| March 18, 2018

M. Basketball: Northwest Kid

After five years and over 150 games of collegiate basketball, Idaho guard Chris Sarbaugh does not possess the stereotypical persona of a veteran athlete.

Instead of the reserved and serious mindset of many senior athletes, Sarbaugh can often be seen joking with teammates or flashing a beaming smile to students throughout campus.

On this particular spring day, Sarbaugh strides into a Kibbie Dome office sporting a retro Spud Webb jersey and baby blue basketball shorts. The Idaho senior guard props a foot up on the coffee table and leans back against his chair in a relaxed pose.

The easygoing demeanor of the graduate transfer is a stark contrast to the hardworking guard Idaho basketball fans saw on the court this past year.

Sarbaugh played an integral role for the Vandals during the winter, averaging 25.3 minutes on the court and leading the team with 109 assists. He also recorded 150 rebounds and collected 33 steals.

While Vandal spectators are familiar with his contributions to the team, few know Sarbaugh’s winding journey to reach Moscow.

As a young boy growing up in Spokane, Sarbaugh said he idolized Utah Jazz superstar John Stockton.

“I remember when I was really young, the Jazz would play over at the Spokane Arena,” Sarbaugh said. “I was always watching YouTube videos of him to learn his moves.”

The guard said he was initially drawn to Gonzaga as a high school recruit because of the university’s elite college basketball team.

“My family had season tickets there every year for 20 years,” Sarbaugh said. “My dad was also a professor at the school. I received an academic full-ride scholarship, and when they offered me a spot on the team, I knew something crazy would have to happen for me not to accept it.”

Sarbaugh said he understood he would likely have to wait until he was an upperclassmen to see the hardwood for the Bulldogs.

Gonzaga went 26-7 during Sarbaugh’s freshman year, falling in the third round of the NCAA Tournament to Ohio State.

“After a year of sitting the bench, I knew that I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I love playing too much. So I went to NIC and did well there.”

Sarbaugh averaged 7.6 points per game for North Idaho and converted 37.3 percent of his shots behind the arc. He led the Cardinals to a 26-5 record, including a 13-2 conference record.

Sarbaugh was strongly recruited by the Vandals the following year, but chose to sign a letter of intent to play basketball at San Diego University.

“I loved Idaho and the program, but I had to get out of here,” Sarbaugh said. “I had to get away from home.”

As a redshirt junior with the Toreros, Sarbaugh averaged 15.3 minutes on the court and 3.2 points per game. San Diego went 33-33 during his two years with the program.

After he received his undergraduate degree from San Diego, the guard chose to return to the Northwest and attend the University of Idaho.

“I wanted to be on a team where I could have a significant role,” Sarbaugh said. “(Don) Verlin knew my style and the type of player I was. I think my relationship with the coaches and the knowledge of the program and the offense played a big part in the decision.”

Sarbaugh said Moscow’s close proximity to Spokane influenced his choice.

“I never thought I would be able to play 15 games in front of my family again,” Sarbaugh said. “I loved being able to have my friends and family up there in the stands supporting me. I wanted that as much as I could, and I think that’s what sold me on Idaho.”

The transfer said he was initially unsure of how to approach his new teammates on the court during the summer.

“It took time, but I knew what I had to do to earn their respect,” Sarbaugh said. “I came in every day and worked my butt off in the weight room. And then I needed to be a leader on the court and communicate nonstop to show them I knew the game.”

Sarbaugh said the summer proved to be an instrumental period of growth within the program.

“For any new position, it’s all about earning the trust and respect of your team,” Sarbaugh said. “And this summer I was really happy that we were able to connect. We got close together and learned each others’ games and developed that trust for one another.”

Sarbaugh said he rediscovered his passion for the sport during his time with the Vandal basketball team.

“At San Diego I was dreading each practice my last year,” he said. “But these guys really taught me how to enjoy the game again.”

The newfound love of the game appeared to spark the senior’s play during the season. Sarbaugh averaged 5.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for the Vandals. In addition, the guard averaged 49.6 percent from the field, the third highest mark on the team.

“I feel like I can score — and I’m able to do that — but I feel like I see the floor better,” Sarbaugh said. “And so I just saw my role as a guy who would take what was given to me, who would make a play here or there for his team. I just try to do the things no one would notice.”

Sarbaugh’s presence on the court would prove to be a key component of the Vandal lineup after leading scorers Victor Sanders and Perrion Callandret went down midway through the season with separate injuries.

“When Vic and Perrion got hurt, I felt like my job was to make sure we were all organized,” Sarbaugh said. “That our team knew what play we were running or what defense we were in.”

Despite the loss of the team’s leading scorers, Sarbaugh led Idaho to a 4-3 record during a seven-game stretch of Big Sky Conference play. The strong play from the senior allowed the Vandals to remain in the hunt for an automatic bye in the first round of the Big Sky Conference postseason tournament.

“I know with most other programs, that if a team loses their leading scorer, they’re not going to win half their games,” he said. “That’s a testament to our coaches and players.”

The Vandals would eventually earn the third seed in the postseason tournament before falling in the semifinals to Montana.

“It really hurt losing to Montana, because I really felt like we had the best team in the Big Sky,” Sarbaugh said. “Still finishing third after everything we went through, I’m so unbelievably proud of that.”

The senior said his favorite moment with the program was the team’s 82-68 victory over Idaho State on Senior Night. Because it was Verlin’s first 20-win season, the team dumped Gatorade on him in the locker room after the game.

“That was unbelievable,” Sarbaugh said. “Not only to be a part of the team with the best record that he has ever had, but to also have it be on Senior Night and see all the love and appreciation from the fans.”

Sarbaugh will graduate next week with a master’s of science in adult, organizational learning and leadership. He currently holds a 4.0 grade point average and was named the Scholar Athlete of the Month in March by the University of Idaho.

The guard said he will miss several components of the university when he graduates, but he’ll specifically miss the staff associated with the program.

“The first is the people,” Sarbaugh said. “Not only the team but everyone around the (Kibbie) Dome. It is a community where everyone supports the Vandals. It’s very special.”

Sarbaugh said he will miss his Vandal teammates the most.

“I will miss being with those guys every day,” he said. “You get irritated with them one day, but then you come back and love them. They truly are your brothers.”

Josh Grissom can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @GoshJrissom

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