The melting pot that is the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team got a quick stir last week by leaving the country.
The Eagles went 6-0 during their trip to British Columbia but gained something more important: experience. NCAA teams are allowed one foreign trip every four years, “and we picked the right year to do it,” second-year head coach Jim Hayford said.
Hayford said the main goal was to blend a team of Germans, Australians and Americans from five states. On the floor, he had to blend returning letterwinners, redshirts, four-year transfers, a junior college transfer and several incoming ex-high school players. He also had the chance to assess what the players learned during on-court sessions during the summer.
“With so many newcomers,” Hayford said, “I thought it was beneficial to have that game experience, to blend these guys together and show where the teaching stuck and where it was deficient.”
The team departed on Sept. 6 and played six games in six nights. After opening with an 87-70 win over Thompson Rivers University, Eastern headed west and edged the University of British Columbia in Vancouver 77-73. Eastern then defeated the University of Victoria 77-58 on Sept. 9 before another narrow triumph over the University of The Fraser Valley, 84-79. Eastern concluded its tour with overwhelming victories over Quest University in Squamish (93-46) and Trinity Western (86-57) in Langley.
The Eagles had a different leading scorer each night.
“We know the competition in the regular season will be more difficult, but we were pleased with our play and the outcome of the games,” Hayford said.
The offcourt experience was even more valuable, Hayford said. Activities included hiking excursions and time on the waterfront. The team also used a “portion of each day going through a mental fitness curriculum and I’m very pleased with the buy-in each player had,” Hayford said.
For now, the team is allowed two hours of on-court coaching per week. Formal practice begins Oct. 12, allowing up to 20 hours on-court time a week, with a maximum of four hours per day.
The Eagles play an exhibition game Nov. 4 against NAIA Concordia of Oregon, then open the season Nov. 10 at Washington State. The first home game is Nov. 30 against Cal State Fullerton.
The Eagles, 8-8 in the Big Sky Conference and 15-17 overall last year, return two starters, forward Collin Chiverton and guard Jeffrey Forbes, plus four letterwinners. The team also includes three players who redshirted last season, plus six newcomers.