SPU Assistant Coach Matt Borton, the youngest of three, grew up in Yakima, Washington surrounded by college athletes, apples, cherries and pears.
He’s a second generation SPU basketball player and a fourth generation fruit vendor.
Virtually his whole family participated in some form of college athletics, and Borton, being the youngest of both his immediate and extended family, spent most of his childhood watching and looking up to them.
Consequently, he fell in love with sports, basketball in particular.
Borton’s father played basketball for SPU in the 70s; Borton’s sister and her husband played at Colorado State; his brother played football at University of Puget Sound; a cousin played basketball at Gonzaga; and another cousin played basketball at Notre Dame.
Borton’s love of competition also began when he was young.
“Playing against my brother growing up, he never took it easy on me,” Borton said. “I guess that kind of fueled me wanting to win so much because it was hard to get done.”
Once Borton’s time to play rolled around he participated in a variety of sports including football, baseball, basketball, track and golf. Borton decided to focus on basketball heading into his junior year of high school.
Borten spent three years playing basketball at the University of Idaho before transferring to SPU.
“I knew I wanted to transfer and the first place I looked at was Seattle Pacific,” Borton said. “I came here and met the guys and what not, connected really well with them, and it was a pretty easy decision just to make the transfer here. I loved the two years I got to play here with the guys.”
Playing for SPU under former Head Coach Ryan Looney and then Assistant, now Head Coach Grant Leep, Borton helped lead the Falcons to back-to-back GNAC tournament wins and NCAA tournament appearances. Although his time at SPU was short, Borton cherished it.
“It was good [at SPU]; I haven’t been on a team where we hung out as much as we did,” he said. “We’re so close … it was a lot of guys that were really competitive and focused on winning more than anything else.”
While playing at SPU, both players and Leep saw Borton’s strong competitive drive, attention to detail and willingness to lead others.
“[Borton] was always one the hardest workers on the court, so he was someone that led by example. He would help get guys get organized and what not, but mainly he was someone who would lead with his actions not his words,” former teammate senior guard Will Parker said.
They praise his dedication to the game.
“As a player, you always could expect [Borton]’s best effort,” Leep said. “He was a hard working player who got the most out of his ability. He could handle a lot of information and apply it in practice and game situations. His competitiveness and determination were his greatest assets. As a coach, you didn’t have to worry about [Borton] as you had confidence in the fact he would give his best mental and physical effort.”
Former teammate senior center Joe Rasmussen recalls Borton’s “player-coach mentality” and his competitive edge.
“He was determined that the man he was guarding would not out play him and that is one of the most valuable traits to have in sports,” Rasmussen said.
After graduating with a degree in Business Administration, Borton left the SPU community for a year.
When Leep got the head coaching job after Looney’s departure, he knew Borton would be a great fit for the assistant coaching job.
“The fact that [Borton] played at SPU was a big draw in bringing him onboard,” Leep said. “He knows SPU, and can speak about SPU from a different perspective than I can in some ways, having gone to school here. Having played with a few of our current players, I paid extra attention to those player-coach relationships. The maturity from both our current players and [Borton] handling that transition was flawless.”
Borton always knew he wanted to coach, so when Leep gave him the chance to join the staff, he immediately accepted the job. Once he accepted the position however, he immediately thought of the possible concerns of coaching players who were recently his teammates.
“I didn’t know what that was going to look like, but they have shown me the respect of being a coach and listened to things that I suggest,” Borton said. “They have treated me like a coach even though we were teammates, and that has been great.”
As it turns out, Leep’s hopes for hiring Borton were well founded. One of his biggest assets to the team is how he is able to relate with and get along with the players, his former teammates. They have responded with treating his new role with respect.
“[Borton] has played so recently that he can connect well with a lot of the younger players,” Parker said.
“[It’s] good that I’ve gone through the same things they have gone through … helping relate to players during the grind of the season … it’s fresh for me … I’ve been here; I get it,” Borton said. “I guess the biggest thing is being able to relate.”
Exactly what the future holds for 26-year-old Borton is yet to be determined. Borton committed to helping coach at SPU for at least another year, but after that, Borton says that only time will tell.
Although Borton loves coaching and wants to continue to do so, he also feels a strong pull to join his brother and sister in the fruit business where his family runs Borton Fruit, a fruit growing, packaging and distribution company.
“It’s over a hundred years old, so it’s pretty cool. It’s something that is very special to me,” he said. “So if I don’t decide to continue coaching, it would be to go back to help the family business, the family legacy. That would probably be the one thing that would pull me away from coaching. Those are the two pulling forces I guess. Right now, I’m enjoying this a ton.”