In his first season as the head coach of the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team, Jim Hayford entered some relatively uncharted territory in moving from Division 3 to Division 1.
He did have some senior experience to rely on and he parlayed that to an 8-8 Big Sky Conference finish and 15-17 overall. Eastern hosted and won their first Big Sky Conference Tournament game since 2006. Eastern improved by five victories from the year before.
But in some respects Hayford will still maybe have some winding roads to wander – and maybe encounter the occasional dead-end – until he meshes the experience of his two starters with four 2011-12 letterwinners and a mix of redshirts and Division 1 transfers.
No telling how Hayford was as a chemistry student way back when but whatever experience he can muster might come in handy.
“We have four seniors whom I really like, two holdovers that I’m really proud to be their coach the last two years of their career, Jeff Forbes and Kevin Winford,” Hayford said in the Big Sky coaches conference call. “They’re the first two guys in the last six years who actually played all four years of their eligibility at Eastern.”
Hayford hopes to develop more of that type of consistency in the future.
“We want to stand by the same goal we put out there last year – we want to be a perennial postseason team,” Hayford said. “When you look at the Big Sky Conference and you talk of teams in the postseason mix, we want Eastern Washington to be in it.”
Gone are the likes of court general Cliff Colimon, the Eagles’ All-Big Sky point guard who now is playing professionally in Greece. Hayford hopes St. Joseph’s transfer Justin Crosgile can fill those shoes.
“The question 12 months ago was how Cliff was going to replace Glen Dean, so now the question is whether Justin can replace Cliff,” Hayford said.
Eastern returns an experienced backcourt with two starters, senior guard Jeffrey Forbes and senior forward Collin Chiverton, who despite an injury-plagued season, averaged 13.9 points per game. Forbes contributed 6.9 points per contest.
“Colin is a very talented player,” Hayford said. “When he’s good he’s really, really good.”
Hayford’s all for seeing more the really, really good and hoping the two sides average out a bit more. The coach hopes having a healthy Chiverton will allow the true player to emerge. “He’s a lot better because he’s healthy and able to practice a lot more.”
However, just when the transfer from City College of San Francisco seemed to get the injury bug off his back he suffered a personal tragedy with the recent death of his mother.
Other returners include shooting guards Parker Kelly and Kevin Winford, as well as forwards Jordan Hickert and Jaylen Henry. Hayford expects Henry will redshirt.
Kelly was a real find as a walk-on from Gonzaga Prep. “When you can get a freshman who will shoot 45 percent from 3 and had a couple of games with more than five 3s in a game and you didn’t have to give him a scholarship, that’s a pretty good player,” Hayford said. He did, however, offer Kelly a scholarship for this school year.
Newcomers round out Eastern’s roster, including City College of San Francisco transfers Ivan Dorsey and Garrett Moon. Freshmen include a pair of players from Australia, guard Daniel Hill and 6-foot 7-inch forward Venky Jois, as well as two from Germany (6-6 forward Thomas Reuter and 7-1 center Frederik Jörg). Rounding out the newcomers is high-scoring 6-6 forward Danny Powell from Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Ariz.
Jois, also from Australia, is a 6 -7, 220 pound freshman. “We already had one close-door scrimmage and he went and got 20 rebounds,” Hayford said. “That’s pretty good for a freshman.”
Hill won’t be eligible until December at the conclusion of fall quarter classes at EWU. But when he does, Hayford thinks he’s got a find.
“For the last five years, any time the country of Australia has played in any national tournament, Daniel’s been their starting point guard,” Hayford said. “I feel like we reloaded well to replace Cliff.”
Three players redshirted last season, including freshman guard Tyler Harvey, Crosgile, and 6-10 Oregon transfer Martin Seiferth.
A week spent in British Columbia not only allowed Eastern players to get some rare offseason game experience but also served as a team bonding time.
“Ten of out 15 guys have never played a game in an Eastern Washington uniform,” Hayford told Big Sky media recently. “So anything that can bring familiarity with one another, expedite chemistry, we’re all for that,” he said.
After six games on the road to begin the season, including Sunday (Nov. 18) at defending West Coast Conference champion St. Mary’s, the Eagles will return No. 30 to the renovated Reese Court to play Cal Fullerton. It’s the first of five home games in their next six outings, including the start of Big Sky play versus Weber State (Dec. 20) and Idaho State (Dec. 22).
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.