Looking for a reason why Shawn Stockton might be the toughest, grittiest player on the Montana Grizzlies' roster?
Might be those 3-on-3 games he played while growing up in Spokane.
"It was me, my cousin Michael, who played basketball at Westminster, then my younger brother Riley, who's a freshman at Seattle Pacific this year, against my older brother Steve, who played basketball at Whitworth, and (former UM football player and cousin) Houston, and then the youngest of the three, David, my cousin who plays at Gonzaga now," Stockton said of how the teams stacked up. "It would go back and forth. I'd like to think we won most of them, but it depends on who you ask."
His cousins, of course, are the sons of NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton. So did the uncles ever get involved?
"Only when there were fights occasionally, and then it was, ‘If you're not tough enough to play, stop playing,' " Shawn said.
Obviously, they didn't stop playing.
Shawn Stockton will go "home" for the final time as a Grizzly on Thursday when Montana faces Eastern Washington in Cheney in an important Big Sky Conference game.
"You have to like it," said Stockton, a 6-foot-1 senior guard. "I still get family that comes here to Missoula, but it's always good for them to see one on the road. It's a little different atmosphere where the people aren't really for you, so it's nice to have them in the crowd - your brothers, mom and dad behind you rooting for you. (Uncle John) normally makes it out if he can, if he's not chasing around his kids. It's always nice to see him.
"I know my family always supports me in everything I do, so I really appreciate it."
Stockton has been a role player for most of his Grizzly career. He's started 16 of the 87 games he's played and has averaged just 2.3 points for his career. Coach Wayne Tinkle said he considers Stockton the Grizzlies' Sixth Man even if he isn't always the first player off the bench.
Stockton is averaging 15 minutes a game for the Griz, who take a 6-1 league record (13-6 overall) into the game against Eastern Washington (3-4, 9-11). He's often spelling starting point guard Will Cherry, or filling in on the wing if there's a player in foul trouble.
"You need those types of players," said Cherry, the team's leading scorer. "Even though he's a senior, he doesn't really care about starting or about his minutes, as long as we're getting W's, that's what Shawn cares about. He comes in for 5-10 minutes and does his job and makes an impact on the game somehow, whether it's a deflection, a steal, a box-out, or just being in the right place at the right time; that's what he does.
"You need those types of players if you're going to win championships. Everybody can't score 30 points, everybody can't get 15 rebounds, everybody can't get five or six steals. What they can do is get one steal here, one rebound there, or one charge that will change the momentum of the game. That's pretty much Shawn's role. He knows it. He never complains. He goes in and does what he's asked and as long we we're getting W's, at the end of the day that's all that really matters."
That pretty well matches Stockton's scouting report of himself: "Tough defender, he's always going to play hard, you have to match his energy. Smart with the ball, not looking to score a ton, but capable if you leave him open."
And when Tinkle needs a defender to go get in an opponent's grill, he knows whose number to call.
"Shawn's role is that tough - you want to say Energizer bunny, but not with athleticism, with toughness," Tinkle said. "When we need to mix up the tempo, we know he'll go in there and bang bodies, get loose balls. This year more than any, he's made some shots and looked to score, which is something we've asked of him. Whether things are going good or going bad, there's a calmness when Shawn's out there among his teammates and me as well. He brings that consistency and hard nose to the game. You get the feeling the game is going to be played the way we want it to be played when he's out there."
And maybe it's that sense of calm that led Cherry to tell Tinkle "in a game-winning situation, there's no one else he'd rather have on the floor with him than Shawn."
"First, that's a huge compliment," Stockton said. "I'm a warrior and competitor first - there's nothing worse than losing, so I feed off Will's energy. At the end I feel more than confident that if I need to take a shot and knock down a big shot or get a stop on one of their best players, I feel confident in doing that."
Cherry's compliments are tougher to come by off the court, where he shares a house with Stockton, Mathias Ward and Art Steward.
"Shawn never cleans up, never," Cherry joked. "He doesn't do dishes. He just sits on the couch. He's probably the laziest person in our house."
"It's not the cleanest house in the world," Stockton allowed. "I leave it to Will and Mathias to do the dishes. I'd rather not do that."
Cherry said he and Steward call Stockton Mr. Statistical.
"Art Steward kind of likes to ask a bunch of questions," Stockton said. "It has a lot to do with watching a lot of ESPN and reading up on stuff on the internet, so when he asks questions it seems like I have the answer."
"He knows all the numbers," Cherry said, "the figures that different sports people should be making at their position."
Combine that knowledge with the fact that Stockton lists entertainment management as his favorite class and the HBO series "Entourage" as his favorite TV show, and you might wonder if the business marketing major has a future as an agent.
"That wouldn't be bad; it would be fun," Stockton said. "I know a guy back home who does that kind of stuff, so it's a great resource. I'd like to stay involved in sports. I think that would be a real cool job."
Coach Tinkle thinks Stockton might have a future in coaching if he chooses.
"I've kind of mentioned it to him briefly, if he chose that path that we could be together beyond his years as a player," Tinkle said. "Knowing Shawn, he's probably going to have fun for a year or two then figure out a plan."
"I talked a little bit with him," Stockton said. "If I got into coaching, I wouldn't mind working my way up. I want to stay involved in sports and basketball. That would be a fun thing to do."
For now, though, Stockton has his sights set on contending for a second Big Sky Conference championship in his four years in Missoula.
"The NCAA Tournament was an unbelievable experience," Stockton said of the 2010 team. "I think we have the make-up on this team to do it again. It would be a great way to go out."
Sports editor Bob Meseroll can be reached at 523-5265 or at email@example.com.