Although team has eight returning players, it’s going to feel like 16 newcomers to Hayford and his coaching staff
Having experienced players is always a nice bonus, but everybody seems like a newcomer to a new head coach.
For first-year Eastern Washington University men’s basketball head coach Jim Hayford, blending eight returning letter winners with eight newcomers will be the early-season challenge for his coaching staff. By the time Big Sky Conference play rolls around on Dec. 28, Hayford hopes it will be an entirely different situation than the one his team will face in his Eastern head coaching debut Nov. 11 at Gonzaga.
“It isn’t eight newcomers, it is 16 newcomers getting used to four new coaches,” he said. “That is a big part of the situation. Our opening game is at Gonzaga, and it will be the first time we will learn how players respond to our coaching. We’ll see what they’ve picked up and what have they not picked up. It will be baptism by fire right off the bat.
“On the other side, there are eight of those players who have been on this journey before,” he continued. “They know what it will be like and have received good coaching before I was here. We are certainly going to build on that. But there are name tags on everybody’s chest right now.”
Hayford inherited a team that finished 10-20 a year ago and finished 7-9 in the Big Sky to advance to the league tournament for the first time in five seasons. After having won 79 percent of his games (217-57) in 10 seasons at Whitworth University, he hopes he can instill that winning attitude in his players.
“The players want to win, and they are open to being taught how to win,” he said. “They are very coachable and teachable. They are eager, and for a teacher it’s exciting when you have eager students. Where we have deficiencies in size, speed and skill, we are going to work hard to improve those. I think it will be a competitive season, particularly when we get into conference play following some bumps in the non-conference season. They have to get used to me and I will get familiar with them.”
The ultimate goal, Hayford said, is to make the Eagles a perennial postseason entrant. And, as was the case in 2003 and 2004 when Eastern advanced to the NIT and NCAA tournaments, respectively.
And to achieve that, the Eagles need lots of practice time and a difficult preseason schedule to help them improve.
“Throughout my coaching career, my main goal has been to get better every day,” he said. “We need to improve in each and every practice and game. The non-conference schedule is tough. But those are the types of teams we need to be able to compete with if we are going to reach our goal of having Eastern Washington be a part of the postseason every year.”
Hayford knows what building a championship contender is like. Before he arrived at Whitworth, the school was 13-12. His first year at the helm the Pirates were 20-7, and his second season they were 23-4 and advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament. In his final two seasons, Whitworth was 54-5 overall and 31-1 in league play, and advanced to the DIII Sweet 16 in 2010 and the Elite Eight in 2011.
“The beginning of each new season brings promise and opportunity,” he said. “This is a new beginning for Eastern Washington basketball and there is hope on the horizon. In between hope, promise and opportunity and realizing our goals, is just a bucket load of work. It’s time to go to work and that is our focus. We’re excited – we think we’ve added some players to our roster who will make us even more competitive.”
Improved Shooting, Execution and Offensive
Rebounding are Three Keys to the Season . . .
Hayford is hoping to find a way to improve the team’s shooting percentage, which was at 40.8 percent overall and 36.9 percent from 3-point range in the 2010-11 season. Eastern hasn’t shot better than 41.6 percent from the field since the 2006-07 season when the Eagles made 49.5 percent and featured current professionals Rodney Stuckey and Paul Butorac. Eastern hasn’t shot better than last year’s percentage from the three-point stripe since the 2001-02 season when it made 38.5 percent from the arc.
A year ago, Eastern finished the season ranked eighth out of nine schools in the Big Sky in field goal percentage, but did make up for it somewhat by leading the league with an average of 12.3 offensive rebounds per game. Hayford hopes that effort on the boards is duplicated this season.
“We need to shoot the ball at a higher percentage than Eastern has in the past,” he said. “To improve your team field goal percentage, the first thing you have to do is make shots. We need each player to be living in the gym shooting the basketball – that’s the best way I know to be a better shooter.
“Secondly, our execution has to be good because good shots come from good teamwork,” he continued. “Next, we are going to have to become a good offensive rebounding team, because if you shoot, miss and put it back in, my math says that is 50 percent. So as we improve our execution, our shot selection, our skill development and our rebounding, we will see our field goal percentage rise. With that will come success.”
Guards Feature Experienced Trio Who Averaged at Least 24 Minutes Each . . .
Three guards return who all averaged at least 24 minutes per game, including senior point guard Cliff Colimon and juniors Jeffrey Forbes and Kevin Winford. That trio combined to start 60 games last year and have 99 total starts in their careers.
“The most experienced part of our team is the backcourt,” said Hayford. “We have three guards who have been through Big Sky play and have performed in conference games at a high level. That is the most solid part of the foundation that we are building on.”
