In With The New, Out With The Old: PLNU Men’s Basketball Is In Good Hands

Photo credit to the PLNU Athletics website.

The men would enter the gym with humble swagger. Their players were well coached, prepared each night and led by not just three individual coaches — but a unit. 

Seeing Point Loma Nazarene University’s men’s basketball coaches, Matt Logie, Julius Smith and Justin Downer, grace the sidelines together was nearly as entertaining as watching their 29-4 juggernaut of a basketball team run through almost every opponent they faced last season.

However, fans will likely do a double-take when they glance over at the sideline this season — there are two missing pieces.

After a historic season under head coach Logie, where the Sea Lions went undefeated in the PacWest with a 20-0 record, Logie and his longtime assistant coach Smith packed their bags to coach at Division 1 Montana State University.

This team is officially Coach Downer’s.

After just one season as an assistant coach — and an eventful one to say the least — the men’s basketball team is in the hands of previous assistant coach Downer, and it’s time to meet him.

While only coaching at PLNU for a year, Downer is no stranger to the coaching scene. His experience as a play caller ranges back to when he was 13 years old, coaching a group of third and fourth graders.

This experience as a teenager in a coaching setting confirmed Downer’s love for the game in any capacity. Following Downer’s days as a collegiate basketball player, he jumped back onto the hardwood, but as a coach.

One of Downer’s first coaching stints came at Vanguard University, where he was an assistant to veteran coach Rhett Soliday. This taste of coaching in college athletics was a picture-perfect situation for Downer.

“Coach Soliday and I had a relationship dating back 10 years prior to joining his staff, so that transition to the college level was as seamless as it could have been,” said Downer. 

From Vanguard, Downer was able to build on this positive experience by playing a pivotal role in some successful seasons for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s basketball program. According to Downer, he learned the business side of basketball and the ins and outs of recruiting.

Now, lucky for PLNU, a season shadowing Logie has shown that Downer is more than ready to fill some massive shoes. Downer knows he’s capable of entering this season in a new role with a level head.

“I wouldn’t say I feel pressure. I think both the players and coaches should feel a sense of responsibility to honor those that came before them,” Downer said. “I’m beyond proud of the group we had last year, and I’m excited to build on that momentum as we continue to elevate this program.”

Downer’s no stranger to winning, as the past programs he’s been a part of have stayed on the winning side of things, and that comfortability of being under the spotlight will suit him well while coaching a men’s basketball team that has been on a winning tear these past few years.

Fourth-year forward Luke Haupt has played a pivotal role in the recent success of PLNU men’s basketball and sees Downer as the next best thing for the program. According to Haupt, they may have lost a great coach in Logie, but they are gaining a new coach of just as high quality in Downer.

“Coach Downer is centered on family, and as a head coach, he makes the team feel like we are an extension of that family,” Haupt said. “The most important aspect that Coach Downer has implemented is a growth mindset. We focus on raising the bar on and off the court daily.”

Haupt included that the transition from coaches has been smooth, and part of that seamless transition came from Downer’s ability to recruit new players and assistant coaches.

According to Downer, he was able to bring in two of his former players, guard Nick Carlson and center Matur Dhal, from Cal Poly SLO. His relationships also served him well while looking for assistant coaches.

“Geoff McIntosh and I have been close friends for almost 15 years. We came into coaching together and have invested countless hours into each others’ lives. Bringing him on board was an opportunity he and I had dreamed about since our first days coaching,” said Downer.

Along with McIntosh, Downer brought in Daniel Dyck as an assistant coach. According to Downer, he followed Dyck from afar and was eager to start a coaching relationship with him.

PLNU has experienced some of the most historic seasons in basketball history in the past decade. The recent success has created a culture fixated on hard work, respect and humility. According to Downer, his time as a head coach for PLNU will only strengthen this community and build on the work of his predecessors.

“We are going to invest and maximize each player’s God-given ability on and off the floor and maximize each team’s ability to compete for championships while glorifying God,” Downer said. “We are looking to raise the standard every day for what it means to represent Point Loma men’s basketball by comparing ourselves to who we were yesterday.”

The rich keep getting richer, and PLNU’s men’s basketball team just cashed in their winning lottery ticket with Downer as their new head coach.