CHENEY, Wash. ⎯ Kim Aiken Sr. had taken the unusual step of traveling to Idaho this March.
That trip came before a dreaded date, March 13. As luck would have it, that date turned out to be a Friday.
His son, Kim, Jr. of Eastern Washington University (EWU), would be playing in the eagerly awaited, 11-team Big Sky Conference tournament, scheduled for an all-out showdown in Boise.
After that, EWU would be off to something called the NCAA Tournament. It’s all part of the annual March Madness epidemic.
Such an appearance would be huge for the Eagles. Bigger than big.
Kim, Jr. represents at least the second player from Redlands East Valley’s all-time roster ⎯ New Mexico’s Eli Chuha was the first; three times at New Mexico State ⎯ that reached such college basketball fulfillment.
“I was up there [in Boise] a couple of days,” said Kim, Sr. “Kim [Jr.] was ready to go [into the tournament], but he was extremely disappointed.”
March Madness, canceled for this year over all those COVID-19 issues, was lost. That was, by far, the disappointing part. EWU needed to win the Big Sky Tournament, which got canceled on March 12.
“We had the No. 1 seed from our conference,” said Kim, Jr., “So, we were going [to the NCAA Tournament] no matter what the results of the [Big Sky Tournament].”
Sixty-four teams at about a dozen guys per roster, multiplied by countless family members ready for that mega-excitement … plus all those people back on those players’ former high school campuses … works out to an awful lot of disappointment.
Guys like Bill Berich, who was Aiken’s Wildcats’ high school coach from 2014 through 2017, probably would’ve been cheerleading that excitement.
Kim, Jr. won’t be hard to remember. At REV, he rang up a batch of studly statistics ⎯ scoring, rebounding, all-around play ⎯ while helping drop his Wildcats into a full course of CIF-Southern Section playoffs.
In Cheney, they call them the Eags, which is short for Eagles. Aiken, a third-team pick for All-Big Sky Conference, is teammates with guys like conference MVP Mason Peatling and second-team All-Big Sky Jacob Davison.
Those guys, among others, were those pulled aside by Eags’ coach Shantay Legans at the team hotel.
“Everyone was ready to go to the game,” said Aiken. “We were getting our ankles tape in one of the rooms.”
No one knew what was about to come.
“No tears,” said Aiken. “There were a lot of down faces. It was a scarred moment, like a movie.”
Nick Booker, the assistant head coach, had spent all night breaking down video of Sacramento State’s team, EWU’s opponent that night.
“He didn’t get any sleep,” said Aiken.
More fallout: Peatling, who is from Australia, “(wanted) to go home,” said Aiken, “to see his family.”
In only the school’s third-ever trip to NCAA tournament play, there won’t be another chance for Peatling.
“We’re a small school,” said Aiken, eschewing the term mid-major, which is a now-accepted term for a March Madness longshot team.
Aiken, for his part, had just completed his red-shirt sophomore season. In his frosh season, he came up with 11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and two blocks a game in 2018-19.
“Five years ago,” said Aiken, “is when they last went to the NCAA. That was Tyler Harvey’s team.”
Harvey was the best player on a 26-win team in 2015. An original draft pick by the Orlando Magic, Harvey has been a developmental player ⎯ currently with the Memphis Grizzles’ G League roster.
“We were a young team this year,” said Aiken. “There’s a nice future ahead for us.”