As a four-year starting point guard at Pacific Lutheran University, James Conti’s assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 1.5-to-1.
Those numbers barely pass as sufficient for the average ballhandler, much less the guy you want running an offense.
Conti isn’t for everybody. But he is the guy PLU basketball coach Steve Dickerson trusts most with the game on the line.
“He is fearless. He’s gritty. He’s competitive. And his heart is enormous,” Dickerson said. “I like that kind of kid.”
Case in point: It was Conti who heaved a 35-foot shot that swished through the net to get PLU to overtime against No. 11 Whitworth on Friday. And at the end of the first overtime, the senior from Edmonds made both free throws to get the game into another extra session – where the Pirates prevailed, 103-94.
“He wants the ball in my hands most of the time,” Conti said. “He trusts me.”
Background certainly comes into play in this point guard-coach pairing: Dickerson coached high school ball in Columbus, Ohio, for 33 seasons. All of his leaders were tough-minded guards who couldn’t care less how their style looked to others, but cared more about finding a way to get the job done.
Conti’s style might be better-suited for the playground. He will charge through defenders to get up some sort of shot near the basket. He will run wherever he can to get in the face of another ballhandler, just to defend him.
“Yes, he does things at times that irritate you … but he is always trying to get something done,” Dickerson said.
“When he first started, he would carry a mistake into the next moment. We are always telling him … just to move on. Now he is doing a good job of that. You have to be a reasonably tough individual to do that.”
Not a lot of colleges were reaching out to Conti when he graduated from Edmonds-Woodway High School in 2008. Saint Martin’s University in Lacey sent out feelers. A couple of junior colleges inquired. But Dickerson and PLU sought him out from the first day they scouted him.
“My style of play, there were some things I had to change,” Conti said. “But Coach (Dickerson) is old school, and that is the way he explained it – I am an old-school player. I love physical play and what not. We see basketball in very similar ways. It is all about defense, and that is where games are won and lost, and everything else (is) second.”
Where does the toughness come from? He is 5-foot-10, and not only had an older brother, Huston, to deal with every day at home, he also had to find ways to survive against future NBA draft lottery pick Martell Webster.
Webster is from Seattle. His mother, Cora McGuirk, disappeared in 1990 when he was 4 years old. He lived with other family members – until he became friends with Huston Conti. Eventually, before he attended Seattle Prep – and eventually entered the NBA – Webster lived with the Conti family in Edmonds.
“My brother and him went to the same Stevens Elementary School. He did not have the best living situation, so he started spending a lot of time at our house. He and my brother were inseparable,” Conti said.
“So they were my two older brothers, and you know how that goes. I was always shorter and smaller, so I would have to play harder and tougher to get by.”
It is a skill set that has earned him a reputation as one of the unabashed – and best – point guards in the Northwest Conference.
“I am sure opponents do not like me, but that is not important,” Conti said. “As long as they respect you – and I think they do – that is OK.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com
PLU-UPS WOMEN’S GAMEDAY
PUGET SOUND (7-6 OVERALL, 3-1 NORTHWEST CONFERENCE) AT PACIFIC LUTHERAN (4-9, 1-3)
Tipoff: 6 p.m., Olson Auditorium, Parkland
Series: The Loggers lead, 41-24, and have won nine of the past 10 meetings. They bring a five-game winning streak in tonight, including a sweep of UPS last season (66-41 in Tacoma, 81-68 in Parkland).
Ashley Agcaoili PG220.127.116.11.347.722
Amanda ForshayF18.104.22.168.447 .686
Scouting report: Even though the records indicate teams headed in opposite directions, statistically not much separates the programs. Both shoot poorly (UPS at 38.3 percent; PLU 36.4) and give up the worst shooting percentage to opponents (both 41.8). But simply put, the Loggers have more weapons to go around, and sooner or later, McKinnis and Riordan are going to put their modest shooting behind them and catch fire. The only real chance PLU has is limiting turnovers and getting a big game from Potter in the interior.
PLU-UPS MEN’S GAMEDAY
NO. 18 PUGET SOUND (11-2, 3-1 NWC) AT PACIFIC LUTHERAN (5-8, 2-2)
Tipoff: 8 p.m., Olson Auditorium, Parkland
Series: The Lutes lead, 66-60, and have won three of the past four games, including a sweep last season – 71-59 in Tacoma and 78-74 in Parkland. Before 2009, UPS had won 13 games in a row.
Edric EgberuareSF 22.214.171.124.453.652
Kaleb Shelton-Johnson PF10.56.12.2.398.719
Scouting report: Both teams want to play the same grind-it-out style, giving maximum effort defensively while trying to find whatever shots are open. Thing is, those shots are distributed in a completely different manner. Everything for UPS feeds off Gittens, whose presence in the paint opens up the perimeter for Jobe, Ryan Rogers and Rex Holmes. The Lutes need Earnest – arguably the league’s best pure shooter – to get it going on the outside to stretch the Loggers’ defense.
Todd Milles, staff writer