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Editor’s note: Columbia Claim Jumper fourth-year head coach Rob Hoyt has run into a few different issues this year that he’s never had to deal with during his tenure. Hoyt spoke with Union Democrat sport reporter Guy Dossi at length Wednesday about the state of the Jumpers.
UD: Well Rob, first thing’s first, are you ready for Christmas?
RH: I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest with you. I’ve been kind of stir crazy with all the time off. I’m just looking forward to having everybody back and getting going again.
UD: Speaking of time off, you gave your team two weeks off. Is that something you normally do and, if not, what made you do that this year?
RH: No, we’ve never done that before. Typically, it’s around six or seven days. The reason is the scheduling. We got out of the Modesto Tournament, which typically ends right about now. That dropped down to eight teams and instead, we went to the Santa Barbara Tournament. And then we had finals and we felt it was best to give them that time off and regroup. We will be able to look back and decide whether or not that was a good idea.
UD: Are you worried about the guys not being in basketball shape when practice starts next week?
RH: Not really. They won’t be in the same shape as when they left and that doesn’t matter with how much time they have off. You give them five days off and they will be a little sluggish that first day. But they are exceptional athletes and have been training since August, so I’m not too worried about it.
UD: When you hit the floor on Dec. 30 against San Joaquin Delta College, you are going to have less guy’s than before. It’s been a tough year for you when it comes to maintaining your roster. You started with 13 players and now you are down to seven, maybe eight. You lost two guys to grades. Is that something you’ve had to deal with before while at Columbia?
RH: Not during the course of the season. We’ve never had a player ineligible from the first to second semester. For that to occur this year has been a disappointment. But it’s something that we just have to keep moving forward with.
UD: You have had to kick a couple of guys off the team. What causes someone to be removed from the program?
RH: They were removed from the team was because they were unable to follow the rules or disciplinary actions. When you are told to do something, you are going to do it. You are going to be on time. If you are late, we are flexible to that the first time. If it continues, that’s enough to remove you. If we ask you to do A, B, and C, and you don’t do it, or you lie, then we remove you. Every case is different, but to be removed, you have to be defiant in what we are trying to accomplish as a group.
UD: You had one player who was on the fence about coming back after Christmas break. As of now, you seem to think he’ll come back. What was that conversation like?
RH: It was all via text message. It was short and quick. I told him that if he decides to leave, he’d be walking away from a lot more than he thinks. That was it. That’s all that was said. I’m not going to talk anyone into anything.
UD: Do you have more of a commitment from players who are not from the area? Do you think it’s easier for guys to quit when home is just right around the corner?
RH: Maybe it’s because the local kids have a support system here where their feelings are supported and not necessarily their commitment. Every case is different, so it’s tough, but if you take a guy like Lewayne (Grant, from Florida), he took a huge leap of faith with me and what I was telling him. Maybe for local guys, it’s not as big of a commitment.
UD: Let’s jump to the season. You started the year 1-4, which is your worst start as a coach. Those were not fun times as you lost a couple of close games and got blown out of a couple. What was the problem?
RH: We were just not ready to compete. We ran an offense that just wasn’t great for the makeup of our team. So that first tournament, it was pretty ugly. A lot of things have happened since then. Our schedule was tough and it took a while for everyone to figure out where they fit with the group and how I coach.
UD: Since losing to South Puget Sound, you have won four of your last five. So what was the difference between the first five games and the last five?
RH: Guys have just become more comfortable and they are more confident in what we are doing. We scrapped our offense. We had two months of offense and scrapped it after two games. We had four days of practice with a new offense and then had to turn around and play four games in seven days. All the little intricacies of the offense, they now have a better understanding of it. We are continuing to improve and our two best players, Lewayne and DeAndre, are playing like our best players.
UD: There’s still a chance that you will have a team with only seven guys. Obviously you will compete with however many you have, but how concerned are you heading into the second part of the season?
RH: The first feeling is disappointment. These guys didn’t take care of business in the classroom. I was at my house and kind of just sat there, trying to digest it for a minute or two. And then it’s, OK what now? We have seven, but those are the seven that are our top seven, so we should still be able to compete. We are still at risk of injury or illness, because anything like that could really shake up what’s going on. But I’m confident with the guys that we have. But it’s not ideal heading into conference.
UD: Lewayne Grant and DeAndre Stallings are playing good basketball. Are you surprised at their productivity?
RH: No. Not at all. When I was recruiting Lewayne, I watched him for two minutes and I didn’t even know his name but I said, “I need that kid. That kid is a difference maker and is going to change things.” Now, it’s taken a whole year to adapt to the point guard position where he has to think different and manage the team. He’s excelling at that right now. I think he’s the best player in our league, and I’ve seen everyone in our league. With DeAndre, I’m not shocked at all. He’s been that guy since he was in high school. He steps on the floor and you better guard him. If he gets going, you’re in trouble.
UD: How much outside looks are they getting from colleges?
RH: They are getting a lot of attention right now. DeAndre is getting division I interest, all the way down to NAI schools. Lewayne has been getting a lot of division II interest. We are going to have coaches coming to practices and games coming up in January to watch them play. It’s ideally what you want to do. Those guys took a chance coming up here and this is the outcome of that.
UD: You play San Joaquin Delta next week and then conference play begins. What are your thoughts heading into conference play?
RH: If we can play well against Delta and go into league with over a .500 record, I mean, if you talked to me in November, I would have been shocked if that happened. Going into league, I think Fresno is the clear favorite. But they are not like they were last year. I think everybody else can beat everyone else. You could win the league and you could come in last. Our league is one of the toughest leagues in the state right now.
UD: Finally, this is your first season as a married man. Is it different being a head coach with a wedding ring on and it it more fun to see Clara out there cheering you on, or is the same as years past?
RH: It’s not that different to me because she’s always been extremely supportive. She’s the biggest fan on the other side of the court. So just putting a ring on her hand hasn’t changed that at all. In our minds, as far as what I do, it hasn’t changed anything. She’s very much invested and upset when we don’t do well and obviously she’s happy when we win. It’s a team thing.