Shantay Legans hoists his son Maksim while addressing the crowd after Eastern Washington won the Big Sky regular season basketball championship. | Credit: Courtesy

Shantay Legans began his ascent in organized basketball at the Goleta Boys & Girls Club after he had been banned from other youth gyms in the area.

“I had the worst attitude when I was 10, 11 years old,” Legans confessed. “I got kicked out of Eastside, Westside, Carpinteria.” He found a savior in Sal Rodriguez, the legendary director of the Goleta club. “Sal loved me for all my faults. He saw the good stuff too.”

Rodriguez said, “In the 2nd or 3rd grade, he was so quick, dribbling with both hands. I thought, ‘This guy’s got skills.’ He did talk trash. He’s never been shy.”

Legans built on the good stuff to become a standout point guard at Dos Pueblos High, Cal, and Fresno State. He enjoyed a post-collegiate playing stint with the Santa Barbara Breakers semi-pro team. Rodriguez gave him a job at the Boys & Girls Club and took him on as an assistant coach at Laguna Blanca School.

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Eleven years ago, Legans’s confidence paid off as he landed a job as assistant coach at Eastern Washington University. “Coach Legs,” as he is known at EWU, was promoted to head coach in 2017.

In 2019-20, his third season at the helm, the Eagles went 23-8 and won the regular-season championship of the Big Sky Conference. Legans, 38, was chosen the league’s Coach of the Year. ESPN ranked him high on its “40 Under 40” list of the top NCAA Division I basketball coaches under the age of 40.

While the accolades were rolling in, it was a bittersweet time. His mother, Susan Legans, died at 70 in Santa Barbara just days before the Eagles clinched the top spot in the Big Sky standings. “She was the best,” Legans said. “She went to all my AAU tournament games and watched [online] every game I coached.”

Then the COVID-19 virus wiped out the Big Sky and NCAA tournaments. “It came crashing down pretty hard,” Legans said of the sudden end to EWU’s banner season.

The college is located in Cheney, a small town south of Spokane. “I’m in a good spot,” said Legans, who has two children with his wife. Tatjana, a former player for EWU women’s team. “The kids are doing great. It’s very peaceful here.”

The worldwide Black Lives Matter movement swept into the area this month. When several EWU players wanted to participate in a protest march in Spokane, Legans, who is of mixed race, did not hesitate to give them the go-ahead. “I’m proud to see them support a cause that’s important to them,” he said.

Rodriguez is happy to see how far Legans has come. “He was living with a single mom in a one-bedroom condo,” he said. “That’s what the Boys & Girls Club is all about.”

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