MOSCOW, Idaho – In the wake of the sudden firing of coach Don Verlin on the cusp of a University of Idaho presidential regime change last spring, the Vandals men’s basketball team was in dire need of some kind of stability.
Seven players left what appeared to be a floundering program that might take years to recover. But melding eight newcomers with four returning players and Oregon State transfer Jack Wilson, who came to Idaho last January and will be eligible to play this season, laid a foundation this summer that gives the Vandals hope going forward, according to interim coach Zac Claus.
Claus talked Wednesday about the state of Vandals basketball. In the final summer workout five days ago at the conclusion of summer school, he said of the team, “We had by far the loudest, best energy all summer.”
Claus also called it “a compliment to the returning guys who welcomed new teammates with open arms,” and “the new guys who were eager to join the group.”
Commenting on the resilience of the players, he said, “They’ve been fabulous. There have been ups and downs, but the players, far and away, have been the best part of the past month-and-a-half. It’s not even close.”
The North Star for making this unusual situation work this season is sending out four-year senior Trevon Allen on a high note.
“You only get to have one senior season. He deserves to have the best senior season possible. That will trickle down,” Claus said of Allen.
In addition to Wilson, a mobile, physical 7-footer, Idaho’s new players include Ja’Vary Christmas, a 6-3 junior.
“If you’re in a room with him, you know it,” Claus said of Christmas.
Damen Thacker, a 5-11 junior, brings intensity to the court, and Keyshaad Dixon, a 6-1 junior, has an innate feel for the game.
Quinton Forrest, a 6-4 senior, played at Jacksonville University before coming to Idaho. B.J. Simmons, a 6-1 sophomore, can get to the rim, as can 6-7 junior Babacar Thiombane, according to Claus. A.J. Youngman, a 6-4 junior guard, is a 3-point specialist. Gabe Quinnett, a 6-4 freshman from Moscow High School, is a walk-on.
Claus said he has not talked to Verlin since the former coach was fired. Claus was elevated from an assistant to interim head coach
Claus said “the specific circumstances are very tough. There is a whole lot of emotion to it. I have had conflicted thoughts on almost a daily basis.”
Nonetheless, he would eagerly accept an opportunity to become Idaho’s new coach after this season, Claus said.
Verlin was fired when a consultant’s review prompted Idaho to self-report three possible NCAA violations – that would not appear to have given the Vandals an unfair competitive advantage. Claus said he did not know how the NCAA would proceed.
“You keep controlling what you can,” he said. “That’s out of my reach.”
While he proceeded carefully early on to shepherd the players through the transition, Claus eventually decided to move ahead.
“If you’re here, I’m not going to talk to you (about the transition) anymore,” he said. “If you’re here, you’re here.
“This is our Idaho basketball team.”
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