Mercer Island High School (MIHS) hoops will dribble and drive into the spotlight during a pair of Montana college contests in early 2024.
Legendary MIHS head coach Ed Pepple will surely be smiling down on the court when his grandson Matt Logie and Travis DeCuire — both former Islander players — face off as head coaches during the rivalry contests between their respective Montana men’s basketball squads. The NCAA Division I Big Sky Conference games are scheduled to tip off on Jan. 20 and Feb. 17.
As the teams strive to attain the coveted victories, Logie will roam the sidelines for the Montana State University Bobcats in his first season as a DI head coach, and DeCuire will fire up his University of Montana Grizzlies during his 10th season at his alma mater.
After graduating from MIHS, both Logie (class of 1999) and DeCuire (class of 1989) have toted their skills and life lessons that Pepple instilled in them along ultra-successful playing and coaching paths at multiple college basketball levels.
Regarding Pepple, who passed away from cancer in 2020 at the age of 88, Logie said that his grandfather would be pleased to witness the Montana games: “Two of his former players that he watched grow up, essentially now getting a chance to lead their own programs in such an incredible rivalry. And that’s really unique, really special, and something that I know Travis and I are both grateful for.”
In a previous Reporter story, Logie said that MIHS players were part of a familial atmosphere with Pepple by their side while building authentic, long-lasting relationships on and off the court.
DeCuire reflected on his MIHS days and said that he obtained discipline, a value structure and learned to come to games prepared for every situation. He also formed invaluable relationships and connections, which Logie also touched upon.
The Grizz coach is anticipating launching into the first emotional game next month.
“It definitely will be an interesting matchup and a fun one to prepare for,” said DeCuire, whose first coaching jobs were at MIHS (frosh, JV and varsity assistant) and for Islander rival Sammamish (head coach) before he went the college coaching route. “There’s a level of excitement, but there’s also that I want him (Logie) to be successful. I want him to have a successful coaching career and see all his dreams come true. It’s just unfortunate that he’s sitting in the rivalry seat.”
During his MIHS playing days, DeCuire remembers Logie just beginning his Islander journey as a ball boy and DeCuire later coaching against MIHS from the Sammamish sideline during Logie’s senior year.
While making his indelible mark as head coach at Whitworth University, Logie’s team played an exhibition game against DeCuire’s U of Montana in his first contest as a Grizz head coach. And Logie brought Pepple along for the ride by installing grandad as an honorary assistant coach that night, further showing that MIHS basketball makes an imprint on courts near and far.
The Bobcats/Grizz rivalry is one of the oldest in the country, said DeCuire, and Logie added that the stakes are bigger when the teams engage in battle.
DeCuire noted: “So it’s already an emotional game to get up for. I played in the game, I coached the game. So I’ve been experiencing this since I was 19 years old.”
“There are two sides to the fence, and you are either a Bobcat or you are a Grizz. And that is very important to the people of Montana, and so our friendship and relationship just will look a little bit different during these years where we’re competing against each other,” said Logie, who played DI ball at Lehigh University and later served as an assistant coach for his alma mater.
Current Islander boys head coach Gavin Cree (MIHS class of 2000) played with Logie under Pepple in high school and the trio reached the pinnacle of prep success by being part of a state championship squad. Cree and Logie have known each other since fourth grade, shared copious basketball experiences together from grade school through high school and remain tight to this day.
Cree said that Logie has a good mind for the game with all his coaching experience under his belt.
“I know that when he was a player and a young coach, he was taking a lot of notes on, ‘Hey, I like this, I don’t like that.’ He’s really developed his coaching philosophy and he studies the game, for sure, but I think he’s big on relationships,” said Cree, who recently entered his 15th season at MIHS’s head coach.
Developing a strong culture and forming connections between teammates are part of the Mercer Island way that impacted the Islanders as players and remains with them in their coaching arsenals today.
“Even on my return after graduating from college, I felt that there were people that still impacted my future while I was in a leadership role with Mercer Island High School. There’s some family values that a lot of us experience from being there, whether it’s as a student or as a coach in that community. And those are the things I took with me,” DeCuire said.
DeCuire came into Cree’s life as his MIHS freshmen and JV coach and AAU coach and played a major role in his development.
“I know him pretty well, of course. You knew that he was a basketball lifer when I was playing for him. (He) just was really passionate about the game and how it should be played and the intensity that you should play with,” said Cree, adding that Logie and DeCuire have remained connected and shared ideas over the years.
Cree won’t be able to make the trip, but said that it should be fun when the Bobcat and Grizz coaches go head to head when the ball is tipped into play at the rivalry games.