At only 5-foot-10, Shantay Legans knows that he has a tall task in front of him.
Legans, who was named head coach of University of Portland men’s basketball on Tuesday, will help lead a Pilots team that has had just one winning season over the past decade and has not finished above .500 in the West Coast Conference since 2019.
But on the day Legans’ hiring was made official by the University, the 39-year-old made it clear he won’t stray away from the challenges of rebuilding a program from scratch. Legans wants to see the Pilots take flight and he strives to make Portland one of the WCC’s most competitive teams.
“Why can’t we beat these top schools?” Legans said on Tuesday. “What’s the difference between Portland, GU, Saint Mary’s, Pepperdine, BYU? There’s not a big difference? Now obviously, Spokane and Gonzaga have done their thing and they have been great. Why can’t we build a team, build a roster to be that good?"
Over the past three seasons, the Pilots are 1-42 in WCC play. Portland has lost its past 29 games over six seasons against Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU.
But Legans knows what the possibilities can be in Portland because he’s seen it first-hand from his experience as head coach at Eastern Washington University.
The former Cal point guard compiled a four-year record of 75-49 at EWU, including a 53-20 record in the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles won the regular-season in the Big Sky the previous two seasons, but did not get the chance to compete in the conference tournament in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, he led 14-seeded EWU to the NCAA Tournament where the Eagles fell 93-84 to third-seeded Kansas. The Pilots last trip to the Big Dance was in 1996 when they fell 92-58 to Villanova in the first round.
“I want to go and beat these teams,” Legans said. “I want to have our team be really good now… I’m going to fight for it, and we want to fight every step of the way and I’m going to have great people working to get to that. My family and I are so excited for the opportunity to move to Portland.”
Legans said one of the selling points in joining the Pilots was his conversations with athletic director Scott Leykam. Leykam shared a similar commitment to winning, and Legans said it was a “breath of fresh air” knowing what he aims to accomplish won’t be done alone.
“It is an honor to welcome Shantay to the University of Portland family,” Leykam said in a statement. “In the interview process, we shared the strong belief that the University of Portland very much has the potential to be successful in men’s basketball and we’re excited to realize that potential together.”
Legans replaces former coach and Portland Trail Blazer Terry Porter, who was dismissed on Feb. 5. Over the past five seasons, Porter compiled a 43-103 record, including 7-72 in conference play.