Lewiston, Idaho – (Release from Lewis-Clark State College Athletics) The Lewis-Clark State Men’s Basketball season may have ended, but the future looks bright for a Warrior club that touts several talented underclassmen.
Of the 2,137 total points scored by LC players this season, 38.4 percent (821) of those points were scored by its four freshmen. Anthony Peoples Jr., Erick Chaney, John Lustig and Grayson Hunt each played key roles on a team that is in a rebuilding phase after losing nearly every contributor from its NAIA National Runner-Up run in 2020-21.
With the help of these four freshmen and some talented sophomores on the roster, the turnaround might be a season away. The Warriors finished with a 14-15 record, going 11-11 in conference play before losing in the first round of the Cascade Conference Tournament to Southern Oregon 77-75.
Lustig and Hunt stood out as freshmen this year, combining for 36 starts and playing key roles once the team hit its conference schedule.
“We love being able to recruit locally and these two guys stood out as both players and people during the recruiting process. They both came from great programs where they were coached well. John had been putting up numbers for some time at Colfax. We felt like Grayson may be more of a late bloomer,” LC coach Austin Johnson said. “We got to see them in open gyms with our guys over a period of time which is the best evaluative tool there is. Each of them had moments when they held their own and showed they could be high level players. We made each of them a priority in the 2022 recruiting class and were fortunate to have them sign early.”
Lustig prepped at Colfax High School where he led the Bulldogs to a 2021 district championship and was a three-time Northeast 2B League MVP. His play in his freshman campaign earned him the Cascade Conference Freshman of the Year and he was also named an honorable mention to the All-CCC Men’s Basketball team.
“My assistant coach, CJ Johnson, identified John pretty early and knew he would be a great fit for how we play and the type of people we want to recruit,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of kids who can score big numbers in high school that can’t adjust to the college game, but we knew John had the ability to have that talent translate to the college level. John is a phenomenal scorer at all three levels and also does a good job getting to the free-throw line.”
Lustig took over the starting role in the second half of the season, starting in the final 14 regular season games. The freshman became a key contributor on the offense where he scored double-digit points in 14 of the last 15 games and played more than 30 minutes in eight of those contests.
There was no animosity from the upperclassmen towards losing a starting position to a freshman.
“Everybody is supportive of each other,” Lustig said. “Our team is pretty close nit, we all want what is best for each other. Obviously, everyone wants to play and contribute, but we are all supportive of each other and the goal is just to win games.”
The Colfax native took to the starting role in a big way, collecting his first double-double and his highest point total of the season in back-to-back games. On Jan. 7 at Multnomah, Lustig collected a career-high 10 rebounds while scoring 17 points. The following game on Jan. 13 at the P1FCU Activity Center against Oregon Tech, the freshman went 9-of-16 from the field for a personal-best 22 points.
On the season, Lustig was second only to sophomore Davian Brown in several offensive categories. The freshman was second to Brown in points per game (12.8), field goals made (127), field goals attempted (271) and 3-pointers made (44).
“We talk a lot about playing with confidence and joy in our program and John embodies that as much as anyone. He loves basketball and he loves competing,” Johnson said. “He’s honest with himself when he doesn’t play well, but instead of sulking or deflecting ownership he just digs in and works to improve. As he tightens up his game and improves defensively, the sky is the limit.”
Lustig used that confidence and aggressiveness that is not commonly seen in a freshman to get to the free throw line where he was a team-best .851 (74-of-87). That same aggressiveness also helped him bring in 120 rebounds, collect 19 steals and get seven blocks on the year. However, that same all-in play style got the freshman in foul trouble during the season where he fouled out four times and led the team with 72 personal fouls. A small price to play for a terrific freshman season that continued to get stronger throughout the year.
Hunt joined the Warriors from Pullman High School where he led his team to a district championship his senior season and was voted First-Team All-Greater Spokane league twice.
The 6-foot-6 forward took over a starting position in early December and never let it go which was a far cry from the preseason plans for the freshman.
“The plan at the beginning of the year was to redshirt this year, but then a couple of unfortunate injuries to others on the team changed that,” Hunt said. “Gradually throughout the season I proved that I could be pretty valuable. Definitely not how I thought the year would go, but I am pretty thankful for the opportunity that I have had to prove myself and show everybody that I can play basketball at a high level.”
Hunt took the opportunity and ran with it, continually showing high basketball IQ, especially on the defensive side of the basketball where he led LC in blocks with 16. He was also a strong contributor on the glass where he averaged 4.2 boards a contest.
The Pullman native collected his first double-double on Jan. 21 at home against Northwest where he scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds, four of them on the offensive glass. Hunt led the team with 55 offensive rebounds on the year.
“We saw Grayson take a huge step in development from the summer going into his junior year at Pullman to the summer going into his senior year. He always had some skill, but during that year he grew in confidence and awareness of his ability,” Johnson said. “He flew under the radar in a lot of ways, but his ability to rebound and get post position was apparent every time we watched him. We planned on redshirting Grayson because of our roster and also for him to develop physically and skill wise. Once we had some season ending injuries, along with seeing Grayson be so productive in practices, it became clear we needed to play him this year.”
Hunt became a strong offensive option, especially after the calendar flipped over to 2023. The freshman topped double-figures 10 times including a six-game stretch where he reached that mark every game and averaged 15.5 points per game. The stretch was capped off with a personal-best 20-point performance on Jan. 31 at Walla Walla where Hunt was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field.
“To go from planning to redshirt to starting and averaging 10 points per game in league play is not something a typical freshman could do. It is a testament to Grayson’s toughness and desire to help the team,” Johnson said.
The 2022-23 season was a breakout season for both Lustig and Hunt, and Johnson hopes that they take everything that they learned from their freshmen campaigns and use it to grow and get stronger in the rest of their Warrior journey.
“Both of them grew so much during the year in part because they are high-character kids who care about their teammates. Many people claim they want to win, but these two put those words into action time and time again in practices and games. They also trusted our coaching staff even through the ups and downs of the year. They accepted coaching and teaching and never took being coached as a personal attack,” Johnson said. “As coaches we play guys that we trust and it was pretty clear that this year they earned a bunch of trust with how they responded in every situation. They each can get so much better too which is exciting. We are challenging and pushing each of them to take another big leap as complete players.”
Stay up to date with all things Warrior Athletics at lcwarriors.com and on social media @LCWarriors.