Hardwood future bright for Eagles’ men

The future looks bright, but on a rainy Monday morning, Eastern Washington basketball coach Jim Hayford couldn’t resist a look back at the might-have-beens.

“Basketball is a game of nanoseconds and inches,” Hayford said nine days after a giving up a last-second bucket at North Dakota and less than 48 hours after a potential game-winning 3-point shot rimmed out Saturday in a season-ending home loss to Weber State.

“We lose on a buzzer-beater, and then our own buzzer-beater didn’t go in,” said Hayford, whose third Eagles team showed improvement from the previous year in almost every area – except the one Hayford sought most: For the second year in a row, the Eagles missed out on the Big Sky Conference tournament.

Hayford’s boss understands the challenge.

“We like the direction of the program,” said Eastern A.D. Bill Chaves, who added that he appreciates Hayford’s commit- ment to four-year players.

“It’s hard that we’re not able to get back on the floor, because we were playing as well as anybody,” said Chaves, who watched average attendance at Reese Court rise from 1,141 last year to 1,209 this season.

The Eagles did all that despite fielding the youngest team in the conference, without a senior in the lineup, and with a 10-10 league record that would have been good enough for the postseason in any other season.

“When I took the job (in the spring of 2011), my goal was to be a perennial postseason team, and we were just right on that edge this year,” Hayford said, holding his thumb and forefinger millimeters apart.

The Eagles (15-16 overall) lived on the edge all season, showing marked improvement in almost every statistical area while dealing with a new point guard, an inexperienced bench and inconsistent 3-point shooting.

For now, the promise of youth is still unfulfilled, but Hayford said he won’t play that card next year.

“Those days are over,” Hayford said. “They were hard days, and we’ve paid that investment,” Hayford said.

The payoff should come next year, as the Eagles return their entire lineup, plus some redshirts who will address some of the depth issues.

Talent abounds in the backcourt. Sophomore Tyler Harvey was the Big Sky’s leading scorer (21.8 ppg) amd top 3-point shooter, while junior Parker Kelly showed all-around skill in the three-guard lineup Hayford employed most of the year. .

The biggest addition was transfer point guard Drew Brandon who averaged 10.4 points and 5.1 assists while turning in the best rebounding average (6.8) of any guard in the Big Sky. Still, “we had to adjust to a new point guard,” said Hayford, whose club was 3-6 in the Big Sky at one point before going 7-4 the rest of the way.

The Eagles expect to get a boost next year from shooting guard Sir Washington, who redshirted this year.

In the frontcourt, Jois, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, averaged 13.4 points and a team-high 8.0 rebounds. Post Martin Seiferth (7.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 1.4 blocks) struggled early in the season, but played with vigor after being benched at midseason in favor of freshman Ognjen Miljkovic.

Hayford got more points and minutes down the stretch from Miljkovic and fellow freshman Felix von Hofe – both dangerous 3-point shooters – which bodes well for the future. Both struggled defensively, however.

In contrast, sophomore Thomas Reuter was a solid defender off the bench, but not a strong offensive threat as he battled a midseason diagnosis of Crohn’s disease.

The frontcourt should get a boost from 7-1 Fredrick Jorg, who redshirted this year.

Room for improvement

Key areas for next year’s Eastern Washington basketball team:

• Recruit more quality depth, especially at PG and PF.

• Take better care of the ball – Eastern ranked ninth in the Big Sky in turnover margin at minus-2.1 in league games.

• Improve free-throw shooting by the starting frontcourt. This year, center Martin Seiferth was 21 for 60 (35 percent) and forward Venky Jois was 94 for 178 (52.8 percent)

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