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  • Writer's pictureBlake Silverman

10 Reasons the Portland Pilots are a Team to Watch This Season

Without a winning record in the last six seasons, the Portland Pilots were looking for a fresh start.

In walks Shantay Legans, the coach who just led Eastern Washington to the NCAA Tournament. Portland had to recruit from the transfer portal to field a team in its third straight season of a roster overhaul.

Legans compiled a roster including a handful of former EWU players and other transfers looking for a fresh start.

In this transformative season, a Pilot jersey was symbolic of new beginnings.

The new regime sped out to a 7-2 start to signal a changing of the guard.

Then, the Pilots’ path became less clear.

Sitting at an 11-12 record heading into the final stretch of Legans’ first season, Portland faithful feared to suffer a familiar fate.

UP fired off six straight wins, solidifying the school’s first winning season in recent memory. Legans brought his winning ways to the Pilots, even leading the team to a postseason victory, the first in program history.

Legans enters his third season at the helm, and the Pilots propound copious reasons to root for them this year.

1. Tyler Robertson’s last dance

Robertson returns to shake up UP’s record book for his graduate year. The wing from Melbourne, Australia, came to UP after two seasons at Eastern Washington, part of a group of EWU players who transferred to Portland after their head coach, Shantay Legans, took the head job at UP.

One of the NCAA’s most complete two-way players, Robertson will be back on the court for one last ride. Last season, he was one of only two players nationally (including Jalen Pickett, Penn State) to average at least 15 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. Robertson led Portland in scoring and assists in his two seasons as a Pilot.

Robertson “has been the face [of Portland basketball] the last couple of seasons,” said Bryan Sleik, play-by-play voice of the Pilots. “But that is because of how he sets the example at practice and in the games on the court. There is a trust factor between Tyler and Shantay going back to EWU, and having [Robertson] around for one more season will help the younger guys continue the culture and learn how to play hard at [the NCAA Div I] level.”

The new year points to déjà vu for Robertson as UP’s seasoned leader.

2. Transfer Portal Darlings

Portland’s portal presence is poppin’.

The team brought in four new players through the transfer portal this offseason: Yuto Yamanouchi-Williams from Lamar University, Noah Jordan from West Virginia State, Thomas Oosterbroek from Miami, and Alimamy Koroma from Cal Poly.

All four newcomers are 6-foot-7 or above, with Yamanouchi-Williams living in the post at 6-foot-10. Oosterbroek has ample NCAA Tournament experience with Miami as part of Hurricanes teams that reached the Elite Eight in 2022 and Final Four in 2023.

Along with a myriad of first-year signees, Portland’s fresh faces will keep the team’s West Coast Conference rivals on their toes.

3. Lead Pilot: Coach Legs

Legans flew the Pilots to the program’s first-ever postseason victory in 2022 when UP defeated New Orleans in an opening-round game of The Basketball Classic.

Do not worry — he has NCAA Tournament experience, too.

After leading Eastern Washington to the 2021 NCAA tournament, Legans took on the lead job at Portland. During his first season, Legans led the Pilots to 19 wins, matching the fourth-most wins in a season since Portland joined the Div I ranks in 1958.

“When you have a coach that has the best interest of you and the team, that makes it easy to consistently show up every day and work,” said Chris Austin, Portland redshirt senior guard.

4. Chris Austin returns

Austin redshirted last season after suffering a broken leg. In the 2021-22 season, he started all 34 games for the Pilots, serving as the team’s second-leading scorer.

Before UP, Austin spent three seasons at Fordham and started games for the Rams each year. On his way out of Fordham, Austin led the team in scoring and received the team’s MVP honor for the 2020-21 season.

Injury struck after one impressive season at Portland. Now, Austin looks to lead the Pilots toward new heights during his redshirt senior year.

“I’m extremely excited to get back on the court this year,” Austin said.

Austin noted a desire to serve as a locker room leader for the Pilots. He has sharpened his basketball IQ while training for the return to play, yearning to make the right decisions to put the Pilots in the best position to win games.

5. Austin’s artistic expression

Off the court, Austin is an accomplished artist. His artwork, displayed across his Instagram account @charlescandraw, are drawings of Austin’s inspirations.

Sometimes, basketball intersects with his passion for art. He drew a portrait of Kobe Bryant and created a portrait of coach Legans and his family, now hanging in the Legans household.

“I try to take inspiration from everywhere,” Austin said. "But my main inspiration would have to be my sister and mother. They are both tremendous artists themselves, and they have surrounded me with great art my whole life.

“So, it was easy to start making my own art.”

6. New G League team in the building

The NBA’s budding developmental league can plant seeds anywhere they choose. The G League has now handpicked the University of Portland as the right fit.

With the debut of the Portland Trail Blazers G League franchise this year, Rip City Remix will call the Chiles Center home. Chiles Center has hosted Portland Pilots basketball games since opening in 1984.

UP basketball legend Pooh Jeter, who holds the second-most points in program history, will serve as assistant general manager for the Remix.

Starting this year, UP’s basketball team will see how Jeter and the remaining Remix professionals operate directly on campus.

7. Academic integrity

Last season, the Pilots had four players receive academic All-Conference honors, the most of any team in the league and the highest number of honorees in UP program history.

Robertson made the West Coast Conference All-Academic team with a 3.35 grade point average. He graduated last year with a degree in psychology and is now pursuing graduate studies at the university while playing out his final year of eligibility.

8. Efficient shot-making

Opposing defenses must lock down the perimeter to beat Portland.

The Pilots 37.5% 3-point percentage was the 26th-best mark in the country a season ago.

Juanse Gorosito’s near 40% clip from 3-point range as a first-year student skyrocketed his team’s shooting efficiency. He broke the Pilot first-year record for three-pointers made with 63.

The Argentinian guard started 12 of his 33 games played during his first year, all coming in the latter half of the Pilots season. He adds floor-spacing next to Robertson, helping the Portland offense fly.

9. Early season tournaments galore

The Pilots will compete in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Jerry Colangelo Classic in Phoenix, Arizona, come December.

Both tournaments are an opportunity to showcase talent on a national stage. Portland will play host Hawaii on ESPN2 in the Diamond Head Classic. The Jerry Colangelo classic will see UP compete against Grand Canyon at the Footprint Center, the home of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

“Playing in NBA arenas is always a fun experience for the players, and I'm sure there will be a great crowd on hand to see some high-quality basketball,” Legans said in a news release for the Jerry Colangelo Classic. “Our team has performed well on the big stage over the last couple of years, and this is another opportunity to make our mark to a wider audience.”

10. Hello, Bol Dengdit

The 6-foot-11 big man from Australia can be a key contributor during his redshirt first-year season. Dengdit has a year under his belt on campus, ready to make his presence felt.

He has ample international experience, most recently playing for the Australian National Team in the 2023 FIBA World Cup qualifiers. He joined the NBA Global Academy, the NBA’s hub for top male and female prospects from outside the U.S., in 2019.

Legans and his staff are anxious to infuse Dengdit into their rotation, giving the Pilots a new frontcourt threat.

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