To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford about helping players overcome off-court tragedies.
Over half of your 13-man roster hails from foreign countries (Australia/Germany/Serbia), how have you been able to bring in so many players from overseas? I looked at some models of success at the mid-major level, and I saw how Coach Randy Bennett was able to rebuild the St. Mary’s program by recruiting Australian players. Coaching here in Spokane has allowed me to meet some coaches from Germany who had players end up attending Gonzaga.
Your non-conference road schedule includes trips to Washington, St. Mary’s, Seton Hall, and UConn: which of these four games do you feel will present your biggest test? The East Coast trip will be really unique for us and let us experience a part of the country that some of our players have never seen before. Seton Hall and UConn will give us the ultimate test against top competition to see how we handle life on the road.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? We want to be in the Big Sky tourney (which is what we want to do every year). We also want to be playing our best basketball at that time, which should give us an opportunity to win an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney.
You were hired as coach at Eastern Washington in 2011 after a decade as coach at D-3 Whitworth University. Why did you take the job, and what is the biggest difference between D-3 and D-1? I am really fortunate to have been a part of the Spokane community for over a decade as a head coach. Ray Giacoletti did a great job as coach of the Eagles a decade before, so I am just trying to bring some pride back to our community. I enjoy the challenge but it is not an easy task. We are in the midst of establishing a roster based on four-year players, so in my third year we do not have a lot of seniors. D-3 means a lot of different things to a lot of different schools. Any coach at any level would tell you that recruiting is the basis of your success, but D-3 had a very small window to allow you to find recruits in order to make you successful. In D-1 you have a much bigger window of talent, so there are a lot of people working very hard at recruiting. Fortunately, there is a bigger scale of players who can help you win games.
Freshman Venky Jois was named Big Sky Freshman of the Year, how was he able to come in and contribute right from the start? One of the things we have identified is that we needed to go recruit overseas, and last year’s team had six different freshmen and sophomores starting games for us. Venky is very athletic and a tenacious rebounder. He can post up or put the ball on the floor and drive.
You return a bunch of other players with starting experience as well: how big a factor do you think your team’s experience will be this season? The hard part about experience is getting it, but we got a lot of it last year. Our guys knew how close we came last year, so they realize the margin of error is very slim if you want to make the postseason.
You lost two of your three leading scorers (Collin Chiverton/Justin Crosgile). How will you be able to fill the offensive void left by the departure of these two starters? We lost Justin at the winter break, so he did not play in any conference games for us. He transferred to UTEP due to some family issues and I think he will play well for them. Collin was not able to play to the level we had hoped because he had to deal with the death of his mother. Hopefully we will have more consistency as a team this year.
How does a coach help players deal with off-court stuff? It was a really challenging season, but we learned some lessons. A coach gets hired to win games, but helping your players develop is the most important part.
Your daughter is an undergraduate on campus, how nice is it to have her close to home? I am very proud of her: she is a cancer survivor and a top student. She chose to attend Eastern without any pushing from me or my wife, and now I figure I will get to have lunch with her at least once a week, which is great.