Thursday, February 23, 2012

Point Guard Plays His Last Game

By Nathan Shoup, Sports Reporter

Four seasons ago, James Conti was a first-year on the Pacific Lutheran basketball team. The Lutes finished that season with a 4-12 Northwest Conference record, good for a seventh-place tie.

Last season, the Lutes finished with a 10-6 NWC record, earning the fourth seed in the Northwest Conference tournament.

Before that year, the last time the Lutes finished the season with a winning record was during the 1998-99 season when they went 12-6.

This season, the Lutes ended with a 9-7 NWC record.

Conti, now a senior, can proudly say he has been an integral part of the transition back to winning ways for PLU basketball.

In Conti’s four-year career, the Lutes took the court 97 times. Conti was in the starting lineup for 93 of those games.

“He is our senior captain and our point guard,” wing junior Cameron Schilling said. “Everything we do both offensively and defensively goes through James [Conti].”

Conti also holds the PLU record for most career steals with 168.

“Defense is one of the most important things. It’s something coach Dickerson stresses a lot,” Conti said. “Steals is playing the passing lanes and being in the right place at the right time. It’s definitely something I take pride in.”

Athletic ability aside, Conti’s best feature as a basketball player is arguably his competitiveness.

“He is as competitive as it gets,” head coach Steve Dickerson said.

It’s common to see Conti diving for the ball when someone loses possession or to see him aggressively defending against an opponent.

“The biggest thing that James [Conti] has done for our team is his competitive nature,” Schilling said. “There is nobody on the team or much less in the conference that wants to win more than James [Conti].”

Earlier in the season, Conti sunk a 35-foot prayer as time expired to force overtime against then No. 11 Whitworth.

However, as the four-year starting point guard for the Lutes, Conti’s proudest moment does not come from any particular individual accomplishment.

“Bringing PLU back to the playoffs was a pretty proud moment, I would have to say,” Conti said.

With his collegiate basketball career dwindling, Conti does not want to be remembered for his fire and determination or for the fact he led the team in scoring his senior season with 13.5 points per game. Rather, he wants to be remembered for the success his graduating class helped bring the program.

“What we did and how we helped turn the program around from a mediocre program to one that is pushing to go to the playoffs every year and pushing for a conference championship,” Conti said. “If I’m one of the people responsible for that, I think that is pretty special.”

“I’m going to miss the team aspect of being on a basketball team. Being with your boys, your family, all year - I think I’m going to miss that the most.”

The reality for Dickerson and PLU basketball is that they will be losing not only a fierce competitor, but the four-year starting point guard as well.

“You don’t replace a James Conti,” Dickerson said. “You learn from him and his example.”