Tyler Copp comes from the old regime. Now a senior at Saint Martin’s University, he was one of only four players to return to the men’s basketball roster when Alex Pribble took over the program last season.
Copp — a four-year starter who averaged 10.1 points per game last year as a junior — held steady through the changes.
He emerged as a de facto leader last season when Pribble, now in his second year with the Saints after spending two years as an assistant at Eastern Washington University, added six freshmen to the roster.
After early-season struggles as Pribble worked to develop the young team, Copp helped pace the Saints (15-13, 9-11 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) to their first winning season since 2010.
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“We were fielding a brand new culture, a brand new system,” Pribble said. “To have a guy like Tyler Copp, who has been in the program for four years, means a lot because he’s got the maturity and the experience. He knows what the league is about. He knows how hard guys have to work.”
Simply, he’s played college basketball before.
“I’ve taken on that responsibility of being that example to other guys, and showing the guys what college basketball is all about,” said Copp, a Union High School product from Camas. “With high school basketball, you can get away with just being talented, but with college, it takes more than that.”
Pribble said Copp is the type of player who will shoot about 5,000 shots per week for practice.
“When other players watch him put in the work and see it pay off in games, they start to develop those same habits,” Pribble said.
Jordan Kitchen — a Seattle Prep product, who averaged 7.7 points per game for the Saints last season as a freshman — met Copp in summer 2015 and stayed at his house during basketball camp.
“I really kind of saw how hard he works at basketball and how much time he puts toward it,” Kitchen said. “Growing up, for me, I didn’t put much time and effort into it.”
Toward the end of last season — the Saints won eight of their last 11 games, and barely missed the playoffs with a sixth-place finish in the GNAC — Kitchen noticed Copp’s consistent production.
“I knew I wanted that for myself, and he told me I could have that potential. So I made sure I got in the gym to shoot with him,” Kitchen said.
The two players continue to develop together — whether in the weight room, on the court or doing yoga.
“The combination of the older, more experienced Tyler Copp, and the young, motivated Jordan Kitchen — it’s hopefully a recipe for success for us,” Pribble said.
Copp and Kitchen are just two examples of the brotherhood Pribble has worked to create.
“That’s a term we talk about a lot,” Copp said. “That’s one noticeable thing coach Pribble has done is create a family atmosphere. That’s huge for guys that are 19 or 20 years old that are thousands of miles away from home in certain cases. Having that family is huge for guys.”
It certainly helped resolve early frustrations on the court last season.
“We were putting in our system, everybody was getting used to the expectations of competing at a high rate consistently,” Pribble said. “One of the great things, one of the things I’m most proud of from last year, is that, during our struggles, we never lost the locker room.”
SMU returns its entire roster, and Copp hopes to capitalize on last season’s late roll.
“We’re definitely on the upswing,” he said. “We haven’t proven anything this year. But we know our potential, and we’re really excited to prove ourselves and compete for a GNAC championship.
“We’re all just excited to get back on the court together and carry that momentum from last year.”
The Saints open their 2016-17 season with an exhibition game at Eastern — Pribble ’s old stomping grounds — at 2:05 p.m. Sunday in Cheney. They visit The Evergreen State College at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Olympia.
“We want to keep riding this wave as long as we can,” Kitchen said. “It’s a new season, anything can happen, but we want to pick up where we left off last year.”