COEUR d’ALENE — Joey Naccarato has known North Idaho College men’s basketball coach Corey Symons his entire life.
While that might have contributed to the Coeur d’Alene High product joining the Cardinals’ program this year, that’s not quite it.
“I actually got injured last year and tore my pec (pectoral muscle and got a medical redshirt,” said Naccarato, who played as a freshman at NCAA Division I UMass-Lowell before sitting out last year. “I just decided it would be a good time to move on. They’ve got a good thing going here. I’ll have three years left. I’ll spend a year here, and then move on.”
Nate Pryor, a 6-foot-4 point guard from Seattle, was recruited by Symons and assistant coach George Swanson in high school. Pryor had originally committed to Seattle University and coach Cameron Dollar. Dollar was fired in 2017.
“I went to prep school (Elite Prep in Issaquah, Wash.), and that wasn’t working out,” Pryor said. “I decommitted from Seattle, and coach Dollar got a coaching job at Washington, so I committed there. My grades weren’t good enough, so Coach G (Swanson) and Corey drove to my house out of nowhere and told me they’d love to have me and it would be good for me to come out here.”
Pryor plans to join the Washington program next year.
“A lot of the players come here because they’re trying to get recruited, or get their schoolwork up,” Pryor said. “For me, it was school. I feel like, for me, I’m not around home, so I’ve got to perform a little differently here.”
NIC has sent seven players to Division I schools since its move from the NJCAA’s Scenic West Athletic Conference following the 2016 season to the regionally-based Northwest Athletic Conference.
“That’s a reason I came here,” Pryor said. “I’m here to get exposure and to get looked at. I know I’m going to Washington, but it’s cool to be seen in front of 20 to 30 coaches at different tournaments.”
“We’ve built off a history here,” said NIC men’s basketball coach Corey Symons, in his 16th season at the school and sixth year as head coach. “(NIC men’s basketball coach) Rolly (Williams) was pushing guys to the next level when I was a player here. Coach (Hugh) Watson and coach (Jared) Phay did the same thing, so we’re trying to continue a good history of sending guys on. They got the ball rolling, and we’re trying to keep it moving.”
Emmitt Taylor III found NIC as a senior at Lapwai High, being selected for the state high school all-star basketball games, held each March at NIC’s Rolly Williams Court.
“I had a good game that day,” Taylor III said. “Both Corey and Coach G talked to me after the game. I really liked the campus and area, and it seemed like a good fit.”
Lapwai is 127 miles from Coeur d’Alene.
“It’s been a great experience here,” said Taylor III, a 6-4 shooting guard. “I’m close to home, so my family and friends get a chance to come see my games. Overall, between basketball and school, it’s been a great experience for me. Once we get free from practices on weekends, we can go home for the weekends and I can go home every once in a while.”
NIC was stripped of its back-to-back Northwest Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament championships as a result of sanctions placed on the school in August. Sanctions include the loss of four scholarships each of the next three years, along with a three-year ban from postseason play, three years’ probation for the athletic department and a $30,000 fine.
Symons was suspended for the first 10 games of the regular season. Athletic director Al Williams, who as a result of the sanctions was not allowed to serve on the NWAC executive board while the athletic department was on probation, announced his retirement effective Sept. 27.
“I really don’t worry about any of that,” Taylor III said. “Just playing basketball, that’s all I worry about.”
“We’re just trying to do what we did last year,” Pryor said. “Even though there’s stuff going on with the NWAC, we’re still trying to kick butt, keep our heads tight, and move forward.”
That being said, NIC returns six players from last year’s team.
“We’ve got our entire roster that we’ve been recruiting all year here,” Symons said. “We’ve got a good group here, and it’s the guys we wanted.”
NIC begins NWAC play at Treasure Valley on Jan. 4.
“It is what it is,” Symons said. “We’re just doing what we do. We’re coaching the team, the kids are getting their academics in order to help these guys get to four-year schools.”
Naccarato, Pryor and Taylor all said they did not consider leaving NIC when the sanctions came down on their program.
Naccarato, a 6-5 guard/forward, was recruited by a handful of schools for basketball, and a few for football as well out of high school.
“I had some different offers out of high school, but Corey knew then that if I wanted to, I was available,” Naccarato said. “But he never forced it on me to come here, and was cool about it. But if you want an opportunity to move onto the next level, there’s no better place than here. Look at their track record. They continuously send guys to the next level, and I want to be part of that.”