PULLMAN – Jim Hayford is busy building a foundation for the Seattle U program he inherited in March, but that hasn’t come at the cost of keeping tabs on the Eastern Washington he presided over for six years.
You can bet Hayford had both pupils glued to the television Tuesday night when the Eagles bucked Stanford 67-61 at Palo Alto’s Maples Pavilion for the first big win of the Shantay Legans era in Cheney.
“So proud of them, so proud of them,” Hayford said Wednesday after his Redhawks suffered a 75-59 loss to Washington State in Pullman. “I watched the whole game last night. Shantay is going to be an amazing coach and Bogdan Bliznyuk, he’s as good as any player on the west coast. I’m not overstating it.”
Hayford was the one who brought the Lutsk, Ukraine-born Bliznyuk to the Inland Northwest from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, and he was responsible for grooming a player who torched Stanford – picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 - for 26 points during Tuesday’s upset win.
“He is special,” Hayford said.
“Special” is also the go-to word you might use for Hayford’s stint at EWU. The Eagles won 103 games under his watch, qualified for the Big Dance in 2014-15 after winning a Big Sky Conference title and finished with a winning percentage of 53.
Legans takes over a program that accumulated a 37-17 record in the Big Sky over the last three seasons. If it helps any, he spent all six seasons under Hayford’s tutelage – and the two still communicate on a near-daily basis.
“Shantay and I talk probably an hour a day – four, five times per week,” Hayford said. “I just miss my friend.”
Hayford’s Redhawks saw a 10-point lead wither away on Wednesday night at Beasley Coliseum. Seattle U shot 21-of-70 from the field and the Redhawks connected on just 10 of their 41 3-point attempts. For much of the game, Seattle U (2-1) was in striking distance of the Cougars (2-0), but Hayford wasn’t willing to take any moral wins.
“I never take moral victories,” he said.
There’s been plenty of roster turnover for the Redhawks, who started three graduate transfers against the Cougars.
“We came in to turn them into a winner,” Hayford said. And there was a lot of roster turnover and there was a few guys who had performed well at the Division I level and we brought some grad transfers in, but our margin for error is very, very small. We’ve got four really good players that are sitting out here and there was a game to be won here tonight, but we didn’t play all 40 minutes. We’re going to build a program that does.”
Installing a new system is perhaps the biggest obstacle Hayford is facing in year No. 1. WSU coach Ernie Kent encountered the same thing in 2014, when he was hired to lead the Cougars.
“He’s putting in a style and yet he might not have all the pieces to fit that style,” Kent said. “But you’ve got to put your style in and go with it. You can tinker and adjust with it as a coach to try to get as many wins as you can, but you always continue to come back and try and get another piece or another tweak to get to your style of play. It’s taken us into year four.”
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