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BYU-Idaho reflects on forgotten Ricks legacy

With basketball season recently underway, BYU-Idaho reflects on its basketball legacy. That legacy includes the 1983-84 team that competed on a national stage.

“We were the first team to make it to the National Junior College Championships in Hutchinson, Kansas,” said Craig Spjute, former forward for the team and a current BYU-I online teacher.

Michelle Doran, Spjute’s niece, a senior studying elementary education, said she enjoys hearing about the history of her school.

“It is so cool to be going to a school where my uncle played on the most successful basketball team in Ricks history,” Doran said.

That basketball team, coached by Gary Gardner and Wade Anderson, achieved more success than any other basketball team in the 100 years of Ricks College athletics, according to the book, 100 Years of Sports at Ricks College.

Spjute said the team started the season off slow, but thanks to the return of future Division I guard Alan Campbell, they had 16 straight victories to help earn the spot as the 15th-ranked team in the NJCAA.

“When we walked on the court, we had the belief that we would win every game,” said Roland Smith, the other starting forward and current vice president and managing director for the Center for Creative Leadership. “We almost did.”

Spjute said the team stood out at the national tournament because of their pale skin.

“They called us the starch brothers,” Spjute said. “We were all white. They brought Sprite for us at the banquet when they served us all Coke. We won big our first game. I had 20 in the first half and sent shock waves around the tourney.”

Before the team participated in the national tournament, they received a letter from the General Authorties, Smith said.

“Probably the coolest experience for us all was receiving a telegram from the First Presidency that was read to us before our first game at nationals,” Spjute said. “It was very cool.”

Campbell said they faced a team from the east coast with the nation’s leading scorer in their first game.

“Everyone thought we would get killed,” Campbell said. “We blew them out by like 30. Spjute held that guy to, like, 11 points. Sometime during the game, Spjute had him so frustrated that he bit Spjute’s arm.”

Campbell said Spjute was proud of the injury.

Bryan Fink, the team’s starting center, earned all-tournament team honors along with NJCAA second team honors, according to 100 Years of Sports at Ricks College. Fink and Campbell earned all-region first team, with Spjute and Smith earning all-region second team honors. Trent Shippen, the current BYU-I sports coordinator, was the other starting guard for the team.

Spjute went on to play the rest of his basketball career at Boise State University. He started many games and went down as one of the best 3-point shooters in school history, making over half of the teams total three’s during his two years there, according to Boise   State Athletics’ Web page.

Spjute said at the end of his senior year he married his sweetheart, Cheri. They now have nine kids, five of which are adopted. Spjute works for the Church Educational System as the institute director at Boise State in addition to teaching online courses at BYU-I.

Spjute said his favorite part about BYU-I was the spirit of God on campus.

“The Spirit on campus even seemed to go with us when we traveled,” Spjute said.

Shippen went on to play at Colorado State University. Shippen is second all-time in CSU history in 3-point percentage, shooting 48 percent from distance, according to CSU’s Athletics Web page. He ended up coaching the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Ricks in the ‘90s, according to the BYU-I Web page.

Shippen said he has been married since 1988 and has six kids.

As the head sports coordinator at BYU-I, he works with rec sports lead basketball official Dalton-John Elliot, a junior studying accounting.

“Brother Shippen is a warm man,” Elliot said. “He leads the sports division with the Spirit first and his knowledge of sports and organization second.”

He said the reason he wanted to play at Ricks was because of the good examples he saw there.

“Ricks was just a wonderful place,” Shippen said.

Smith also went on to play basketball at Boise State. Smith led the team in free throw shooting his junior year, and also won the Jeff Foster Memorial Award twice for his hustle and leadership, according to Boise State Athletics’ Web page.

Smith said he met his wife at Ricks and they now have four kids.

He graduated from Boise State, then received his Ph.D. from the University of Idaho. He currently lives in Singapore and works for the Center for Creative Leadership.

Smith said his favorite part about Ricks was meeting his wife, Robin, playing basketball with great teammates and having fans come out and support.

“It was a safe, sheltered environment — a great place to get ready for the world,” Smith said.

Fink went on to have a career at BYU where he played minutes in both his junior and senior years coming off the bench, according to BYU Athletics’ Web page. Fink was not available to be interviewed, but his teammates said he was an integral part of the team.

Campbell went on to play at Weber State University. He averaged just over 12 points a game, earned 2nd team All-Big Sky honors as a senior and is in the top 10 for assist average at Weber State, according to Deseret News.

Campbell said he is now married with four children and lives in Utah. Campbell has worked for State Farm for 28 years.

“My favorite part of Ricks was my friendships with my teammates and other students,” Campbell said. “We were like a big family.”

Several years ago, Campbell received the honor of being inducted to the Ricks College Hall of Fame.

“I was so honored to receive that award and wondered why I received it over others,” Campbell said. “I thought about it long and hard and came to the realization that when the people got to talk about the Hall of Fame, they realized that no one from this great team had been honored.”

He said he felt that someone from that team should represent all that they accomplished in the Hall of Fame.

“The reason that team was so great is that we were truly a team,” Campbell said during his acceptance speech. “We played in four tournaments, not counting the national tournament. We won them all, and each time, a different person was awarded MVP. We had four players average right around 14 points a game. No team could key on one player because then the others would go off.”

Campbell said he received the award on behalf of the team, because it certainly was a team award.

“Though the years and miles have separated us, we are all still closely united by that common bond of brotherhood, sweat and faith,” Spjute said.

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