Justin Stangel puts the team ahead of himself

Josh Worden, Senior Beat Reporter

 

Make no mistake, Justin Stangel’s impact on the Oregon State men’s basketball team is noticeable.

Stangel is a practice player, meaning the headlines and attention generally find their way to his teammates. But the praise of fellow players and coaches are not just insincere lip service, but rather a genuine recognition of one of the most respected faces in the program.

“He’s the best teammate we have. You ask any one of these guys, they’ll tell you he’s the best teammate,” said Director of Player Personnel Rachi Wortham. “He’s a stud.”

“He’s a committed kid,” added head coach Wayne Tinkle. “He’s a great kid in the classroom and on the court. He works his tail off everyday when he knows it will probably not lead to any playing time. Those are the kinds of kids we want in the program, that put the program first. He’s a real ambassador of that.”

So what makes Stangel receive such high praise? Part of it is exactly what Tinkle mentioned: Stangel knows he won’t play much or at all for OSU. The 6-foot-10 walk-on is fairly agile for a big man, but he won’t vie for significant playing time. Still, his commitment to the team in practices and games is evident.

“Watch him on the bench, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Every time, he runs out there and cheers for his teammates,” Wortham said. “It’s exciting to watch that kid. He cares. He really, really cares if we win or lose, even if he didn’t get to play.”

“He’s one of my better friends on the team,” added Dylan Livesay, who played on the team last year as a walk-on. “He doesn’t care if you start or if you’re the last guy off the bench — he’s just a great guy.”

It’s fitting for Stangel to contribute to the program after his initial experience with OSU. Now-senior guard Langston Morris-Walker, Stangel says, was the “defining point” in his decision to try out.

In a charity basketball tournament his freshman year put on by OSU sorority Delta Gamma, Stangel’s fraternity made the championship game, which had Morris-Walker and other OSU basketball players as referees.

“My team won that (tournament), and I don’t want to say I dominated, but we handled it pretty well,” Stangel said with a laugh.

Morris-Walker approached Stangel during the championship game and told him to try out. Three years later, Stangel is still in the program.

Stangel, whose father Jamie played basketball at OSU in the 1980s, has the same attitude as when he joined the program for the 2013 season, when he “was just there for practices and getting beat up on,” as he puts it. Regardless, he loved every moment of being in the program and is now in his third year with the team.

It hasn’t always been easy for the Construction Engineering Major, who has to balance time commitments in order to stay afloat. When he decided to try out for the team in 2012 in Craig Robinson’s penultimate year as head coach, it took three months before any staff member met with him. The coaches finally gave him a tryout the following October, and he made the team. When coach Tinkle arrived in 2014, he gave Stangel a one-year scholarship before the 2015 class of six freshmen entered the program.

It’s the freshmen that Stangel has accommodated the most, even though they essentially took away the scholarship he had for one year. He insists that there’s no hard feelings — “being around the guys is my favorite part, it doesn’t bother me at all,” he says — and Stangel even went out of his way to welcome freshman center Gligorije Rakocevic into his home earlier this year. Rakocevic is from Montenegro and doesn’t have family in the United States, so the Stangel family invited Rakocevic into their home in Milwaukie, Ore. during summer break and Christmas.

“It’s really big for me having him and his family,” Rakocevic said. “I can go fishing with his dad, do something fun with Justin back in Portland. When you have someone around always for you, it’s way different.”

Stangel has also helped freshman forward Tres Tinkle, who is considering the same Construction Engineering Management major, with his pre-engineering homework.

In addition, Stangel participates in philanthropic events with his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and has volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis with the rest of the team.

Last season, Stangel’s presence on the court was especially significant since Stangel was the third-string center after nine players from the previous year left the program.

“That’s got to be the biggest change for anyone,” he said. “You start as a practice player, with zero minutes, never even think you’re going to see the floor… To go from that to being third in line (at center) is huge. I would have never imagined. It was definitely a dream come true.”

Stangel played in 10 games last season, scoring three points and starting in the Civil War when Tinkle rewarded Stangel and four walk-ons for their hard work with the chance to open the game against Oregon.

Whether or not Stangel stays in the program next season — he expects to graduate in Dec. 2016 but might stretch his classes out an extra term to play one more season — his efforts have already been recognized by the rest of the OSU program.

“Somebody who’s never been a great player, but he’s a great, high-level person,” Wortham said. “Justin is willing to do whatever he can do for this team.”

“It has opened so many doors for me and given me so much more experience on growing personally,” Stangel added on his experience on the team. “Getting a couple garbage minutes here and there when the score’s not close. It’s fantastic, though, I don’t care when I get thrown in.”

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