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Thursday, December 12, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Eager Eagles

New coach, receptive players need time to jell

New coach Jim Hayford is high on senior forward Tremayne Johnson, who averaged 10 points and 5.1 rebounds last season. (Colin Mulvany)
New coach Jim Hayford is high on senior forward Tremayne Johnson, who averaged 10 points and 5.1 rebounds last season. (Colin Mulvany)

Jim Hayford isn’t having any problem with the product he’s trying to sell as a first-year Division I men’s basketball coach.

His players at Eastern Washington University are buying into his new system in a big way, and have been since he was introduced last March as the successor to Kirk Earlywine, who was fired after going 42-78 in four seasons in Cheney.

Hayford’s major concern is centered, instead, on his own selling technique – especially with Friday night’s season opener at Gonzaga so close at hand.

“The guys are eager to learn what I’m teaching,” said Hayford, who made the jump to Eastern following a successful 10-year stint at Division III Whitworth. “But if I had to assess those first few weeks of practice, I’d say the weak point has been my teaching.

“I can teach calculus, but with everything being so new to these guys, we’ve got pre-algebra to teach first. They’re really, really eager to try to pick things up, so it’s just a matter of finding a common building ground everyone is comfortable with and keep going from there.”

EWU finished 10-20 overall last winter and 7-9 in the Big Sky Conference to qualify for the 6-team league tournament for the first time in five seasons. Eight lettermen, including six of last year’s top seven scorers, return, giving Hayford reason to believe that this year’s team can be a part of the postseason picture, as well, despite the absence of last year’s scoring and assists leader Glen Dean, who transferred to Utah following Earlywine’s dismissal.

“I really think that if we can avoid injury and keep a collective confidence in the midst of a very difficult nonconference schedule, we’ll emerge as a very good team in January and February,” Hayford said.

Among EWU’s top returnees is a trio of smurf-like guards – senior Cliff Colimon and juniors Kevin Winford and Jeffrey Forbes – who combined to average just over 30 points a game last winter. Add in the senior low-post trio of Tremayne Johnson, Cliff Ederaine and Laron Griffin, who combined to average almost 24 points and 20 rebounds, and it becomes obvious that experience is not a problem.

Johnson, a 6-7 forward who averaged 10 points and 5.1 rebounds as a junior, is the most naturally gifted.

“Tremayne is a guy with tremendous potential,” Hayford said. “But he has to figure out how to take his athleticism and fit it into this team’s new structure. He really wants to do that, and is working hard at it, so it then becomes incumbent on us, as coaches, to find a way to use his skills and strengths in the best way for our team to be successful.”

Hayford also points out that his three returning guards are mainly spot-up perimeter shooters, while his three bigs accounted for only 20 3-point baskets last season – with 19 of those coming from Johnson, who shot only 29.7 (19-64) from beyond the 3-point line.

Which is why he is so high on Collin Chiverton, a junior forward and first-year transfer from City College of San Francisco.

“Size-wise, he’s in the middle of those other two groups,” Hayford said of the 6-6, 200-pound Chiverton, who averaged 19 points and five rebounds in leading CCSF to a state championship last winter. “And because of his skills, he can move between the two and give us some things that weren’t, maybe, in the mix before.”

Under Hayford, the Eagles will be much more structured, offensively, than they have been in recent years. And that seems to set well with the returning players.

“There’s not as much freedom in his system,” explained Forbes, “but everybody is really held accountable in it, and we’re keeping the same pace – maybe even pushing the ball a little more.”

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