Cheney Free Press -

 
 

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

Hayford treasures first season, looks forward to the future of Eastern basketball

 


Jim Hayford could have agonized over the what-ifs after watching his team lose a lead in the final two minutes of the semifinal game of the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament last week in Missoula.

But he chose to take a positive out of the Eagles’ 74-66 loss to eventual NCAA tournament qualifier, Montana.

“It got away from us at the end but I was really proud of how the guys played,” he said.

The defeat ended Hayford’s first season on the job as head coach at Eastern. It was the first time in his college coaching career that a Hayford team finished with an under .500 record at 15-17.

But Hayford knew there would be days like this as he made the enormous jump to Division I basketball.

Few have been successful in this leap of leagues and levels. Hayford’s Eagles, however, appear to have made notable strides.

“As I look back on the conclusion of the season I am pleased with the first season I was able to enjoy coaching the Eagles,” he wrote in an email to friends and followers. “This year’s team did a great job of advancing our program.”

Some of their accomplishments included:

• Fifteen wins equaled the program high since 2004.

• Six road wins.  The past two seasons EWU won two road games all year in each season.

• First non-losing conference season since 2006.

• Hosted first postseason playoff game since the 2006 season. It was also Eastern’s first postseason win since 2006.

• Average home attendance increased from 1,101 last season to 2,286 this year.

• Cliff Colimon named to All Big Sky First Team.  Eastern had not had a member of the first team since Rodney Stuckey.

• Collin Chiverton Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year.

But just as this season was a learning experience on multiple levels for his players, so too was it for Hayford.

“I really learned a lot of lessons along the way,” he said. “The program I established at Whitworth, after being there 10 years there were a lot things that you’ve just done and built and assume are in place.”

As we all often find, one can never make too many assumptions.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

would think that Division I Players at this point in their careers would know all those things.”

This was not a traditional program with players taking the usual path. “Three of those seniors had only played one year at Eastern, none of them were four-year players,” he said.

“I know putting in a new system in terms of team – putting in the foundation of how we want to play – that teaching would be there, but there was a lot more individual teaching than I had anticipated.”

It appears certain that was all time well spent for Hayford.

As he looked back on his first year at Eastern, he said one of the best things Hayford will take away are the relationship he made, especially with his seniors, Cliff Colimon, Laron Griffin, Cliff Ederaine and Tremayne Johnson. “I really enjoyed coaching these four seniors and I think that’s the biggest plus.”

With all kinds of new faces, “Next year’s challenge will be gaining experience, it’s never fun,” Hayford cautioned. “I’m optimistic we can be more successful on the scoreboard in the years to come.”

Which hopefully will help put the Eagles on the other end of close finishes like the one against the Griz.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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