Men’s basketball team works to balance ‘family culture,’ winning skills


After suffering their worst season since 2018, PNW’s men’s basketball team aims to compete for the conference championship — while maintaining its “family culture.” 

“We have high expectations,” said head coach Boomer Roberts. “We expect to go out and compete for the GLIAC title.”

It’s not just wishful thinking.  Roberts made several adjustments in the past year.

“We had a really good offseason with our eight returners. Those guys have taken a big jump,” he said. “Our recruiting class has been exactly what we needed. The returners and the new guys have meshed really well on and off the court, and that contributes to our high expectations.”

The men’s Pride has recruited eight new players – including seven who are transferring from other colleges.  

PNW’s secret weapon has been to utilize the NCAA Transfer Portal to attract players who previously never gave the university a second look. The portal allows athletes unhappy with their programs – or their playing time – to transfer schools. Since it was introduced, the NCAA also stopped requiring transferring athletes give up a year of eligibility. That means, they can switch schools and immediately compete. 

As a result, PNW had access to more than 1,500 Division II men’s basketball players looking to transfer. Critics of the Transfer Portal have said it creates a wild west atmosphere or something akin to free agency as college athletes use different colleges as stepping stones towards an athletic career. 

Roberts does not think of PNW as a stepping stone school, but as a final destination for a player’s collegiate career. 

“Guys come here for the first time and realize that their value isn’t in their performance but in the type of man that they are becoming,” he said.

“There are too many guys that come from broken homes, and they have never had that model. So, my wife and I want to model that for them. If these guys can [achieve]… the type of fatherhood and the type of marriages that their sons and daughters can emulate, I think the world changes.

“When you’re 30 years old, no one cares how many points you averaged in college, people care about the type of person you are,” he said. “That’s where our value is.” 

Team culture is important for senior guard Jaylon Gentry, and he has nothing but praise about the environment that Roberts and his staff created. 

“Culture is everything,” he said. “I think that is what makes a program. Duke [University] talks about The Brotherhood, that’s how we see ourselves in our own atmosphere. That is what makes me decide if I want to go to a school or not go to a school.

“Coach Boom is a very personable guy,” Gentry said. “He establishes family as an important thing from the jump. I think we have established a strong culture and now we have to carry it out on the court.” 

PNW is the third school in Gentry’s college journey, after previously playing at Central Wyoming College and South Dakota State University. 

He said his most recent stint in the portal was hectic. 

“In simple words, it’s brutal,” he said. “There are so many players in the portal and there’s so many coaches who call, but they don’t really have a big interest in you. I was literally on the phone with eight to 10 coaches, getting three to four calls a day. From a mental aspect, it made me anxious. It’s crazy.”

After hundreds of recruiting pitches and phone calls, he is happy to land here. 

“I knew coming here that it just felt like home,” Gentry said. “Coach didn’t treat me like royalty, but he also didn’t treat me like crap. What really stuck out to me was his ability to … relate to me on a personal level. I just knew this is where I am going to go the moment I was done with my visit.” 

Roberts and his staff want to find athletes that have both skill and personality.

”When we identify guys that we think can help us on the floor, we also want to make sure that they fit our family off the floor as well,” Roberts said. “There are a lot of good players in the country, but for the right guys, you have to be very specific in whom you target.”

The new players join eight returning veterans.

They include leading scorer, junior guard/forward Anthony Barnard, senior guard Mikell Cooper and the player with the most recorded starts for the Pride last season in junior guard Anthony Irvin. 

Roberts hopes this year’s team can help boost school spirit. 

“It is important for the entire university,” he said. “We want to be a bonfire of invitation. We hope that people see us and go, ‘those guys rock with each other and love each other, and I want to be a part of that’.”  

Gentry and the team are looking to feed off of the energy from the fans. 

“School spirit is everything,” he said. “That is what makes the culture. They are like … that sixth man. When you have that fan support, it just makes you feel so confident… That’s going to come with us winning and showing them that we are bringing the heat.”