By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– If anything, their 65-61 loss to Columbia Christian was all that they needed to bounce back the following season to take down the Knights for the 2A State Championship.
And as Western Christian was about to open their title defense, one of their own in Payton Richardson sat in the Library on campus, signing his Letter of Intent to play basketball at Division-II Seattle Pacific University.
For the Senior, it was a long time coming since his sixth-grade playing days with the Little Rascals squad, battling with his club and High School teams to draw interest from a variety of teams from Division-I on down as he made his decision that led to Monday afternoon’s ceremony.
And as Coach Gary Hull choked away tears talking about Richardson from those days until now, Richardson wouldn’t trade the experience at Western Christian for anything in the world.
“It’s been a blast, it was the best choice I’ve ever made because I don’t really care about the big schools or the big lights or anything, I’m just a community guy,” said Richardson. “So if I could find a place that really fits me, love me and cares about me then I’ll stick with them forever. Western made it really feel like that and it was the best choice I’ve ever made.”
For the six-five guard/wing, when he went on his visit to Seattle Pacific, he felt that community vibe he fell in love with at Western Christian that made him want to go there after his Senior year.
“When I went to Seattle Pacific for my visit, the coaches and players really made me feel like I was at home and I really liked that. So I really liked that, and there’s a church close to it too. That’s something I really wanted to be part of so that made a big difference also,” said Richardson.
And as the Pioneers begin to reload for the season to come, Richardson knows his job isn’t done yet. With guys like him and Alex Nicoli returning from last year’s squad, they still have shoes to fill with the graduation of Johnny Williams, Keaton Hull and Jayce Roth as they look for another deep trip at Pendleton.
But it’s something that Richardson is ready for.
“We had a ton of motivation, we lost to (Columbia Christian) the year before. So that whole summer, the whole season we worked super hard to get back to it. We knew when we last lost to them we wouldn’t lose to them again, so we dedicated it to playing together and it really showed in the Championship,” said Richardson. “We have enough guys who were on the team last year. We know how much it takes to get there and how much it takes to win it, so really emphasis it to the younger kids that it isn’t going to come easy. No one is going to give us another ring.
“It’s not going to be a cake walk, we’ll have to push through hard. We have enough guys to implement that and talk to them about it. It’s going to be good, it’s going to eb a challenge, I think we’re going to do pretty well.”