Artis helps revive Missionary men's hoops

Justin Artis was the lone senior on the team that gave Whitman its best season in 25 years.

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WALLA WALLA - Justin Artis, the only senior on a resurgent men's basketball team that enjoyed its best season in 25 years, is co-winner of the 2011 R.V. Borleske Trophy, which is presented annually to the top male athlete at Whitman College.

The trophy, which is awarded by a vote of the Whitman coaching staff, recognizes athletic ability and accomplishments, leadership and sportsmanship qualities, and contributions to the campus as a whole.

Artis, a 6-foot guard, shares this year's Borleske Trophy with Etienne Moshevich, a key player on Whitman's four-time Northwest Conference champion tennis team.

As part of a balanced Whitman attack this past winter, Artis averaged 8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds for an otherwise young Whitman team that won 16 of 18 games late in the season to make the NWC playoffs for the first time since 1995.

The strong finish included a school-record eight-game winning streak capped by a thrilling comeback victory over previously undefeated and No. 1-ranked Whitworth.

Calling him a "program changer," third-year Whitman coach Eric Bridgeland notes that Artis helped revitalize the basketball program at Olympic College (Bremerton, Wash.) before doing the same as a junior transfer at Whitman.

Artis topped Olympic in scoring as a freshman and then led the Rangers to a 21-8 record - their best mark in 11 years - as a sophomore. In his first season at Whitman, Artis helped a rebuilding Missionary program post its best record in 11 years.

As Whitman's lone senior this past winter, Bridgeland adds, Artis made "countless critical plays" while "exuding leadership, integrity and toughness" as the Missionaries made a quick transition from rebuilding to winning, placing second in the conference standings and ultimately ending the season with a sparkling 19-8 record.

"I've been involved with team athletics from a coaching standpoint for 17 years, and in that time I have only recognized one other individual who has the leadership ability and integrity of Justin Artis," Bridgeland said.

Playing most of the NWC season with a ruptured thumb tendon on his shooting hand - an injury that required post-season surgery - Artis continued to play a pivotal role as the Missionaries finished their season with a flourish.

After finishing the regular season in a tie for second-place, Whitman hosted Lewis & Clark in the first round of the NWC playoffs and rallied for a 79-76 victory.

With Whitman leading 77-76, Artis grabbed a defensive rebound and made two free throws to help seal the victory.

Artis enjoying home-court victory

Artis also enjoyed some huge games for the Missionaries during his junior season.

He tallied 32 points (8-15 fg, 5-7 3pt, 11-14 ft) and collected six rebounds against Whitworth, sparked a victory over Pacific with 29 points (10-12 fg, 7-8 3pt), and combined 24 points with eight rebounds and five steals in a win over Willamette.

He just missed a double-double in a big win over North Central, combining 19 points and nine rebounds in just 20 minutes on floor.

As a junior, Artis was second on the team in scoring (12.6 ppg), rebounding (4.1 rpg) and steals (1.7 spg), and he was sixth in the NWC in steals for the season.

Counting his first two seasons at Olympic, Artis finished his four-year career with 1,295 points (106 3-point baskets), 435 rebounds, 165 steals and 133 assists.

A graduate of Foss High School in Tacoma, Wash., Artis is majoring in sociology at Whitman.

In time away from the court and classroom, he has been active in the Friends of Walla Walla program, mentoring a young boy from a disadvantaged background.

"Justin has been the epitome of leadership and class in helping turn around the men's basketball program at Whitman," Bridgeland said.

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