James “Jim” Mastin

Whitman Athletics Hall of Fame
Class of 2005

James "Jim" Mastin, who coached the men's basketball team to a trio of championships in the 1980s, was elected to the Whitman Athletics Hall of Fame less than six months after his death in Seattle, Wash. Charismatic and widely respected, Mastin was 73 when he died on Jan. 6, 2005.

Mastin, who played college ball at the University of San Francisco with future NBA stars Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, came to Whitman in the fall of 1979. Armed with an engaging personality, sharp wit and 11 seasons of coaching experience in California's high school and junior college ranks, he sparked Whitman to a Northwest Conference title in just his second season.

During the 1985-86 academic year, Mastin guided Whitman to a school-record 21-8 season and an NAIA District I regular season championship. Mastin's son, Dave Mastin, now a Walla Walla attorney and former five-term Washington state legislator, was a key player on that team, which defeated Pacific Lutheran in the first round of the district playoffs. Whitman then lost a best-of-three series to Central Washington, who advanced to the NAIA national championship tournament.

The Mastins, father and son, enjoyed another banner year during the 1986-87 season, when Whitman finished in a three-way tie for the NWC title. Under Mastin's leadership, Whitman again qualified for the NAIA playoffs at the end of the 1988-89 season, advancing to the second round. Mastin earned NWC coach-of-the-year honors three times in his 15 seasons. He was twice named Northwest Small College Coach of the Year, and he earned top coaching honors in NAIA District I on one other occasion.

Bob Gaillard, the coach at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., said Mastin epitomized "what the coaching profession is all about. As much as any other coach, he instilled in his players the work ethic it takes to be successful both on and off the court. You always knew that if you didn't bring your best to the floor, his teams would outwork you. Nobody's team worked harder than his. That was his trademark."

Mastin's basketball coaching philosophy, known simply as "The System," gave highest priority to the basics of rebounding missed shots. As shots were launched toward the hoop, his players looked for opponents to block or screen away from the basket. If all five Whitman players had themselves placed between an opponent and the hoop, he reasoned, one of them should lay claim to any rebound. When executed properly, Mastin's system generated multiple shots (if needed) for Whitman during a single possession, but conversely limited the opposing team to a single shot per possession.

His coaching style was featured in December 1989 in a Wall Street Journal article, which noted that Mastin was never upset when his players shot "air balls," the term given to shot attempts that fail to hit the backboard or the hoop. "If we have the basket surrounded (for rebounding), as we should, an air ball is like a pass for us," Mastin said in the article. As often happened, the Journal reporter compared Mastin’s physical appearance and baritone-voice to motion picture actor Lee Marvin.

In the spring of 1994, Mastin retired from his role as men's basketball coach and associate professor of physical education. He also coached the men’s golf team at Whitman for 18 seasons, continuing through the spring of 1997. His teams won three conference golf titles, and Mastin was three times named Coach of the Year. Following his Whitman retirement, he took part in basketball coaching clinics around the U.S. and the world, including such countries as China, Germany and Belgium.

Mastin, who was born in Hammon, Okla., and graduated from high school in Salinas, Calif., finished his bachelor's degree in physical education at San Jose State University. His career before Whitman included a three-year stint in the U.S. Army's fabled 82nd Airborne Division and 11 seasons of coaching in California at Gavilan College and Mendocino and Atascadero high schools. He also coached one season of professional ball in Puerto Rico.

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