Eastern Oregon men enjoying #1 NAIA ranking

Eastern Oregon men enjoying #1 NAIA ranking
LaGrande, OREGON (KBOI-TV) For the first time in school history, the EAstern Oregon men's basketball team has been voted number one in the NAIA's division II coaches poll.

The team became the first in the NAIA to reach 20 wins this season on Friday night, with a 120-95 win over the College of Idaho in Caldwell.

Watching from the bleachers that night, family and friends of several Mountaineers who are gem state natives, including starter Michael Crane.

"It makes it easy for my parents to come out and see me, so I really appreciate it," the former Glenns Ferry three-sport star said of his proximity to home.

Crane elected to go to Walla Walla after high school, and is in his first year with the Mounties. Head coach Isaac Williams is happy to have him.

"You don't see what he does on the stat sheet unless you look at the opponents'," Williams said. "He's done a really great job shutting down some of the elite scorers in our league. He's probably the best defensive player I've ever coached."

Crane isn't alone - four other players from Idaho wear the blue and gold of Eastern Oregon: Middleton's John Buhler, Kimberly's Derek Maloney and Jason Mumm and Post Falls native Michael Hillman.

"We've had great success recruiting Idaho," Williams said. "Hopefully that can continue; those kids are great - and it's nice because they close enough that their parents can come see them but they are far enough away from their parents that they don't have to be at home," the third-year coach said with a wry smile.

And no matter where the guys come from, they have come together. Coach and players alike mentioned how tight-knit this team is - and that's the driving force behind their success.

"They are totally unselfish," said Williams. "That's been more fun than the winning which doesn't hurt either."

EOU (20-1, 8-1 CCC) has nine games remaining in the regular season, including a chance to avenge their only loss this year to Southern Oregon January 19 in LaGrande.