Amaya, Slam begin title defense

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 24, 2014 

Bellingham Slam forward Tyler Amaya dunks over Express guard Coleco Buie in 2008 at Whatcom Community College. Amaya is now the Slam’s coach.

MAX BITTLE — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The Bellingham Slam culture is in no of need fixing.

Rarely is that a luxury for a new coach, one that Tyler Amaya is certainly enjoying after inheriting the team following the departure of Rob Ridnour, who presided over the club since its inception in 2005.

And what shoes he left, walking away from the Slam after it had won back-to-back International Basketball League championships, owning a 145-53 record over that eight-year span.

Amaya, 31, is no stranger to the game nor the Slam, having been an assistant coach beneath Ridnour last year and a player for him before that from 2008-11.

It will, however, be his first time presiding over any team as a head coach, a novel and fresh experience he's anxiously awaiting.

"Watching Rob operate, it's going to be foreign territory, for sure," he said, "but I think it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm sure there will be times where I want to put myself in, but I am going to be in some slacks, so it won't be a possibility."

Bellingham opens its title defense against the Seattle Flight at 7 p.m. at Whatcom Community College's Whatcom Pavilion, beginning a new era coaching-wise, but certainly not in terms of player personnel.

The Slam return nine players from last years club, including 2013 IBL Player of the Year Jacob Stevenson.

Winning isn't so much an expectation as it is a way of life for the club, Amaya said, something he doesn't see changing under his leadership.

"The identity is we're the defending champs," he said. "We're competitive. We have the D-II guys, a lot of Western guys. Typically, Division II players, they don't get the respect they deserve. People tend to forget we can play, too, and play with the best of them, and that's what we've been doing for years is beating guys that played Division I and got more respect than us. ... So I think we're still hungry. We still have a lot to prove this year."

To know WWU basketball is to know a majority of Bellingham's roster. Amaya, Stevenson, Morris "Mo" Anderson, Rico Wilkins, Richard Woodworth and Austin Bragg all are former Vikings, showing that a winning culture can translate from program to program.

"We came off the national championship and our expectations were to win a championship every year," said Woodworth, who is beginning his first season with the Slam after playing for WWU the past five years. "The pressure is kind of odd. You've done it. The target is on your back, but you know that you're capable of doing it, so you just go about your everyday business."

What Amaya does have is an arsenal of talent and experience. Stevenson returns as the team's top scorer at 22.6 points per game, shooting an impressive 61.1 percent from the field in the process. He's hardly Amaya's only option, though.

Blake Poole's 19.9 points per game and team-best 12.1 rebounds carved out the low post, leaving guys like Wilkins and Anderson open lanes to the basket that they were able to exploit. Wilkins, specifically, took advantage of the abbreviated 22-second shot clock in his first year, averaging 16.9 points per game, earning him IBL Sixth Man of the Year honors.

Inside, outside, quick, strength - Amaya said his team has it.

"We got posts that can play down low. We got posts that can step out. We got little quick guards that can go on the perimeter," Amaya said. "I love my roster. I think we got a complete team. Now it's just a matter of getting guys in the right spots and seeing how they operate."

That will be his greatest test, he said, but given his familiarity with each of his players' skill sets, it's one he doesn't think he'll struggle with.

For Woodworth, the transition from college to the Slam presents a unique, albeit fresh lesson he's learned quickly: "No shot is a bad shot. That's one of the first things you say."

"It's a lot faster paced, and we can shoot a lot more," said Woodworth, who finished his career 15th on the all-time scoring list at WWU with 1,262 points. "That's exciting for me. More shot attempts is always fun."

He doesn't see himself straying too far from his natural point-guard style, putting an emphasis on getting others involved, but that doesn't mean when given the opportunity to shoot, he'll simply pass it up.

"So many good players out here can score like crazy," he said. "I should be able to do really well getting ... everybody the ball, so I will figure out my spot and my role, but I'm definitely going to put up my shots."

The opening-day nerves are something he still expects, despite the national championship and final four appearances he's played in. But this is a new step into something slightly unfamiliar, and hopefully, he said, he can continue to play as well as he's come to expect of himself over the past several years.

"Maybe I won't like it so much after the first game," he said with a laugh.

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

UP NEXT

BELLINGHAM SLAM VS. SEATTLE FLIGHT

When: Friday, April 25

Where: Whatcom Community College's Whatcom Pavilion

Tickets: $10 adults; $8 student and seniors; $5 child

2014 BELLINGHAM SLAM ROSTER

No. Name Height Weight School

3 Rico Wilkins 5-11 175 Western Washington

7 Kosei Ban 5-4 160 Matsuyama Technical H.S.

8 Chris Ferguson 5-11 200 Evergreen State

11 Morris Anderson 6-3 170 Western Washington

15 Richard Woodworth 6-3 195 Western Washington

20 Darius Alo 6-5 205 Federal Way H.S.

22 Jacob Stevenson 6-4 220 Western Wash.

23 Sam Freeman 6-3 185 Fraser Valley

24 Chas Kok 6-6 195 Simon Fraser/Thompson River

30 Austin Bragg 6-9 205 Western Washington

33 Nick Moore 6-7 220 Evergreen State

44 Blake Poole 6-5 275 Saint Martin's

2014 BELLINGHAM SLAM SCHEDULE

Date Opponent Time

April 25 vs. Seattle Flight 7 p.m.

April 26 at Vancouver Volcanoes 7 p.m.

May 2 vs. Portland Chinooks 7 p.m.

May 9 vs. Olympia Reign 7 p.m.

May 10 at Olympia Reign 7 p.m.

May 16 vs. Salem Sabres 7 p.m.

May 17 vs. Olympia Reign 7 p.m.

May 23 at Portland Chinooks 7 p.m.

May 24 at Vancouver Volcanoes 7 p.m.

May 26 vs. Vancouver Volcanoes 5 p.m.

May 30 at Los Angeles Advantage 7 p.m.

May 31 at Santa Barbara Breakers 7 p.m.

June 1 at Santa Monica Jump 1 p.m.

June 6 vs. Santa Barbara Breakers 7 p.m.

June 7 at Seattle Flight 7 p.m.

June 13 vs. Lone Star Strikers 7 p.m.

June 20 vs. Seattle Flight 7 p.m.

June 22 vs. Vancouver Volcanoes 5 p.m.

TBD 2014 IBL playoff tournament TBD

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