Sometimes, Talon Pinckney uses an extra swipe of his student ID on Scott Garson to grab lunch together at the cafeteria at The College of Idaho.
There are also the times Garson takes the sophomore guard to lunch on his dime. And they do it every single Tuesday.
The College of Idaho’s fifth-year head coach looks forward to it, even if the discussions rarely focus on basketball. They’ll talk about school, about life, how Pinckney’s girlfriend is doing, or about his younger brother, a talented singer.
“I’m lucky to have him,” said Pinckney, who played at Capital and Centennial high schools. “He genuinely cares about every one of us. It makes you want to play hard for a guy that not only wants you to win, but wants what is best for you when you’re not playing basketball, too.”
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That’s part of what has made Garson successful leading the Coyotes, and it’s part of what has kept him at the NAIA school.
Garson is 122-40 overall and currently has the Yotes (23-5, 17-1 Cascade Conference) ranked No. 4 in the nation. They have reeled off 13 wins in a row. A Southern California native, Garson coached on staffs at Utah and UCLA before coming to Caldwell, where he’s thrived leading his own program.
Wife Amy Garson and the couple’s 13-month-old son, Sidney, often will be in the middle of the crowd at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center, because sitting too close caused Sidney to see his father and be confused about why he couldn’t go play with him.
“The school really cares about athletics, about 40 percent of our students are athletes, so no one’s fighting you, and that’s unique,” Garson said. “We have a great community here, we’ve been able to recruit great kids. We’ve grown to love this place.”
Before being hired, Garson never had been to the Treasure Valley, but he has made recruiting Idaho a priority, with seven Gem State players on the roster. He signed 5A’s top scorer, Mountain View’s Jalen Galloway, last week. Pinckney (11.8 points, 5.8 assists per game) is the youngest point guard Garson has started.
Six of the Coyotes’ eight players averaging double-digit minutes are not yet seniors, and Garson’s excitement about maintaining success is evident. But that also breeds attention.
A finalist for the head coaching job at his alma mater, UC Santa Barbara, last year, Garson also has been approached for what he said were “high-level” Division I assistant gigs. Though he probably won’t stay forever, the 41-year-old thinks the uniqueness of his job is what makes it special. He notes that the team’s average home attendance (1,309) is better than 86 Division I programs and second-best in NAIA Division II.
“I truly don’t believe that jobs at a lot of those places would be as good as this,” Garson said. “... I don’t look at my paycheck and freak out about it. My goal, since I was a graduate assistant, was to be the best coach I can be today, and that’s only fair to me, these kids and The College of Idaho.”
This edition of the Yotes has been perhaps Garson’s deepest, which has enabled all sorts of perks. Five players are scoring in double figures, and the team has been able to play 10 guys in the first half of almost every game this season.
Depth also has produced a stifling defense. When Garson arrived, he took over for former Boise State coach Rod Jensen and his slow-down tempo. He’s been able to recruit a team he said is his most athletic, and one that can press.
It also was one that was fouling too much, and the staff wanted to find a way to use the length and athleticism to its advantage.
“It’s allowed me to grow as a coach,” Garson said of his tenure in Caldwell. “We’re one of the best defensive teams in the country (No. 2 with 65.5 ppg allowed), and we’re doing it with something I’d never done before. We’ve been playing a matchup zone. I’d been a man-to-man guy all my life, working with guys who were the best at it.”
The College of Idaho already has clinched the Cascade Conference title, the third time a Garson team has done it, and the fifth time since 1996. It also secured a berth in the NAIA Division II National Championship tournament.
But there is still plenty to play for, especially with a pair of 19-9 teams coming to Caldwell on Friday and Saturday: Southern Oregon and Oregon Tech. Oh, and Southern Oregon delivered the only blemish on C of I’s conference mark, beating the Yotes 100-93 on Dec. 3.
“We’re building a culture that shows we can play against anyone ... and we definitely owe (Southern Oregon) one, so we’ll be ready,” Pinckney said.
C of I weekend
▪ Both teams face Southern Oregon and Oregon Tech
▪ Women at 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, men at 7:30 p.m.
▪ Men’s games broadcast on 99.1 FM