Bogdan Bliznyuk can’t imagine what comes next.
Bliznyuk has spent the past year believing the Tacoma Dome was the Taj Mahal of basketball arenas. As a senior in 2013-14, he led Todd Beamer High School to the Class 4A state championships in that venue.
But what has happened for him over the past three months at Eastern Washington University — especially this past weekend in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference tournament — has Bliznyuk’s head spinning about the places and things he’s seen.
A true freshman, Bliznyuk played 28 minutes off the bench — including the entire second half — in the Eagles’ come-from-behind 69-65 victory over host Montana to clinch the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
As a No. 13 seed in the South Region, Eastern (26-8) will take on fourth-seeded Georgetown in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Thursday in Portland.
This will be just the Eagles’ second appearance in the NCAA tournament in school history.
“This is awesome — a dream come true,” Bliznyuk said. “Last year I made it to the high school tournament, and I got to watch the (NCAAs). And this year, I am going to the NCAA tournament.”
Bliznyuk, The News Tribune’s 2013-14 All-Area player of the year, was one of four incoming freshman for coach Jim Hayford. A fifth — guard Sir Washington from Las Vegas — is a redshirt freshman.
“We knew we were going to need two of the five (freshmen) — and one of them was going to be the guy (Washington) we redshirted,” Hayford said. “After three weeks of practices, it was clear Bogdan was college-ready and that we would not redshirt him.”
At 6-feet-6, Bliznyuk’s natural position is on the wing. But because of injuries and game-to-game foul trouble, he has been asked to play more inside, even at center.
“We had a tough spell with injuries midway through the season, and Bogdan went on a five-six (game) tear where him and Tyler (Harvey) were our one-two punch,” Hayford said. “He just stayed consistent all throughout the year.”
In league play, Bliznyuk averaged 12.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and shot 58.0 percent from the floor off the bench. He was named the Big Sky freshman of the year.
“I did not think I would play this much,” Bliznyuk said. “As time passed, I just got to play.”
The one discussion Hayford has revisited throughout the season with his standout was his 3-point shot.
“He has a little bit of an unorthodox form,” Hayford said. “I told him, ‘If I let you shoot like that, you better make it.’ ”
On a team full of 3-point shooters, Bliznyuk has been the best — making them at a 56.1 percent clip.
“People tell me it is a little weird-looking,” Bliznyuk said. “I knew I could make them.”
Bliznyuk came up big in the Big Sky tournament. After seeing limited time in the Eagles’ opener against Idaho, he scored 16 points in 26 minutes in the semifinal victory over Sacramento State, and he tallied 13 points, five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot in 28 minutes in the finals against the Grizzlies.
In the first half, Bliznyuk had seven points and five rebounds, and seemed to be the only Eastern player clicking.
“We had our toughest efficiency half, and he carried us and kept us in the game,” Hayford said.
“He is a one-two punch. The first punch is that he plays so hard, which is why he is such a great offensive rebounder. And the second punch is, he scores off the post, off the drive and off the outside shot.
“When you get a guy who plays hard and has that skill set, you have a college-ready player.”
As the final seconds ticked down and Eastern players began jumping up and down, knowing they were headed to the NCAA tournament, Bliznyuk came over to his coach and gave him a big hug and patted him on the stomach.
It left the coach emotional.
“He wrapped his arms around me and told me he loved me,” Hayford said. “When you have players like that, you can do a lot. You can do a whole lot.”