Colimon averaged 10.4 points and 1.8 assists as a 15-game starter a year ago. Forbes and Winford started 23 and 22 games, respectively, and both have started since they were freshmen. Forbes averaged 9.8 points and 2.0 assists a year ago, and Winford averaged 9.9 points and 1.0 assists.
That trio – all standing between 5-foot-10 and six feet tall – combined to nail 169 3-pointers in the 2010-11 season.
“Last year, those three players were frequently on the court together,” Hayford explained. “As we looked at video, that created match-up problems because they are all under 6 feet tall. We don’t plan to have all three of those guys on the court at the same time too much, which means we’ll have two guys with some experience but other spots with not as much experience. This is where we need to find out the right blend.”
A junior college transfer, Colimon came on strong at the end of his junior season and now takes over the reins as EWU’s full-time point guard. He averaged 19.0 points in the last three games of the season, closing the year with a career-high 27 points in Eastern’s 79-70 loss to Weber State in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. His late-season surge helps soften the blow of having Glen Dean, a second team All-Big Sky Conference point guard last season and the league’s 2009-2010 Freshman of the Year, transfer to Utah.
“As I’ve talked with other coaches in the Big Sky and reviewed video, over the course of the last five or six games of the conference season, Cliff played as good as any guard in the league,” praised Hayford. “Cliff is excited to be the undisputed leader of this team his senior season, and I expect him to be one of the standout guards in the Big Sky Conference.
The trio of returning players will be joined in the backcourt by some taller newcomers in Willie Hankins (6-3), Tyler Harvey (6-4) and Parker Kelly (6-4), in addition to St. Joseph’s transfer Justin Crosgile (5-11). Harvey and Crosgile will redshirt the 2011-12 season.
Eagles Hope Tremayne Johnson Turns Potential into Reality his Senior Season . . .
One of the most talented players in the Big Sky Conference, 6-foot-7 Tremayne Johnson joins a pair of returning starters along the front line. Johnson came off the bench in 22 of 30 games and ranked in the top 23 in the Big Sky Conference, finishing with averages of 10.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots per game.
Johnson scored in double figures 13 times, including four performances of at least 20 points. But he also had 11 performances of five or less points, meaning consistency is a major factor in how much he is able to help Eastern win this season.
“I think Tremayne Johnson is going to have a great senior year,” said Hayford. “He’s maybe the biggest “X” factor on this team and needs to reach his potential. I’ve told him the worst word you want next to your name heading into your senior year is potential. I expect him to have a great year.”
The two returning starters in the front court are 6-8 senior Laron Griffin and 6-7 senior Cliff Ederaine. Griffin averaged 6.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocked shots per game. Ederaine was slightly better at 8.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots each outing. Both also averaged better than one assist per game, and Ederaine led the team with 29 steals in 30 games.
Ederaine was a 46.7 percent shooter from the field and Griffin finished at 43.6 percent. But both struggled from the free throw line, making 45.6 and 56.8 percent, respectively.
Also back at forward are a pair of sophomores – Rocky Brown and Jaylen Henry. Brown, a 6-6 small forward, averaged 1.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 21 games off the bench in the 2010-11 season. Henry, a solid 6-7, 230 pounds, averaged 1.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 11 games as a freshman.
Among Eastern’s newcomers is high-scoring junior college transfer Collin Chiverton. The 6-6, 200-pound junior averaged 19 points, five rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in leading City College of San Francisco to a 32-1 record and the 2010-11 California Community Colleges Athletic Association title. Most importantly, in the four seasons he has played since his junior year in high school, teams that Chiverton has played on have won 114 of 131 games for an 87 percent winning rate.
“Collin was a prolific junior college scorer and one of the top high school players on the West Coast,” said Hayford. “He can slide down and play the shooting guard position, which makes us bigger in the backcourt as well.”
Also available this season in the front court is 6-9 Jordan Hickert, a native of Australia who attended and played at Neosho County Junior College in Chanute, Kan., for two seasons. As a sophomore, Hickert made 56-of-130 3-point attempts, and his 43.1 percent shooting accuracy from the 3-point arc ranked 17th among all National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I players.
“We recruited a really good shooter in Jordan Hickert, so he brings size to the forward position,” said Hayford. “He’s a great shooter. And then we have Cliff Ederaine – he’s a very versatile player, but we need to improve his free throw shooting. Laron plays hard and is a great rebounder. Those players as a group really rebound the ball well, and that is one of the strong points of our foundation.”
Justin Omogun, a 6-8, 240-pound sophomore, joins the Eastern program from Western Nebraska Community College. Martin Seiferth, a 6-10, 230-pound junior from Berlin, Germany, will redshirt after playing previously at the University of Oregon.