Wayne Tinkle and Oregon State find good in past, present and future – USA TODAY
CORVALLIS, Ore. — Visitors to the office of Wayne Tinkle, the Oregon State men’s basketball coach might encounter the faint sounds of Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac or the Eagles emitting from his Pandora account.
They might notice the newest addition to the office bookshelf, a work called Miller’s Time that chronicles the coaching era of Hall of Famer Ralph Miller in the 1970s and 1980s, when Oregon State won 66% of its games and four Pac-12 titles.
They might be greeted by Jimmy Anderson, Miller’s top assistant and successor who in 1990 did something no one has done since: He coached the Beavers to the NCAA tournament.
Tinkle’s sleek office with a view of the practice court is only 2 years old, but the room and its occupant embrace history — just not recent history.
“Growing up in Spokane in the early ’80s, Washington and Washington State weren’t great, but Oregon State was one of the top programs, in the northwest anyway. And the country,” said Tinkle, who turned 49 on Monday. “So that’s really what I drew most of my references from. There was some tradition here — some great tradition — that was part of the draw.”
Only eight months removed from 25 years at the University of Montana or as resident of Missoula as a player, assistant coach and head coach, Tinkle is embarking on a quest to create a new winning tradition at Oregon State. And with a roster that is short on numbers but long on buy-in, the Beavers are showing that rebuilding seasons and winning seasons are not mutually exclusive.
Though picked to finish last in the Pac-12, Oregon State (14-5, 5-2 Pac-12) is off to its best start since 1989-90, when Hall of Famer Gary Payton helped the Beavers start 16-3 and 6-1 and finish with what is to date the program’s last NCAA appearance. They are 12-0 at home and have their longest conference home win streak (five) since 1989-91.
“In my first two seasons, I think we had a ton of talent on both teams, but we didn’t do that well,” said Olaf Schaftenaar, a junior forward. “Right now it’s the complete opposite. People thought that we weren’t going to have a bunch of talent, and maybe we don’t, but we are winning.”
The Beavers haven’t even begun the second half of the Pac-12 schedule, and everyone acknowledges they’ve only just begun what could be a long climb. With just six or seven players seeing significant minutes, the coaching staff has emphasized that the team play a methodical, tempo-controlling style. But as Tinkle and others say, there are two things bridging the gap between this team and the distant, decorated past: intensity and defense.
“This team reminds me of how we used to play with Jimmy Anderson when we’d get after it on defense and get after people,” Payton said. “They do a good job of creating turnovers like we did. They don’t run like we did — we used to run a lot — but when they get into that defense and get into that zone and play that, they play very well.”
One of the reasons for that is yet another link to the positive past: Payton’s son, Gary Payton II. A 6-3 guard in his first season with Oregon State, Payton II didn’t grow up as a go-to offensive player. With the arm length of a 6-10 player, rebounds and steals have been his strength. “Usually I never had the ball passed to me, so I had to go get it,” he said.
That has continued in his transition from junior college to the Pac-12, where he ranks No. 1 in steals (3.0 per game) and No. 3 in rebounds (8.5). As a team, the Beavers are No. 1 in the league in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, three-point field goal percentage defense and steals.
“Coach Tinkle understands defense is what wins championships and keeps you successful,” said junior Jarmal Reid, Oregon State’s sixth man. “You’re not always going to have the best night on offense, but on defense you can have the best night every night if you stick to the plan.”
The Beavers learned that lesson early — in their first exhibition game, as a matter of fact. Though Oregon State has a perfect record at home, that doesn’t mean they’re undefeated there. They lost the first time they took the court at Gill Coliseum this season, falling to nearby Western Oregon, a Division II school, in an exhibition. During the preseason Tinkle had told the team that every opponent on the schedule was capable of beating the Beavers, and the Beavers were capable of beating every opponent.
After falling 57-47, Tinkle’s words rang true. Reid said, “We knew this was not a good way to start out. But now looking back at it, I feel as though it was the perfect way to start out. I think without that loss, we probably wouldn’t be this far.
“That was probably the most important thing to happen this year, was losing that game and just realizing that he knows what he’s doing, we’ve just got to stick with him.”
Arguably no one is sticking by Tinkle and the program more than Anderson. He prays for the Beavers each day at 8 a.m. Mass, he watches practice, he serves as a program encyclopedia and he has introduced Tinkle and the staff to the Oregon State old guard, effectively an endorsement that they are stand-up people.
“For him to see us having so much success now, it’s great,” said Schaftenaar, who is from The Netherlands and considers Anderson to be his stateside “grandpa.” “He deserves it more than anyone. He’s always stayed with the program.”
Perhaps more than anything, Anderson is a reminder that the Beavers won big long ago, and they have the tools and plan to do it again.
“What they’ve done is amazing, but we still know that everything is in front of us,” Tinkle said. “And if our record was reversed, we’d be saying the same thing.”