Growing up in Kennewick, Bryce Leavitt had been to plenty of games at the Toyota Center.
But he had never played there. Until Saturday.
The 2012 Kennewick High graduate drew the biggest roars of the day when he stepped on the court in the final minutes of the first half of Washington State’s 74-39 victory over Idaho State.
Leavitt rewarded the home crowd in the waning seconds by pump-faking a defender, driving into the lane and nailing a floater over the defense’s outstretched arms.
“It was pretty cool,” the Washington State walk-on guard said. “I was kind of excited to get in. That is my role. I get a couple of minutes and I come in and bring energy. I played hard on defense, crashed the boards and got that floater to go in.”
In all Leavitt played seven minutes, scoring the two points, grabbing a rebound and committing a foul — which drew a huge cheer as well, and a lot of jokes in the press conference after the game.
“I’ve never heard such a big cheer for someone fouling,” Leavitt said.
Teammate DaVonté Lacy added, “I think I saw fireworks going off.”
Leavitt also dished out a nice assist, hitting Brett Boese in the corner for a 3-pointer late in the game.
His night ended a bit prematurely when he was fouled hard while driving to the basket. He bounced off the floor on his right side, injuring his wrist. He came out of the game, but said afterward he was feeling fine.
“He plays with a reckless abandon,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “He is a fearless player and those are the types of plays he makes.
“That’s why we love him. He is a hard worker. Smart kid. Great attitude. What you see is what you get every day, and he has helped our team this year.”
Leavitt wasn’t expected to help the Cougars on the floor this season. He was redshirting, but was called into action when Lacy hurt his knee during a tournament in Kansas City.
The Cougars had games on back-to-back days against top Big 12 opponents, and Bone needed some depth in the backcourt, so he called on Leavitt.
“I started playing a lot better in practice and it opened the coach’s eyes,” Leavitt said. “I’m just doing my job to make the team better and prove to the coaches I belong out there.”
Leavitt was lightly recruited in high school, getting offers from junior colleges like North Idaho, Columbia Basin and Walla Walla College.
He wanted to either play Division I ball or go to North Idaho.
He tried to get into Columbia to play with Kamiakin graduate Zach En’Wezoh, but just missed out on being accepted to the Ivy League school.
He spent the spring time of his senior year in high school e-mailing and calling coaches, eventually scoring a meeting with Bone. He drove to Pullman and agreed to walk-on with the Cougars.
“Coach Bone told me I’d have the most room for improvement here,” Leavitt said. “It was kind of a blessing. I’m pretty happy to be here now.”
And happy to get to play in his home town in front of family, friends, old teammates and old coaches.
“It felt pretty special,” he said. “It is a once in a lifetime thing. No matter where you go, there aren’t a lot of chances to play in the town you grew up in with everyone watching.”