The last day of the year was the perfect time to look back – and ahead – at Reese Court.
Fresh from a difficult nonconference schedule that left his Eastern Washington men’s basketball team with a 5-6 record, coach Jim Hayford reiterated the preseason goal of returning to the Big Sky Conference tournament.
“Last year we needed one more win to be a part of that tournament,” said Hayford. “That is where all of our focus has to be for coaches and players. We have to keep getting better every week.”
That starts with defensive rebounding, which Hayford stressed in a team meeting before practice Tuesday.
“If we didn’t grow in any other area … we’ll be a Big Sky Conference tournament team,” said Hayford, whose team opens Big Sky play tonight at Weber State.
“We’re trying to develop a sense of determination, of toughness, that lasts every possession. Sometimes that comes with experience,” said Hayford, whose team includes not a single senior.
The Eagles were picked to finish fifth by the coaches and sixth by the media; if those predictions hold, they’ll make the seven-team field.
There’s reason for optimism. The starting lineup, which had 14 different incarnations last year, has been the same all season: center Martin Seiferth, forward Venky Jois and a three-guard lineup of Parker Kelly, Drew Brandon and Tyler Harvey.
The 6-foot-4 Brandon (11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game) has moved almost seamlessly into the starting lineup, while Harvey has benefited from not carrying the ball-handling chores. “He’s extremely talented,” Hayford said.
But there’s work to do. Seiferth (6.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg) has struggled on the boards against a schedule that ranks 39th-toughest in the country, but Hayford expects those numbers to improve against Big Sky competition.
Hayford hopes to see a few numbers go down, namely the minutes played by his starting guards: All have logged at least 34 minutes a game.
It hasn’t helped that backup point guard Daniel Hill missed several games through illness; or that small forward Thomas Reuter was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Both are back, but forward Danny Powell left the team for personal reasons.