When the Warner Pacific University men’s basketball team’s schedule comes out, you don’t need to ask Collin Malcolm twice as to when the annual trip to the Southern Oregon happens.
It makes perfect sense, too.
He is an Ashland High School grad after all.
“It’s definitely my favorite (road trip) and I look forward to it every year,” Malcolm said via phone Thursday afternoon as Warner Pacific made the trip to Klamath Falls for tonight’s game against Oregon Tech. “When it’s on the calendar, I know when we’re going. It’s definitely my favorite trip by far.”
The 6-foot-7 Malcolm, now a senior at Warner Pacific, will make his final trip back to his hometown as a collegiate athlete this weekend when Warner Pacific faces Southern Oregon University in a crucial Cascade Conference matchup Saturday night at Lithia Motors Pavilion.
The past three years, Malcolm was a visiting player in the same Mountain Avenue Gymnasium that he called home during his high school days with the Grizzlies.
Now, as both his current team and his hometown team get set to face one another, Malcolm is ready to see what the Raiders’ brand new gym has to offer this weekend.
“When it was my senior night at Ashland High School, I thought that was the last time I was ever going to play competitively in that gym,” Malcolm said, “so when I found out (SOU) was switching to the high school my freshman year of college so that they could built the new gym, I was ecstatic. It’s so fun to be able to come back and play.”
Of course, now that he’s a senior, facing his hometown college is nothing new.
But there’s still that added dynamic of coming home and having the big rooting section even though you’re on the opposing team from a few hours away.
And that means Malcolm’s mom, an SOU grad, will be siding with her son’s school rather than her alma mater. He made it clear: “When I play against SOU, it’s Warner Pacific all the way for her.”
“It definitely was a little weird at first — especially when we were playing at Ashland High School,” Malcolm said of being a visiting player in his hometown. “I’m excited to play in the new building (Southern Oregon) has there and I have a bunch of family and friends coming to the game.
“It still feels like I’m playing at home, but it’s definitely a little different being on the opposing team.”
Malcolm, who said Saturday night’s game will be the first time he will step foot in Lithia Motors Pavilion, is one of the unquestioned leaders on a Warner Pacific team (13-7 overall, 5-5 CCC) that finds itself a half-game ahead of Southern Oregon (15-7, 5-6) in the conference standings entering the final four weeks of the regular season.
A fixture in Warner Pacific’s starting since the early stages of his freshman season, Malcolm is having the best year of his collegiate career as a senior.
His 16.9 points per game leads the way for the Knights and is seventh in the CCC, just behind SOU senior guard Tristen Holmes. His shooting percentage is just shy of 55 percent, and he’s hitting 3-pointers at a 34.4 percent clip.
But where Malcolm feels like he has really improved is on the defensive end — he’s second on the team in steals (24) and leads WPU in blocks (30) by a wide margin. His 1.7 blocks-per-game average ranks is tied for second in the Cascade Conference with SOU forward Jordan Hunt.
“It’s had its ups and downs,” Malcolm said of his senior season to date. “Even though numbers are nice, I’m more of a team kind of guy, so I couldn’t care less where my numbers are as long as we’re winning. I just want to keep going. I want to make that tournament and go onto nationals.”
And in a conference like the Cascade is, there are no gimmes.
That means that if you’re one of the CCC’s top teams, you’ve probably also got a nice national ranking right along with your school’s name.
“Oh, I love it and I’m proud to be part of this conference,” Malcolm said. “It’s definitely one of the best, if not the best NAIA conferences in the whole United States. I remember my sophomore year when we didn’t make it to nationals, we sent five to nationals. Every year that I’ve been here (at Warner Pacific) we’ve sent at least three. It’s just a great conference to be in and I like having no off days. I personally don’t like games where you know you’re going to come in and smack a team. I really like having to prepare and keep your focus.”
For now, though, the immediate concentration for Malcolm is to get his team in position for the best possible seed for next month’s conference tournament.
Even if it means trying to get a win against the same program you grew up watching.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.