Hayford and Co. look to take important next step to improvement

Hayford and Co. look to take important next step to improvement

By Galen Rock, Sports Editor


The men’s basketball team started practice Oct. 1, beginning the road to March for a team that finished with a record of 10-21 (7-13 in the Big Sky) last year.

Entering their third season under head coach Jim Hayford, the Eagles will practice mornings starting Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. Eastern will have 30 practices between Oct. 1 and the team’s season opener at home versus Pacific University on Nov. 10 at 2:05 p.m.This begins a seven-game schedule in November, highlighted by a visit to the University of Washington on Nov. 17.

For EWU basketball fans, the idea of playing in March feels like a distant memory. 2004 was the last year the Eagles made it to the NCAA tournament. It was also the last time the team won the Big Sky regular season championship as well as the conference tournament.

In these nine years, EWU basketball has fallen on a bit of hard times but in year three under the Jim Hayford regime, Eastern basketball is starting to find new life.

The resurrection, according to Hayford, has largely been in part to the quality and youth of the guys he has recruited and put out onto the floor.

“I’m excited about coaching great guys. It’s neat when I can go to work each day and coach great guys who really care about academics and want to be the best they can be on the floor,” said Hayford after practice on Oct. 3.

The team features four freshmen, five sophomores and four juniors. Uniquely, Hayford’s team has zero seniors. This lack of experience can be seen in the number of close games the team lost last year. “When you look at a young team, last year, struggling through some of those games and winning 40 percent of the close games and losing 60 percent of the close games, the difference is gaining experience and toughness.”

But Hayford also understands that putting young guys on the court will benefit the program in the coming years. “The upside is we have sophomores and juniors who have a lot more playing experience than other sophomores and juniors in our league. Another benefit is when they become juniors and seniors, we have something really special.”

The coming of age hopefully will help a team that is in need of offense. EWU averaged a meager 69.2 points a game, good for 122 of 345 NCAA Division 1 programs. Most of that was largely due to a porous 3-point field goal average of 34.1 percent.

“We need to raise our shooting percentages, we play a fast pace. We do want to score even more. We had the number of possessions we wanted we just have to shoot the ball better.”

Hayford may be getting the possessions he wants but there is definitely a lot of offense being left out on the court due to poor rebounding rate. EWU finished with a ranking of 309th in the country in rebound margin. “We have to improve as a team of rebounders.”

EWU must improve in a lot of areas if they want to see their win total rise early in the season. With games at the University of Washington and University of Connecticut, as well as a tournament in Irvine, Calif. The Eagles will play Boston University, LIU Brooklyn and UC Irvine – teams which had a collective record of 58-43 (57 percent) a year ago, and were 34-18 (65 percent) in their respective leagues.

Hayford has faith, though, that this trip will be a learning experience for his guys, a chance to gain even more experience and even more toughness.

“I like to use the analogy of a vegetable growing. That seed is underground, growing, something good is coming. You can’t see it but you know it’s coming. I think we’re at the stage where we’re starting to bust through the soil. We’re starting to mature and become fully developed.”