Guy Dossi
The Union Democrat

In less than a month, Columbia College head basketball coach Rob Hoyt will finally get to see his 2016-17 Claim Jumpers all together in one room.

There will only be three faces Hoyt has seen on a daily basis before. Of the 12 players on last year’s opening day roster, three are returning.

After making the playoffs for the first time in 16 years, seven players still had a year left to play for the Jumpers. But only Lewayne Grant and DeAndre Stallings will be suited up. Sonora’s Will Collamer will also be on the roster, as he redshirted last season.

When the season came to a close, the majority of the players showed interest in coming back. But time away, grades and playing time all factored into offseason decisions, both by the players and by Hoyt.

“When guys get here for their first day of school, to the end of basketball season, which is typically in March, there is a lot of structure,” Hoyt said. “Their day is planned out and they know what they are doing. After that, we try to spend time away from each other because we have been so intertwined for such a long time. They need to get away from my voice and the coaching staff needs to be with their families. During that time, you really get to find out where guys’ priorities are.”

Who’s gone

Columbia graduated two players from last year’s team: Michael Meserole and Trevin Wilson, both strong contributors. But Jake Polack, Quentin Davis, Bosten Van Der Veur, Aaron May and Lonzel Lewis either chose to leave Columbia, were academically ineligible, or told their spot on the team would not be there after the summer.

The players who were removed did not do anything inappropriate or detrimental to the program. The main reason was academic shortcomings.

“Guys were not taking their academics as seriously as we, as a program, want them to,” Hoyt said. “If they don’t meet those standards, we ask them to find somewhere else to play.”

One player who did not meet all of his academic requirements was Van Der Veur, Hoyt said. Losing Van Der Veur will be a big hit to Columbia, as he was one of the leading scorers and seemed to improve with each game.

Van Der Veur was a member of the Central Valley Conference All-Freshman team. He scored 12.8 points per game, pulled down 5.2 rebounds, dished 2.3 assists and stole 1.2 balls per game.

“I spend more time with them than I do my family,” Hoyt said. “We are trying to help them succeed the best we can. It’s tough, but at some point you have to say, ‘You’re either getting it done or you’re not, and if you are not, there are seven billion people on earth.’ Everybody is replaceable.”

But Hoyt said Van Der Veur is a great kid with a lot of promise.

Polack, a 5’9 guard from Modesto, had no problem succeeding in the classroom and caused no trouble away from the court, Hoyt said. But he wanted something that Hoyt could not guarantee - playing time.

Polack was put in the unfortunate situation of playing behind someone who is more skilled. Grant is coming off a season where he was awarded honorable mention to the All-CVC first team, was a member of the All-Freshman team and scored 12.3 points per game.

When Polack made the decision to look for another school, Hoyt said he made sure to help him along the way. A list of schools was created and phone calls on Polack’s behalf were made. Hoyt had no problem selling his former player by letting interested teams know that he’s a good player, just not better than the guy in front of him.

“When we are selling our program, selling myself and selling what we are doing here, it’s very clear that you have expectations that you have to meet in order to stay here,” Hoyt said. “So, for a guy like Jake, who met all of those expectations and was a great student and a great person, that was a matter of when the season is over it goes from what’s best for the team, to what’s best for the individual. And for Jake, it wasn’t here.”

Polack will play next season for Modesto Junior College.

The missing pieces

There was an obvious and glaring flaw with the Jumpers last season, which was their lack of height. Stallings, who in Hoyt’s opinion is an All-State player, is 6’7, but not a traditional post player. He is dangerous from the outside, but his inside game is not his strength.

Halfway through the season, 6’6 center Kashmiere Hughes was dismissed from the team, which aside from Stallings, left Van Der Veur and May as the tallest players at 6’2. Finding taller players was a top priority.

But it wasn’t just height that Hoyt was looking for, but also more mature players, both on and off the court.

“Yes, we need height,” Hoyt said. “We need those post players. But we also need different types of players. We were looking for a mature type of kid with a more down to earth and realistic view when it comes to their goals and school. The guys weren’t bad guys last year, but our maturity level wasn’t where it needed to be to win close games.”

Because Hoyt cannot sign players, all he can get is a verbal commitment to attend Columbia College. Players are not official members of the basketball program until Oct. 1. Because of that, there are things he can and cannot publicly say regarding his recruits.

But when it comes to verbal commitments, Hoyt got all the height he could hope for. As of now, and because there are only verbal commitments, things can change at any moment, Hoyt has a roster with six players over 6’4. He had three last year.

He has received verbal commitments from Brandon Cline (6’8, Calaveras High School), Elan Spencer (6’9, Lincoln of Stockton), Eugene Harvey (6’5, Deerfield Beach High School, Fla.), and Joe Babineaux (6’8, Texas).

Five other players have verbally committed. Two roster spots are taken up by Summerville’s Eli and Ethan McLaurin. The twin brothers were named the MVP and Most Outstanding Player of the Mother Lode League.

As it stands, the Jumpers will have four local players with Cline, Collamer and the McLaurins.

“Since I got here, we’ve had this vision and after three years we are where we want to be,” Hoyt said. “Now for the next three years we will have different goals. You really don’t know until a few years down the road, but I really do think this could be one of our best classes, if not the best class we have coming in.”

A different offseason

For the first time in his coaching career, finding top flight players was not the most important thing on Hoyt’s summer checklist. In early July, Hoyt got the best commitment of all when he married his longtime girlfriend, Clara.

While trying to juggle recruiting and planning a wedding for some might be too much to handle, Hoyt was blessed to have a great teammate.

“She’s great and she understands my business and supports it,” Hoyt said. “So in that regard, it’s great. I’m not taking any credit for planning anything. She did that and she had a vision and it all came out great. It was beautiful.”

He said a lot of the recruiting was done in April, May and June.

“I used to hate the summer, but this summer my whole July was a whirlwind because of getting married, which was awesome,” he said.

The Hoyts departed for their tropical Hawaiian honeymoon and thoughts of basketball were left in Sonora.

“I enjoyed putting my phone away,” Hoyt said. “For one week, my phone was in a drawer and I would check it for 10 minutes and then put it away. It helped me recharge and it’s something that I’ll do every summer.”

A good comfort level

Hoyt hasn’t done anything yet to make him a hall of fame coach. He has yet to win a playoff game or CVC title. But his teams have beaten top 10 programs and have improved each year. When he was hired, a major recruiting tool was trying to sell himself and the program. But with the recent success surrounding Columbia basketball, that has become a recruiting tool all on its own.

“Our reputation is making things easier,” Hoyt said. “Before, we were really giving a hard sell on what I’m about, what the program is about and what we are about. Now, within this 60 to 80 mile radius, people know and they are calling me.”

He said he has gotten calls from the Sacramento and Fresno areas.

Hoyt wants to be the best in whatever he does, but perhaps being a new husband and father has put things in perspective for him. In one month, he will be back to being Coach.

For now, with the majority of the recruiting wrapped up, he’s loving just being Rob.

“I’m trying to enjoy the time with my family and they are, too,” Hoyt said. “They are trying to put weight on me because they know that I lose it all during the season.”

He said he’s trying to enjoy everything and not put as much pressure on himself.

“In no way do I feel like I’m accomplished and I feel like I have so much still to prove and do, but I’m more at peace with myself as a coach and the program and where we are at,” he said.

Follow Guy Dossi on Twitter at @DossiGuy