Stevenson brothers enter WWU hall of fame together

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 3, 2014 

Jacob Stevenson and his brother Jared will be inducted into the WWU Athletics Hall of Fame Saturday, May 17.

JAY DROWNS — The Bellingham Herald

The link Jared and Jacob Stevenson share is bound by their mutual appreciation for fierce competition.

Growing up just two years apart, Jared, 36, being the eldest, the Stevenson brothers largely did everything together. It was even from a young age that they would play one-on-one basketball games that for the most part never had conclusions. An amusing spectacle to take in, no doubt.

"Didn't matter. We were always fighting," Jacob said in a phone interview. "It could be pickle ball. Anything. Jared would do anything not to lose, and it would turn into a fight most often."

Jacob, while more mild mannered, said he's just slightly less competitive in comparison to his older brother.

The two, who both went on to star for Western Washington University's men's basketball team after successful careers at Sehome High School, will share something far greater than their fiery temperament come Saturday, May 17, when they will be inducted into WWU's Hall of Fame along with Jen Brandolini-Register and Ron Radliff.

The ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. at Viking Union room 565.

The accolades Jared and Jacob accumulated are vast.

Jared, after graduating in 2001, left the program its all-time leading scorer with 1,728 points. Likewise, Jacob left with 1,320 points, 403 assists and 165 steals to his credit after his career concluded in 2003, playing a large part in bringing the program its first ever West Regional title and Elite Eight appearance.

Not lost in the entire process for both of them, Jared said, is the fact that they get to share the honor together.

"Any time we get put in an elite club like that, it's really special being able to go in with my brother," he said in a phone interview. "That's something very few people get the opportunity to do."

Neither claim to be the sentimental type, rarely delving into the past to remember games won and moments shared. But amongst all their accomplishments at WWU, one game stands above the rest.

In the regular-season finale of Jared's senior season, the Vikings played host to Central Washington University, a team that troubled the older Stevenson brother for much of his career.

"They had my number," he said. "I only beat them one time."

That one time was a family affair, with Jared scoring 29, only to be outdone by his younger brother, who scored 32. It was a last-second 3-pointer by Jared, though, that sent the game to overtime, eventually ending in a Viking win.

"Jared and I going off together, that was big," Jacob said. "That was definitely one of the more memorable fashions to beat Central."

Having grown up so close to WWU, Sam Carver Gym was like a second home to the siblings. Topping the Wildcats in that building was familiar to the two, who since middle school had been venturing up to the building to play pick-up games.

"That gym ... helped me a lot growing up," Jared said. "Carver Gym was four games going on in the gym with winner's court. I had the opportunity to play against college-aged guys."

It was only a matter of time before he became a Viking after guiding Sehome to a state championship in 1996, although while at Sehome he never had the opportunity to take the court with his brother. When it came time for Jacob to make his college decision, Jared cautioned the now-head coach Tony Dominguez, who handled much of the recruiting for Brad Jackson, that he would "rather play with him than against him."

Even with Jacob being a freshman and Jared being a team captain as a junior, their willingness to go at one another wasn't muted.

"I can think back to a practice where ... I was guarding Jared and (things) were getting pretty heated. Coach Jackson had to change it up," Jacob said.

And yet there's no other person he'd rather share his hall of fame moment with.

A 31-YEAR AUSTRALIAN ADVENTURE

Chuck Randall, the men's basketball coach at WWU for 18 years, offered Ron Radliff an honest evaluation of his talents.

"He told me he had already recruited two guards, and that I was a bit too slow and a bit too short to be playing," Radliff recalled in a phone interview. "He was just telling me the truth on what he had."

Radliff, at the time in 1976, knew the better decision in terms of his basketball career was to go to Central Washington University. The coach wanted his long-range shooting ability, while Randall couldn't promise him anything. As it was, though, Bellingham was his home, and Ellensburg was a foreign city he didn't much care for.

He played sparingly his first two years, eventually earning the sixth-man-off-the-bench role his junior year before becoming a captain his senior year on a team that largely didn't account for much success. An 11-15 record is how he ended his steed as a Viking, beginning what would be a journey to stardom, albeit on a different continent very, very far away from Bellingham and WWU.

Seven years after putting together a relatively tame career at WWU, Radliff was standing on a court in an arena filled with 14,000 people.

It was 1987, and Radliff had emerged as one of the finest players in the Australian National Basketball League, having already won a league championship in 1985.

"Outside the dressing room, all kinds of people were waiting for your autographs - on TV - it was like being in the NBA, but on a much smaller level pay-wise," he said. "It was something you dream about as a basketball player to play in front of that many people."

In the final game of the 1987 championship series, Radliff recalled the floor quaking as the starting lineups were being announced.

"The whole place shook," he said. "We could really feel it."

The noise simmered throughout the game, with the Brisbane Bullets claiming a second title over the three-year span, Radliff at the heart of the run.

It was three years prior to the 1987 season that Radliff became a household name, though, he said.

In his first season in the Australian NBL, the 3-point line had yet to be established. That was a change in his second campaign, affording him, as he said, an opportunity to be something more than an average player.

"First year 14-15 points a game; 22-23 the next year," he said. "It kept me in the game. People in Australia love the 3-point line."

In terms of a coming out party, Radliff erupted in a quarterfinal playoff series that season, scoring 41 points in a game that looked all but meaningless at halftime.

"I just remember after each time out there, a different guy coming out, 'I'm going to stop you,'" he remembered. "Everything I was putting up was going in. Nothing to lose down 20 at the half. Brought me to the forefront. ... That 41-point game got me a contract for a few more years."

After a 10-year career that ended with his number being retired by the Brisbane Bullets and the Gold Coast Rollers, Radliff pursued a career in coaching. Thirty-one years passed after he left for Australia, and a recent return to the states ended what was one of the more storied basketball careers in the continent. He now has one more accolade to thank for his endevors down under.

"I never really thought of myself as hall of fame material," he said. "Probably more suprising than anything, really."

BRINGING HOME A TITLE

Exact details eluded Jen Brandolini-Register when venturing back to winning the NAIA softball national championship for WWU in 1998.

It was the first national championship of any kind for the Vikings' athletic program, although that, too, wasn't present in her mind following the final concluding pitch against Simon Fraser.

"Nobody thought we could be there. Nobody thought we were a team that could be a force," she said in a phone interview. "It was unbelievable and amazing. All of them wrapped up into one. 'Did we just do that?'"

WWU did so in defeating a team that had over the course of that season handed it five of its 13 total losses.

But overcoming adversity had been a calling card of sorts for both that team and Brandolini-Register.

The Vikings suffered several injuries to key players early on, Brandolini-Register said, and she, too, was trying to familiarize herself with a drastic change in her game.

Brandolini-Register was the spark plug for coach Art Phinney and WWU.

Her speed on the base paths made her a force at the top of the Vikings' lineup, although Phinney approached Brandolini-Register before her junior year with a proposition to make her even more menacing.

She was a right-handed batter her whole life. That was until Phinney asked her to switch to batting left-handed so that she could be quicker out of the batters box.

"It really wasn't a choice," she said of the conversation. "For me, he said we needed (me) on base. ... I'm on base, I can steal more bases."

The logic was simple, but the follow through was a little more difficult.

That summer, she said she didn't leave Bellingham. Days upon days were spent working on hitting from the other side of the plate, and what it yielded was a player that hit .431, scored 44 runs and had 30 stolen bases, earning the Pacific Northwest Athletic Conference Hitter of the Year honors en route to a national title.

"I am honored to be apart of the hall of fame," she said. "I didn't get there without the support of my coaches and teammates. I am the player I am because all of them."

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

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