Men’s basketball success beams bright future for program

Harvey set lofty expectations for the 2014-2015 EWU men’s basketball team back in October, and it was with good reason.

“Win the Big Sky and go to March Madness,” said junior guard Tyler Harvey in a previous interview with The Easterner.

The Eagles finished their season in a loss to the Georgetown Hoyas in the second round of the NCAA tournament. However, the season was a successful one.

EWU men’s basketball team capped off their season at 26-9, marking their best season in the programs history. With just its second NCAA tournament berth, the future of the EWU program looks to attract new recruits to play collegiate basketball in Cheney and also keep Eagle fans in the stands.

“I think that’s in a first way helped us attract even better recruits,” said head coach Jim Hayford. “Though I think we’ve done a really good job of identifying guys that other schools didn’t do as good of job identifying. I think it makes it more fun for all students to get behind the basketball team, and so I think it just brings a lot of positives on many different levels.”

Hayford, who completed his fourth year as head coach and the reigning Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year, said the Eagles entered the Georgetown game, not just content with being there, but to win. The tournament was a learning experience for everyone, including himself.

“I am a teacher at Eastern, just like a lot of professors in their subjects, and I got to take my students on the greatest experience possible and so it feels very fulfilling,” said Hayford.

EWU director of athletics Bill Chaves, who is in his eighth year, said the popularity of March Madness makes for great exposure for the school and the student-athletes.

“You know what it is, there’s a pop culture to it. Because even if you’re not necessarily into college basketball, it seems like everyone in the United States seems to get captured by the bracket. To be a part of that and to see Eastern Washington University’s name up on the screen, its just a great feeling.”

Harvey, the nation’s leading scorer at an average of 23.1 points per game, announced on April 1 that he would forgo his senior season to enter the NBA draft in June.

With the leading scorer leaving the Eagles, it is up to the remaining players to continue Harvey’s scoring in his absence.

“You know, I think our team saw how special it is to go that far and how hard it actually is to get to that point, but you know, we are going to be successful for awhile. We got players coming in, we got a great group of guys still here, I mean its going to be a good year next year as well,” said Harvey

Hayford said he is encouraging his players to adopt the work ethic Harvey had and to not settle on the success of one season.

“Work your very hardest every single day to be the best that you could be, and let’s stay hungry as a program and never be satisfied and the sky’s the limit,” said Hayford.

The success of the men’s basketball team, like Rome, was not built in a day. In Hayford’s first season, the Eagles finished 15-17, 10-21 the following year and then 15-16 in his third year.

With an upset win on the road in Indiana, road wins in Montana and a comeback victory in the conference championship game, the men’s basketball program has proved they can compete and are here to stay.

The current run for the Eagles team speaks volumes on the work Hayford and his coaching staff have put in to make this a contending program at the highest level in college basketball in the last four years.

A once senior dominated team in Hayford’s first year, his recruits have now turned into the core of this team.

“[Y]ou hope over the course of time that the next class steps in and steps up. … [H]opefully, that’s where we’re headed,” said Chaves.