Neyt thrives as Eagles’ leading man
EAGLE POINT — Eagle Point senior Brennen Neyt has been forced to be patient almost by default.
A three-year starter on the Eagles’ boys basketball team, his 2019-20 and 2021 spring seasons offered plenty more losses than wins. Over those two seasons, Eagle Point won a grand total of two games.
Through it all, Neyt had a feeling that things would improve.
“I was looking forward to the future,” said the 18-year-old Neyt. “I was obviously not happy with where we were at because we were losing, but the thing that kept me motivated was down the road in my senior year we’ll have a good season, we’ll have a good team, we’ll make it far.”
“I don’t know if I fully believed it then, but that’s what kept me going,” added Neyt. “Now we’re here and it’s pretty cool to see my hard work has paid off.”
That premonition has turned into a reality for Neyt and the senior-heavy Eagle Point squad this season. The 6-foot-3 Neyt, an unquestioned leader for the Eagles, has helped lead Eagle Point (18-7) to its first Class 5A state tournament appearance since 2014.
Eagle Point, the No. 7 seed fresh off an opening-round win over Hood River Valley last Friday, will face Midwestern League champion and second-seeded Churchill (21-5) at 8:15 tonight at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
“For him, it’s probably going to be one of his top three memories as a teenager,” said second-year EP head coach Ryan Marrs. “When he’s 10 or 15 years older and he’s looking back at this time, it’s going to be one of the top three memories he has because basketball has meant the world to him. Gutting it out in this program, he’s put his blood, sweat and tears into it.”
For Neyt, the trip to Corvallis is special for more than one reason. Not only does it come in his senior season after being part of a team that went 2-39 over the previous two years, but there’s the added bonus of having a ton of family who lives in the area.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play at Gill,” said Neyt. “I feel blessed to be a part of it. I’m glad it’s happening to Eagle Point and I’m glad I can be one of the ones that is leading the charge. It’s just surreal. I’ve been trying to take in every moment of it and I don’t think it’s hit me that this is something really, really special.”
The Neyt contingent at Gill will see a player who has grown quite a bit since first becoming a varsity player as a sophomore in 2019, according to Marrs.
“The biggest change with him I’ve seen over the last four years has been his leadership,” said Marrs, who coached Neyt on the Eagles’ freshman team. “Freshman year, sophomore year, he was a great player but more of a role guy when it came to leadership on and off the court. Especially that sophomore year, being the youngest guy on the court and starting, he took a backseat to the upperclassmen. But since last season, I’ve been challenging him to step up vocally on and off the court.”
It wasn’t always easy sailing for Neyt stepping into a leadership role, said Marrs. There were some tough times as others adjusted to Neyt knowing that his role was expanding both on and off the court.
“It’s better received by the team this year versus last year,” said Marrs, “so just a lot of growth and a lot of maturity in that (leadership) area.”
It’s been this season where the patience and hard work has fully come to fruition for Neyt personally and the Eagles as a whole.
Neyt leads the team in scoring at 17.7 points per game, adding 7.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.7 steals.
“He’s much better with his shot selection and he’s scoring in different ways this year,” said Marrs. “He’s just setting the example day-in and day-out and just the kind of player he is, guys see that and what he’s capable of. Because of his skill, it’s really helped us in the win column.”
After so many losses his first two years on varsity, Neyt didn’t necessarily set lofty goals or anything close to it.
“For me, I just wanted to compete,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking about the state tournament or playoffs or anything, I just wanted to be a team that other teams didn’t take us as a given or gimme game. We did that and we did more, and now we’re in the state tournament. I feel like because I didn’t worry about the state tournament or the playoffs, that’s why I was able to do it — I just lived in the moment.”
But once the Eagles started playing this season, it didn’t take Neyt long to realize this season was going to be different.
“I’d say the first game, honestly,” said Neyt, alluding to Eagle Point’s 61-48 season-opening win over Roseburg. “We were going up against a 6A opponent and beat them by double digits. I saw that as, ‘We can do this, the sky’s the limit for us.’”
The Eagles suffered just one loss between the start of the season and the final week of January. It took them all of four games to eclipse their combined win total from the past two seasons, going 2-1 to win the consolation bracket at the McKinleyville Rotary Tip-Off Tournament in Humboldt County.
That proved to be the first two wins of a 12-game winning streak that saw Eagle Point rise into the top 10 of the Class 5A coaches poll.
“When we went on that winning streak,” began Neyt, “my whole thing was, ‘When are we going to lose?’ because it just felt we were going to win every game — and that’s something I’ve never felt before. It was just a totally different environment. We were the ones coming in there and they were scared to play us versus the last two years we were playing a team, we’d see them and it was like, ‘Let’s just get this over with.’ It was just a really different atmosphere.”
Changing the atmosphere surrounding the program was one of the first things Marrs was tasked with when he took over before the abbreviated spring season in 2021.
“Last season, we were going through growing pains with the COVID situation and it being my first year as the head coach,” said Marrs. “We had a lot of leftover guys that were part of previous cultures we’ve had. This year, with Brennen being the player he is and being totally bought in, that helped with the guys we had transfer in and the returning guys. He basically set the tone and was super-hungry to have a great season and everybody followed suit.”
“Their efforts this year have really galvanized the community here in Eagle Point,” added Marrs. “We’ve had so many people show up to watch this year. Our gym’s been full, there’s a buzz in our community about basketball and how awesome these guys are.”
To make it all the more special for Neyt is that he’s getting to experience it with three other seniors who have been his teammates at the varsity level since their sophomore seasons: Alex Smith, Stephen Dutton and Luis Uribe.
“We all know how it feels to lose and now we’re experiencing what it’s like to win,” said Neyt, “so it’s really cool we all get to experience that together.”
Facing Churchill for a third time this season comes two weeks after Eagle Point nearly pulled off the upset on the road in Eugene, with the Lancers holding on for a 56-53 win.
It’s also the first game in what could be a stay in Corvallis that may look a lot like the Eagles’ late-season schedule in the MWL. Eagle Point has faced all three of the MWL’s teams who are at the state tournament — Churchill, Crater and Ashland — within a seven-day span to close out the regular season.
Crater, the No. 6 seed, opens its 5A tournament right before Eagle Point when the Comets face third-seeded Wilsonville at 6:30 p.m., while No. 8 Ashland opens today’s action against top-seeded Redmond at 1:30 p.m.
“I like to joke around with people and say it’s like the SEC,” quipped Marrs regarding the MWL. “People just beat up on each other and you never know what you’re going to get on a given night. For us, after we went on that winning streak, we got everybody’s best punch. It’s just a tough league to play in and we welcome the competition. It’s been a blast.”
It’s that kind of gauntlet-like run through the Midwestern League that Neyt feels has prepared his team and the others for what’s still to come in Corvallis.
“It’s really helped us as a team to persevere because it’s the toughest league in the state,” said Neyt. “Especially the last couple of years it’s been a really, really tough conference, so I just feel like night-in and night-out anything can happen. We could win a game, we could lose a game, and these other teams from these other leagues don’t necessarily see that.”
Having the chance to finish his prep career at the state tournament is something Neyt won’t soon forget.
And after so many losses over the previous two seasons, seeing the patience pay off is the icing on the cake.
“Nobody expected us to be here,” said Neyt. “Me, myself, I didn’t expect to be in the tournament. So I just think when we play with that chip on our shoulder, that’s really what makes us dangerous.”
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.