Cheney Free Press -

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

There's plenty for Legans to love in life's journey

Native Californian and new Eagles men's basketball coach is very fond of new home

 

January 25, 2018

Shantay Legans

Submitted photo from Shantay Legans Eastern Washington University's new men's basketball coach Shantay Legans not only furthered his career in Cheney but started a family that includes daughter Zola Lee and wife Tatjana.

Even if his introduction to Eastern Washington University didn't have much of a welcome mat at the door, Eagle men's head basketball coach Shantay Legans has found plenty to love ever since.

Sure, there's the job, that as one of just over 300 such positions in the country.

But there's Legans also being in the right place at the right time to inherit a program with air in all its tires, a pretty good motor and plenty of gas in its tank. He earned the promotion last March 29 when Jim Hayford left Eastern for Seattle University.

A life-changing moment

But his best acquisition appears to be the family he found in Cheney when Legans met former women's basketball standout Tatjana Sparavalo. The couple was married in May 2014 and have a daughter, Zola Lee who arrived two years later in June 2016.

"I was lucky enough to meet my wife, Tatjana," Legans is quick to point out. "This has been the best place in my whole life."

However, turn back the clock a few years, and after he said yes to former EWU coach Kirk Earlywine's job offer, Legans had to maybe wonder just what he was getting into leaving his native California.

Legans got the job and then quickly learned how special a place Eastern was. Special in that there was little or no money to do even the most routine things - such as moving from California to Cheney.

"He hires me and says, 'Come on up," Legans said of Earlywine. "So you guys flying me up?" he asked? "No," his new boss said.

Ok, they're not flying him up? Next question, "When I get there do I get a car?" Likely you can guess the answer? "This isn't like Ray (Lopes) at Oklahoma or Fresno," Legans thought.

Next question, would Legans have an office? By now the answers were short, simple ond obvious.

"So I go, no office, no car, I gotta' drive up - I have a great big, huge SUV - gas guzzler, I waste all my savings driving up here," Legans said to himself.

Rationalizing the opportunity, it was the craziest thing, Legans said. He suddenly realized something he holds true to this day: "Eastern is special, everyone's working with what they've got," making it all work, Legans said.

The road traveled

Born in Ventura, Calif. on July 30, 1981, Legans graduated from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, near Santa Barbara. He was a league MVP and an All-California Interscholastic Federation selection, helping him land a scholarship and playing from 1999-2002 for the Pac-12 California Golden Bears.

Legans opted to play at Fresno State where he graduated in 2004. There he played for Ray Lopes. "It was a no-brainer for me because I think it hit me that I was not going to be an NBAer," Legans said.

The impact of that college coaching connection with Lopes was huge for Legans. The two first met when Legans was in fourth grade at the Boys and Girls Club in Goleta where Lopes was an aspiring coach on the up escalator.

When he arrived in Cheney in time for the 2009-10 season, Legans shared makeshift office space in the Red Reese Room with volleyball and women's basketball. It was a far cry from other places Legans saw along the way when he served with Lopes as a summer camps coach at Washington State and Oklahoma, where assistants actually had doors for privacy, refrigerators and TVs in their offices.

"I have a bathroom," was his takeaway in Cheney, Legans said. Nonetheless, "It was a great experience, one of the best years I ever had," he added.

A turning point

The same can't be said for the time following the 2010-11 season when Earlywine's contract was not renewed and Legans' future was uncertain at best.

As Legans prepared his resume and began casting his hook out to see if he'd catch another opportunity, wondered where that might be was a mystery and anyone's guess.

When Hayford, the former Whitworth University coach was hired, one of his first stops in Cheney was at Legans office, now with a door and window. "What are you thinking about doing" Legans recalled of his first meeting with the new coach.

Legans had no answers at that particular moment, but it didn't take long to prove himself. "He says you know the guys and can you do a scouting report?" Legans said were his orders.

Three hours later Legans was invited to dinner at a Mexican restaurant to discuss the future in Cheney. It wasn't long before Legans was elevated to the associate head coach role where he had served the past three seasons

That proved to be one of those "What if" moments; what if he had picked up after Earlywine's departure and moved?

Planning the future

"When I was coaching I was not thinking about anything but that," Legans said when discussing his life-changing moment meeting Sparavalo, who was just finishing up both bachelors and masters degrees in just four years.

His wife getting a job at I-Tron was the right timing Legans said. Otherwise, Sparavalo, a 2011 EWU grad, intended to play professional ball in Europe, perhaps in her home country of Serbia.

"You think you have a hard critic?" Legans said. "No one's as hard as my wife."

"Tatjana, win, lose or draw, always has something to say," Legans adds, admitting she not only speaks the truth, but does so from having walked the walk as a Division I basketball player.

"(Coaching) was just something I always saw myself at," Legans said, dating back to high school where he worked at the Goleta Boy's Club, outside Santa Barbara, Calif. It's the same club that Ben Howland of UCLA fame began his career under Sal Rodriguez, a legendary coach there.

Because of his accomplishments at Goleta, Legans was inducted into the Santa Barbara Court of Champions in 2016, joining a group that includes basketball legends Jerry West, Jamaal Wilkes and Howland.

But it was with the help of his wife that got the head coaching wheels turning in her husband's head.

The two would sometimes sit up late into the night and make lists. "Who would you bring on as assistants, who would you do this with?" Legans said. "It was so annoying, her asking me all these questions, questions I never thought about."

So far so good

The Eagles sit at 4-3 as the Big Sky Conference campaign reaches the halfway mark. They are 9-11 overall going into a game tonight against North Dakota (6:05 p.m.) and Saturday when they host Northern Colorado for a 2:05 p.m. tipoff.

Paul Delaney

Shantay Legans' promotion to the men's basketball head coach position at Eastern Washington has been a success so far.

"I think we've been the better team about three of those games and lost," Legans said. They were the better team in a Nov. 14 win, 67-61 at Pac-12 Stanford, his bitter rival while at Cal.

He also learned not to take that Stanford win extra high, nor a Dec. 12 Wyoming loss, 93-88 on Dec. 12 in Laramie way too low. "You've got to be steady," Legans said.

That's a mantra he said came from former EWU football coach Beau Baldwin, whom Legans has the utmost respect.

He hints that he'd like to be the same change-agent Baldwin was with football and the one who finally takes Eastern's program to a prominent place in the local basketball food chain.

Legans has found in more ways than one that Eastern and the Inland Northwest are an easy place with which to fall in love. "I wouldn't mind being here a long time," he said.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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