Upcoming EWU season is another big picture building block
It might be hard to pull a lot of positives out of the season in which your team got off to a painfully slow start and endured an excruciatingly painful finish.
But not surprisingly, Eastern Washington University men’s head basketball coach Jim Hayford finds a way.
Finishing 10-21 in his second year on the job with the Eagles the seemingly ever-optimistic Hayford said the 2012-13 campaign, while a true test for his team, staff and EWU fans, laid another row of bricks in his foundation.
“I knew I wanted by this point to have the roster in a position where there were guys immersed in a new culture,” Hayford said. “And that the core of the roster would be young players that we could build upon for four years.”
The Eagles have done that, he said, as Eastern unveiled its 2013-14 schedule that has some real heavyweights ahead, including three-time national champion UConn, the Pac-12’s Washington and perennial West Coast Conference contender Saint Mary’s, not to mention of course, Big Sky champ Montana.
Nine of EWU’s losses were one-possession games with less than four minutes remaining as the Eagles finished 7-13 and ninth in the 11-team Big Sky, a game and some tiebreakers out of the postseason, three games out of fourth in yet another jumbled set of conference standings.
“I thought as we finished last year playing with the youngest team in the conference, and we were so competitive in all those games, that indicated we’re going to do well in the future,” Hayford said.
It’s one thing to be young and not have talent to even be competitive, but the Eagles were young and competing losing their final five BSC contests by a total of 32 points - three baskets and some change. “So that made me real happy,” Hayford said.
“Academically all the guys are where I wanted us to be,” Hayford said. His team built a cumulative 3.35 GPA through the 2012-13 school year.
Overall, Hayford said he’s pleased in terms of where the program is moving under his watch, and the job of building a new culture with EWU basketball, a decade removed from its first and only trip to the NCAA tournament.
Bottom line: “I want to win more games,” he said.
And that might have happened had it not been for a couple of big bumps in the road last season.
“We had some unforeseen things with personal issues that (Collin) Chiverton had to go through and with (Justin) Crosgile quitting the team midway through the year; we expected them to be our two highest performers,” Hayford said.
Chiverton, who was counted on for some scoring prowess as a senior, had to go through not just the death of his mother, but lost a close friend too, all within weeks of one another.
“Every season brings surprises,” Hayford reminded, some good and some bad.
But those two situations opened the door for others. “I think there was some real good that came out of that adversity,” Hayford said.
“If we had known early what Tyler Harvey was capable of,” he said of the redshirt freshman from Torrance, Calif. who led the team in scoring four times in his team’s final six games.
And Harvey’s emergence just scratched the surface. Australian true freshman Venky Jois was named the Big Sky’s Freshman of the Year as he led the team with a scoring average of 12.3 points per game for players who were with the team at season’s end.
Other youngsters like juniors-to-be Parker Kelly and Martin Seiferth, as well as sophomores Thomas Reuter and Daniel Hill all played key minutes gaining valuable experience.
“You look at the big picture we have guys returning who started at each position on the court,” Hayford. “That is very rare (that) you can do that.”
On top of that, this coming year’s team doesn’t have a single senior so to have that much returning playing time coming back over the next two, three years, is another big plus. “We’re going to end up with some very veteran, experienced teams,” Hayford said.
Whether the 2013-14 schedule is a reward or not remains to be seen, but Hayford said if nothing else just the experience is worth it.
“One of the neat things I’ve been able to do throughout my coaching career is to use a non-conference schedule to show guys different parts of the country and have some neat learning experiences,” Hayford said. “To be on the East Coast over Christmas is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those guys.”
“We all live in America and like everything fast and quick,” Hayford said. However, he thinks a little slower pace might be best in the long run. “I really feel like we’re building something that will be lasting and sustainable,” he said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.