Montana State.
"It was a good group of guys out there," said Humphrey. "After the Montana State loss, that was something that we talked about. If guys are getting tired, we have players that can come right off the bench and perform."
The Bobcats shocked the Eagles with a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer, setting the stage for the critical conference game against the Grizzlies.
"We had to win," said Humphrey of the Montana victory. "We bounced back because of short-term memory, I guess. We didn't want to start off with a 0-2 conference record."