LACEY - The experiences that shaped Brady Bomber into the point guard he is today - a vocal leader who has increasing responsibility on the court and the fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country in Division II (2.93-to-1) - began in gymnasiums in Lynden.
That grooming continued during his first year at Saint Martin's University in 2008, when he redshirted while learning the ropes from Jake Linton, the program's career scoring leader with more than 2,000 points from 2006-09. It has been Bomber's show at the point ever since.
Now, it's his turn this season to groom the program's next generation - and that's Riley Carel, a Seattle Pacific transfer who is taking a redshirt this season and will have two years of eligibility remaining.
"It's been cool to have a culture where we can compete against each other, but at the same time, you pass the torch," Bomber said. "It's better off when (Carel) gets here. It will be good."
This is Bomber, a selfless player who credits his coaches, teammates and the Saint Martin's staff for helping make his time in Lacey and in the Saints' basketball program special. And for the times he wanted to get in an early-morning shootaround, or one between classes, he thanked the janitors and staff for opening Marcus Pavilion and lowering the baskets for him to get in extra work.
"It's starting to hit me how special it is and to appreciate each opportunity," Bomber said.
With two regular-season games left, and at least one more should the Saints make the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament, Bomber will call it a career. He already has his undergraduate degree in accounting and will graduate this spring with his MBA. He also has a job lined up after graduation at a Bellingham-based accounting firm with the plan of becoming a certified personal accountant.
"I'll be helping people in a different way," Bomber said.
Helping those younger than himself - just as people helped Bomber when he was younger - is what he wants to accomplish in basketball, too. While his playing career will soon end, he's not finished with the game. He wants to coach younger kids, perhaps at camps or one-on-one skill training.
"Any way I can help kids," Bomber said. "I know for me, when I was little, was so huge. I want to support people the way I was supported and, hopefully, help kids the way I was taken care of."
One thing the Saints pride themselves on is taking care of the basketball, and that starts with Bomber, coach Keith Cooper said. The Saints are one of the top Division II teams in the country when it comes to committing the fewest turnovers - an average of 10.1 a game, which is tied for second in the nation.
Throughout Bomber's 105-game tenure, he has seen all-conference, all-region, and All-America players come and go but he has never missed a start. And this season, his scoring is at a career-high - 6.9 points a game - while shooting 38 percent. He also surpassed 400 assists for his career following his eight-assist effort in a 80-60 win over Simon Fraser on Saturday.
But Cooper said in his 26 years of coaching, Bomber ranks No. 1 on his list of players with the best character.
"He makes you a better person by being around him," Cooper said. "He's been a great player and a better person."
At 4-10 in GNAC play and 8-14 overall, the Saints need to win and get a great deal of help to make the GNAC tournament, which is March 7-9 at Saint Martin's. The top six teams make the tournament, and the Saints are three games back of sixth-place Central Washington.
Whenever Bomber's time as a Saint ends, he'll be content.
"It's special here," he said. "It's been a lot of fun."