If third-year Eastern Washington coach Shantay Legans can get the Big Sky Conference preseason favorite to the next NCAA Tournament, he’ll have done it faster than any previous Eagles head coach.
EWU has punched its ticket to the dance twice, first with Ray Giacoletti in 2004 and Jim Hayford in 2015. Both got there in their fourth year.
The Eagles, who opened their season Tuesday with a 107-25 romp over Portland Bible College, begin the meat of their nonconference schedule on Saturday at Seattle University (1-1) before making the Midwest trek to 2019 NCAA Tournament qualifier Saint Louis (1-0) on Wednesday.
Both teams feature coaches of Eagles past.
Hayford is in his third year as Seattle University’s coach, leaving EWU for the Redhawks of the Western Athletic Conference in 2017.
Giacoletti – formerly the head coach at Utah and Drake, and an assistant at Gonzaga – is a first-year assistant coach at Saint Louis after a short retirement.
Legans, an assistant under Hayford at EWU for six years before his 2017 promotion, lost his first two games to his former boss in 2017 (84-64) and 2018 (88-68) in Seattle.
The 2019-2020 edition of the Eagles – a team that’s reached the last two Big Sky Tournament title games – may be the most talented, complete and experienced in Legans’ short tenure.
He’s hoping for a much different result in the Emerald City on Saturday.
“It’s always good to play against (Hayford) because his teams are always pretty good,” Legans said.
“They got six seniors who play a good style of basketball, so it’s going to push our defense to be really good, and they can shoot the ball from 3. It’s an opportunity to play a good team early.”
Hayford, who had a successful 10-year run at Whitworth before being hired at EWU in 2011, is 38-29 at Seattle, with appearances in the College Basketball Invitational and CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
He’ll face two of his former players on Saturday – forward Mason Peatling and guard Jacob Davison – who’ve blossomed into All-Big Sky talents under Legans.
“Super familiar with all the guys,” Hayford said. “Coached and recruited a few of the guys, so there’s that familiarity.
“It’s a super weird game. Anytime I coach against guys who once called me coach, it brings different emotions.”
Peatling said he’s focused on the Redhawks’ players, who were outmatched Thursday in a 85-54 loss at Washington State.
“When we get scouting reports, I don’t look at the coach’s name, so it’s pretty insignificant to me,” Peatling said of facing his former coach. “I’m more concerned about the players on the floor, and beating (them) on Saturday.”
Hayford praised the development of Peatling and Davison, and Legans’ first two seasons in his old seat.
“Mason is the best. Super solid guy. Love how he plays, everything about him,” Hayford said. “With Davison, we saw the athleticism early, and he’s kept improving.
“Super excited that (former EWU athletic director) Bill Chaves made the decision to hire (Legans). His teams have always peaked at the right time.”
Seattle, picked third in the WAC preseason poll, returns guards Terrell Brown (14.1 points, 6.8 rebounds last season), Morgan Means (14 points) and forward Myles Carter (12.9, 7.9).
Saint Louis, which handled Florida Gulf Coast 89-67 in its opener, was picked seventh in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll.
Giacoletti spent the previous two seasons as a TV basketball analyst for the Missouri Valley Conference, where he was based out of St. Louis.
He resigned from his Drake post in 2016.
Giacoletti led EWU to the Big Sky Tournament title game in all four of his years in Cheney (2000-2004), including the program’s first postseason tournament berth in 2003 when it reached the NIT.
Following EWU’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 2004, Giacoletti was hired at Utah, helping the Utes reach the Sweet 16 in 2005.
Giacoletti said he still keeps tabs on EWU and recently lauded Legans’ coaching style.
“I love what he’s doing up there,” Giacoletti said. “His open style really works with his players. It’s a lot different than what we did when I was there.”
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