Sometimes the world of sports can be cruel and unforgiving. The phrase, “What have you done for me lately?”, is often applied when it shouldn’t be.
When a fan base gets a taste of success, however, it’s only natural it would want more.
That’s what Oregon State men’s basketball coach Wayne Tinkle faces in the 2016-’17 season. He managed to take the Beavers to a place no other coach had been able to take them since the Ralph Miller days: to the NCAA tournament.
Before last season’s appearance, Oregon State had endured a 25-year Big Dance drought. In that quarter-century, several coaches in Corvallis were in rebuilding mode. It’s been a constant struggle to field a competitive basketball team at Oregon State, a program that at one time was very successful.
Miller was a legendary coach whose shoes — or in his case, a cigarette carton — were difficult to fill. What made it more disheartening for the Beavers was that at the same time, the program 40 miles south, Oregon, was making strides. Once Ernie Kent arrived, the Ducks became the dominant team in the state and usually made the Beavers their little plaything.
That continued for the most part when Dana Altman came to Eugene and Oregon was able to replace old McArthur Court with the state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena. The Beavers are still playing in Gill Coliseum, a gym that has seen its better days in the distant past.
Suffice it to say, it hasn’t been easy for OSU.
When Tinkle was hired in 2014, the thought that he was the guy to turn the Beavers around started to permeate the campus in Corvallis. That hope was completely justified — Tinkle was very successful at Montana, taking the Grizzlies to the NCAA tourney three times in his eight seasons with an overall record of 158-91 (.635).
The new coach also did a very smart thing in one of his first moves. Tinkle sold himself to the son of Oregon State’s greatest player ever, Gary Payton. The younger Payton was a junior college transfer who had committed to Oregon State before Tinkle was hired. Gary Payton II reminded fans of a better time and gave them hope for the future. Even better was that he was a legitimate Division I player who was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team and Pac-12 All-Defensive Team both years.
Payton II wasn’t the only highly-touted recruit Tinkle was able to convince to come to OSU. His first recruiting class was ranked as high as 11th in the country. It was a class — led by the coach’s son, Tres Tinkle — that was instrumental in propelling the Beavers into the tourney.
That one class wasn’t a fluke.
Wayne Tinkle followed it up with a 2016 class that was significantly smaller than the previous class, but that was just out of necessity. OSU signed juco transfer Keondre Dew, who was ranked as one of the best JUCO players in Florida. The Beavers also signed three-star recruit, big man (ESPN and Scout) Ben Kone, and four-star point guard JaQuori McLaughlin. He’s also a consensus Top-100 player out of Gig Harbor, Washington.
The loss of Payton II to graduation will impact the Beavers, who are suddenly a young but talented team. That youth was most likely the sole reason Oregon State wasn’t picked to finish higher than ninth in the Pac-12 by the media.
“We’re looking forward to this upcoming season. Lot of challenges ahead for our group. Twelve of our 13 players are first or second-year guys,” Tinkle said at Pac-12 Media Day.
“Not too many of them had much experience from last season, but we love the group that we have, the way they’re going about their business, how they carry themselves on and off the court. And we know with that, we can build moving forward.”
The Pac-12 should be daunting this season. The conference has had some up and down seasons, but 2016-’17 is supposed to be a good one for the conference. As many as six teams might be considered probable NCAA Tournament participants, with four more that might be on that bubble when Selection Sunday rolls around.
Oregon State could be one of those bubble teams. Finding success a year earlier than expected isn’t completely unheard of in the world of college basketball. The Beavers battling for one of the coveted 68 spots for the second straight season wouldn’t be a total surprise.
Wayne Tinkle has created this hopeful new reality in Corvallis.