Sometimes the biggest praise comes in the form of loud screaming.
Whitworth University has been king of Northwest Conference men’s basketball for a while now and is almost unbeatable in its home gymnasium in Spokane. The Pirates played host to Pacific Lutheran University on Saturday night.
With other Lutes starters stone-cold, point guard Brandon Lester was red-hot. The sophomore made four 3-pointers and was twirling around Whitworth defenders as if he was the star of a ballet.
Not once, but twice Whitworth coach Matt Logie called timeout — not just to make pointed remarks to his players about slowing down Lester but to himself devise a scheme to take Lester out of the PLU attack.
“Yeah, I could hear (Logie) yelling at them on the sideline,” Lester said. “You could say it was a compliment.”
Added PLU coach Steve Dickerson: “He was a warrior — and he is getting better, and better, and better.”
If the Lutes want to upset crosstown rival Puget Sound on Tuesday night at Memorial Fieldhouse, Lester will likely have to lead the way.
“He has a real ability to shoot the basketball,” Dickerson said. “And he can find and create his own space. He is making himself real hard to defend.”
Oddly enough, as Lester was ready to graduate from Sammamish’s Eastlake High School, the two colleges he was most considering were PLU and UPS.
He chose the Lutes, and Dickerson immediately handed the keys of the offense to him as a freshman.
“A couple of the seniors — Arvid (Isakson) and Kai (Hoyt) — helped me out a lot, and really took me in,” Lester said. “Before the season, we worked out a lot together, and they showed me a few of the ins and outs of the league.”
Lester’s frame (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) was probably his biggest detriment, but he countered that with a creative, dramatic flair for playmaking.
The guard credits his old-school basketball upbringing to AAU coach Scott Herrmann, a former DePauw University point guard who was with Friends of Hoop in Seattle but left to start the Charlotte Reign in North Carolina.
Lester’s father, Dave, a former men’s soccer player at Washington State University, has also showed him a few tricks.
“They pushed me to get to the gym a lot,” Lester said. “They showed me how to be crafty and how to make some of those plays.”
Lester is very good about converting floater shots over bigger defenders in the lane. But he is especially fond of another move.
“I like driving to my left and jumping up into a defender, and then throw the ball at the basket with my left hand,” Lester said. “Sometimes I make them, too.”
After a full freshman season, Lester admitted he wore down. Dickerson’s top offseason emphasis for his on-court leader was to pack on 10-15 pounds of muscle from the weight room.
“He is much, much stronger than he was last year,” Dickerson said. “He understands how tall he is, so physical strength is hugely important. He’s been dedicated to the parts of the game that ultimately make you better.”
After a slow start, Lester leads the team in scoring (13.2 points per game), and is shooting 42.9 percent from the 3-point line (39 of 91). Over his past 10 games, he has averaged 15.3 points. In eight of those games, he has made multiple 3-pointers.
“So far in conference play, I have noticed (the defensive adjustments on me),” Lester said. “I will come off pick-and-rolls, and teams will do a lot of switching and putting a bigger guy on me — a person who is a solid 2-3 inches taller than me.
“That is fine with me — I like the challenge.”