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Former MWP Basketball Star Carves Own Path at CWU

By Eric Trent

etrent@chronline.com

It’s winter 2017 and Morton High School’s janitor has just finished cleaning the gymnasium for the night when senior Matt Poquette and his basketball teammates move in and begin knocking down end-of-the-day shots. It’s the only time after daily practices that the gym is finally empty.

They’ll be back here again at 6:30 a.m.

It’s the type of commitment that Poquette, who three months later would be named the 2B Player of the Year by the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association, learned from his older brother, Kaleb Poquette.

Matt, now a 6-foot-6, 190-pound sophomore forward at Central Washington University, carved out a burgeoning prep career with Morton-White Pass, beginning as a seldom-used freshman on the Timberwolves’ 2015 state title team. He didn’t make his mark individually that year but it set him up for the future.

He split time between JV and varsity that season, battling in practice daily against the likes of MWP stars Zach Walton and Kaleb, who spearheaded back-to-state title wins.

“That year for me is probably one of the most important years as to how I developed into the player I am today,” Poquette said. “There’s no other way to get better than to play against the best every day.”

Going up against those guys day in and day out and following them to those early-morning and late-night shooting galleries instilled in him a work ethic he carries to this day. The effects, however, took hold immediately.

“I was able to learn a lot from them, both on the court and also how to lead a team,” Poquette said. “They did a good job of setting a standard. Our coaches, Tony Gillispie and Chad Cramer, did a good job of setting that standard. As I got older, I just tried to pass it down and keep the tradition of wanting to be in the gym and wanting to work hard.”

It all started when he was a kid watching Kaleb, who’s two years older, playing AAU and Select Basketball. He wanted to be just like his older brother.

“I was always the little kid off to the side watching him,” Poquette said. “It kind of sparked a passion for me.”

It was enough to switch his favorite sport from football to basketball in junior high. He still played football throughout high school, as a starting wide receiver and safety, but shifting his focus to the hardwood began to pay off.

In high school he joined the Washington Supreme AAU team, playing in the Under Armour circuit against some of the top prep players in the country, including Portland Trailblazers rookie Anfernee Simons, and Minnesota Timberwolves Rookie Naz Reid.

“I started realizing I was pretty good at it and my love for the game kept growing until it became where I was working on it every day,” Poquette said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about basketball.”

By the end of his senior year he had become the 2B Player of the Year and the Central 2B League MVP after averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds, 4.75 assists, three blocks and two steals per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor. Soon after he earned The Chronicle’s All-Area Player of the Year while leading the Timberwolves to a 21-8 record and their third state appearance in four years. He was also recently named The Chronicle’s Boys Basketball Player of the Decade.

After basketball season ended his senior year, Poquette was faced with a difficult decision. He had committed to Central Washington University coach Greg Sparling, but just two months later Sparling was let go by Central, leaving Poquette in a dilemma. He ended up re-opening his recruitment, which sparked a bevy of offers from nearly every Great Northwest Athletic Conference program.

Ultimately, he decided to stick with CWU. It helped that the incoming coach, Brandon Rinta, was a Lewis County native who graduated from W.F. West High School and played basketball at Central from 1999-2001.

“Something about the school stuck out to me,” Poquette said. “Being at a level I can be a good player in. Also, one of the big factors was staying close to home. I wanted my parents and family to come watch games and be able to go home once in awhile.”

It’s a decision that’s fared well for the now-sophomore Wildcat.

Poquette racked up playing time as a freshman, earning a starting spot the final 12 games of the season while averaging 9.8 points per game. His 56 percent shooting was sixth-highest in the GNAC that year.

It hasn’t all been easy-going, however. He began this season as a starter only to see himself relegated to the bench for the 17-10, 10-9 GNAC Wildcats. Still, he’s been able to average 7.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in reserve duty while knocking down 54 percent of his shots, including a season-high 17 points on Feb. 22.

Being a role player off the bench hasn’t discouraged him — in fact, it’s been a motivator.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” Poquette said. “But it’s a struggle going from league MVP, Player of the Year for Washington, to coming off the bench and not always being one of the guys. Your role kind of changes to where you have to do whatever it is to help the team win. I’ve adjusted pretty well to that. I just focus every day on how I can get better and how I can help the team. It’s allowed me to accept this new role with an open mind and stay positive throughout it.”

It helps that he has a strong support system helping him along the way, be it his girlfriend, his family, friends back home or his teammates. He tries to visit Morton, where all his grandparents and aunt and uncle all live on the same road, whenever he has a weekend off, which is rare during basketball season.

“I have a really good support group,” Poquette said. “They make sure my head’s in the right spot to make sure I’m able to do what I do. I’ve been really blessed with some great teammates and coaches. And my family has put me in the right spot to succeed. They’ve sacrificed a lot for me.”

He is the only player on his team that came from a Class 2B school. His roommate is from a 1A school and the rest of his teammates are from 2A or higher. But it’s at that 2B program, MWP, where he laid the groundwork to become the player he is today.

“The speed of the game is a lot different,” Poquette said. “Having the right attitude, more than anything, can hold people back. Everyone that’s in the GNAC was pretty much the star of their high school team. It’s about how you come together with other guys that were in the same boat as you. Who can make the sacrifices that are necessary to win.”

Poquette and the Wildcats face off against Saint Martin’s on Thursday night in the second-to-last regular-season game of the year. And just like at Morton High School in 2017, Poquette will be up early in the morning to shoot.

“Obviously you don’t want to get up every morning and stay up late at night to do homework after you’ve had a couple workouts, but very few people are going to do it,” Poquette said. “If you can be one of the guys that’s going to do that, then you have a chance to be great. I want to give it my best every time I go out there. To do that you have to work at it every day.”

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