Ever since Sparky Anderson took over the Detroit Tigers in 1979 and spelled out his five-year plan for building the team into a world champion, the half-decade marker has been the yardstick by which all coaches and managers have been measured.
That being the case, Columbia College basketball coach Andy Vasher was right on schedule in the 2001-02 season.
In his fifth season at the helm of the Columbia program, Vasher led the Claim Jumpers, the third runners-up for The Union Democrat's Sports Figure of the Year award, to the State Final Eight for the first time since the 1995-96 season and to an overall record of 27-7.
"It was the best all-around team we've had," Vasher said. "We had eight or nine good players, and one really good one, so we were able to keep coming at people all game long."
More like all season long. With sophomore forward Derrick Stewart, an all-Central Valley Conference pick his freshman year, leading the way, Columbia started strong and built upon its early momentum throughout the season.
In just their second game of the season, the Jumpers put the Northern California basketball world on notice by dismantling powerful Shasta of Redding 110-87 at the Sierra College Tournament in Rocklin.
The victory sparked Columbia to a 14-3 preseason record, which featured a championship at the Cosumnes River Tournament, a consolation title at the Modesto Junior College Tournament and a second win over Shasta in a game that proved just how deep the Jumpers were.
With Stewart and starting point guard Jeff Johnson stuck in their hometown of Norfolk, Va., because of a snowstorm, Columbia still managed to topple the Knights as its less-heralded stars got a chance to shine. Led by center Doug Carlson's 26 points, the Jumpers beat Shasta 83-78 with Derek Olich (17 points), Mikey Dyer (15 points), Rick Lueneberg (14 points) and Jeremy Peterson (11 points) all reaching double figures.
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