Moving Up: Hironaka’s Team Makes It to the NCAA Tournament in Their Best Season Yet
HUNGER BEST DESCRIBES the feeling that Jeff Hironaka woke with every day this season. Probably the hardest-working guy in college basketball, Hironaka has made it his mission to restore Seattle Pacific University to its place among the region’s top men’s programs and to ultimately claim an NCAA championship.
In his third season since taking the helm, Hironaka guided Seattle Pacific back to the NCAA tournament. No coach in the program’s
rich history has done so faster. And while the Falcons lost to Cal Poly Pomona in the first round, this group of players created a legacy for future teams.
“We took a step backward to go forward,” said Hironaka of his second season, when he not only needed to replace four starters but also chose to install a new offense. “The players were young and inconsistent at first,” he says, “but we’ve managed to do better than predicted each season, and now we’re going forward.”
The Falcons have not sacrificed character, leading the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in all-academic selections each of Hironaka’s three seasons. Although his stomach
churned at times, the coach has stuck with his players. The same starting five that went 14-13 a year ago finished the 2005 regular
season at 20-8 — despite playing perhaps the toughest schedule in 10 years.
Some may say Hironaka and his squad were overachievers. Two examples: Jason Chivers,
a former pro baseball prospect, became an all-region center in just his fourth full year of playing the sport; and Jordan Lee, the last holdover
from former coach Ken Bone’s teams, has gone from being a deep reserve to averaging 15 points in his final two seasons.
Another player who has helped put SPU basketball back on the upward path is junior Tony Binetti. Bone’s last signed recruit, he was the first to commit himself to Hironaka. “When Hiro got the job, knowing how long and how hard he had worked at SPU as assistant coach, I wanted to be part of what was ahead,” says Binetti. In his junior season, he has blossomed into one of the conference’s top performers.
Despite this year’s success, the team must start over again next season. Chivers, Lee, and key reserve Ralph Steele — all seniors — will be gone. “The key will be for Tony, Chad Williams,
Dustin Bremerman, and the others to keep it going,” says Hironaka. “You could say they’ve lit the torch. Now they can begin passing
it down the line.”
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