MISSOULA — When Tres Tinkle laces up his shoes for Tuesday’s contest against Cal State Northridge, it will be the beginning of the end for one of Montana’s most decorated men’s basketball players.
The Missoula Hellgate High grad and current Oregon State star is entering his final college year with the Beavers, where he will aim to cap off what has been a career for the books.
Aside from being a two-time first-team all-Pac-12 player the past two seasons, Tinkle enters this season with 1,661 career points, just 511 shy of the school record, which is owned by Gary Payton. Oregon State has 30 games in the regular season so Tinkle would need to average just over 17 points per contest to pass the mark.
Tinkle has been named to three preseason award watch lists -- the Wooden Award, given annually to the most outstanding college basketball player; the Naismith Trophy, given to the college basketball player of the year; the Julius Erving Award, which is given to the top small forward in men's collegiate basketball.
Tinkle averaged 20.8 points a game last season, so that mark is within reach for the former Knight. But in the grand scheme of things, knowing just how quickly his career has gone by is a strange concept.
“I always look back and I can’t believe that it’s going to be my last year, especially even my fifth year since I got hurt my sophomore year,” Tinkle told MTN Sports over the phone recently. “Five years have just flown by.”
Tinkle is coming off a summer where he flirted with the idea of leaving school one year early. He entered his name in the NBA Draft pool back in early April. After getting the feedback he needed from NBA executives and scouts, Tinkle withdrew his name in late May and opted to return to Oregon State for his final college season.
Tinkle worked out for six NBA teams during that time period: the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and the reigning champion Toronto Raptors.
But Tinkle wanted to come back to Corvallis, Ore., for his final season thanks to the relationships he’s made with the coaches and his teammates. And what the Beavers bring in as far as basketball talent has the senior excited for what could be in store.
“I felt like we had the ability to do something special here,” Tinkle said. “All the guys we had returning and the new group of guys we had coming in, I thought it could be a special year.
“I’m very excited and I feel like there’s really no pressure on my shoulders anymore.”
Tinkle said this year’s group reminds him a lot of his freshman year, the season Oregon State last made the NCAA Tournament. With a good mix of veterans and fresh faces, Tinkle said this squad has been bought in and willing to do whatever is needed for the team. Plus, they feel deeper than seasons past.
Along with averaging just over 20 points per game last year, Tinkle averaged 8.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game as well, both of which were career highs. After going through the NBA Draft process, he came into the offseason with objectives to specifically work on – like his 3-point shooting – while also knowing he’ll be a go-to leader on the team.
But even with things to specifically focus on, Tinkle said the approach to this season wasn’t much different than the past.
“I think it’s still similar. You always, I guess, do something new just to add to your game,” Tinkle said. “I always feel like I’ve been a leader. I’ve been more of a maybe hard-nosed (leader) on guys if they’re not going hard or whatnot and holding them accountable.
“I’ve been doing more of a job trying to support them, as well. Maybe not come at them as strong out of the gate.”
While Tres is focused on his final year at OSU and doesn’t take too much time to reflect yet, his father, former Montana player and coach and current Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle, said it is a little bittersweet. But he sees a calmness and confidence about his son that gives him high hopes for the upcoming year.
“I just think he’s in a much better place mentally,” Wayne said. “I don’t know if he put pressure or felt pressure or teammates put pressure (on him). I think this year we have a group of guys who know he’s one of our main guys and he’s our leader because of the way he sets the tone with his effort and production every day.
“In the past, maybe some guys kind of frowned upon it because he was the head coach's son, and he was just kind of kissing up to kiss up, where if they had a little more maturity they’d understand that it was their leader setting the tone. I think with that behind him and the reception he’s had from the new guys and the veterans, but also his confidence in his teammates this year, has allowed him to relax a little bit more.”
“We sit down and I tell him my goals and he’s never one to sugarcoat anything. He holds me accountable for everything, especially if it’s something I tell him I really want,” Tres added. “Just always having his support in my corner. Even if at times I feel like he’s doing too much, I know it’s in my best interest. He’s just trying to prepare me for what I’ve always told him I wanted.
“It’s great just being able to wake up and go to work with your dad and I think we’re both very competitive and want to win, so we push each other to be better because we both know what we want from each other. So it’s been great.”
Wayne said that Tres is bigger and stronger, has improved his ball-handling and shooting, and also has a fully-healed ankle which had caused him issues in the past.
But if time has flown for Tres, for Wayne, it’s two-fold.
“It seems like yesterday I was at Montana,” Wayne said. “One of the officials at our intra-squad scrimmages said, ‘Is this Year 3 now?’ And I said, ‘It’s actually Year 6.’ I didn’t even get it when I said (it), but it’s flown by. The growth that we’ve shown with the program has been incredible.”
But Wayne got a dose of nostalgia when he traveled to Eugene, Ore., to watch the Griz take on the Ducks for September's football game. There, he said he got the chance to catch up with some friends.
When it comes to Tres, his effort and accepting of his roles throughout his career stand out to Wayne. That maturing process is fun to watch for a father, but Wayne gets the chance to see it through a coach's lens, too.
And that growth is the part he’s enjoyed the most.
“Going through the highs and the lows,” Wayne said. “There’s so much learning and growth through those experiences and just to be able to know you’re standing side by side through it all.”
Former UCLA coach Steve Alford, who also coached his sons, gave Wayne advice on enjoying every moment with Tres because the times on the court won’t last. So far, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
“After last year, we weren’t really sure whether it would be our last year or not,” Wayne explained. “This year, we know that this is it and I think the victories will be that much sweeter. Even times when he gets subbed out in practice, he’ll come stand by me and we’ll kind of lean on each other. Early on here we’re taking a great opportunity to enjoy each and every moment.
“Not too many people get to enjoy this experience, so we’re trying to make sure that we do our job, but we’re also taking time to smell the roses along the way. I think it’s going to come natural because we both know that after this year we won’t have this opportunity again, so we’re going to take full advantage for sure.”
Big wins and games against rival Oregon stand out to Tres. Though he didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament appearance his freshman year, that moment also serves as a fond memory.
But it also serves as motivation. OSU’s appearance in the tournament in 2016 was the first time in over two decades for the Beavers. And a return trip with this team is one of the ultimate goals for both Tinkle men.
“We’re excited,” Wayne said. “We feel like we have a really good core group back with a ton of experience led by some really good players in Ethan Thompson and Tres and Kylor Kelley. Thrilled with our recruiting class. What their impact will be and how soon is still yet to be seen, but we really feel like we’ve improved our overall talent level and depth.”
“Just a chip on our shoulder. It’s the mentality we’ve had and it’s the mentality my parents, and really my father, has instilled in me since a young age,” Tres added. “Never be satisfied and whatever people (are) talking about, use it as motivation to prove them wrong.
“I truly believe this is one of the best teams we’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and competing with the guys around me and trying to make a run.”