Guy Dossi
The Union Democrat

After two weeks off, the Columbia Claim Jumpers return to the hardwood and will play in front of the hometown fans for the first time in the 2016-17 season.

The Jumpers will play their next four games at Oak Pavilion, with the first tonight against Butte College. They will then play South Puget Sound Community College, Simpson JV and Modesto Junior College.

Columbia (1-2) got its first win of the season two weeks ago on the road against West Valley, 69-60.

Columbia head coach Rob Hoyt was pleased with the progress his team made in the week of practice leading up to the West Valley game, and hopes his team continues to improve through this four-game stretch.

“When that Modesto game is done, if we look back, ideally we’d like our players to be confident with what they are doing on offense and defense,” Hoyt said Friday from his office before practice. “We want to start, and put together this machine that we’ve envisioned, moving into league. We want to take a couple huge steps in the right direction. We went from crawling, to walking and now we are sprinting.”

Columbia vs. Butte, 6 p.m.

Hoyt has let his team know that if they can beat Butte tonight, they should be able to beat just about anybody. Knocking off the No. 5 ranked team in Northern California will not be easy, but it isn’t impossible.

“I only know their rank because I looked today,” Hoyt said. “I try to not look at that stuff. I don’t think my guys know. They just know they are good. So the rankings aren’t important to me, but regardless, they are going to be the best team we’ve played this year.”

Last year, Columbia upset a highly ranked Butte team 81-75 in the Roadrunners gym. But Hoyt doesn’t feel that revenge will be a factor for Butte tonight against Columbia.

“Their coach, Russ Critchfield, is a first-class guy,” Hoyt said. “He doesn’t look at things like that, and I don’t look at things like that either, especially in this case.”

Butte (4-1) enters tonight’s game with wins over Sacramento City, Diablo Valley, Mendocino and Simpson JV.

Columbia vs. South Puget Sound Community College, 6 p.m., Tuesday

The Jumpers get to welcome a new opponent to the Oak Pavilion. The South Puget Sound Clippers will make the stop at Columbia College as part of its California tour.

South Puget Sound Community College is located in Olympia, Washington. Its head coach, Aaron Landon, is a California native and is happy to bring his team south from the evergreen state to the golden state.

But it’s not just the lure of returning to California that Landon is looking forward to. It’s the opportunity to coach against Hoyt, his longtime friend.

“It’s a great trip and Rob’s a close friend,” Landon said. “We were friends when we were dreaming about being college head coaches. It’s pretty cool that we have this opportunity to play each other.”

Hoyt and Landon met nearly six years ago. Landon was living in Monterey and working as an assistant at Marina High School and Hoyt was an assistant at Cabrillo College. The two met while working a UCLA camp and ended up becoming friends.

They also played weeknights in a men’s league in Santa Cruz and Monterey.

Hoyt and Landon both got hired at their current schools four years ago and are rapidly turning the programs around.

“Five or six years ago when we met, we were both living off of peanut butter and jelly and our respective living situation, he was in a shack and I was in a basement,” Hoyt said. “We both experienced doubt and fear about coaching, but we both put our heads down, kept our circles close and went to work. We are now both making the most out of what we can and are trying to improve.”

The friends talk nearly daily during the season and discuss strategies, recruiting and just the frustrations that every coach goes through. They will get breakfast together Tuesday morning and will enter the game as friends and leave the game the same way.

But a win over Hoyt would be something Landon would cherish, but not in a bragging way.

“I don’t think I would ever frame it where I would hold it over him,” Landon said. “I really wanna beat Rob, but it’s more that I wanna impress him. We’ve talked a lot and bounced things off each other. I really wanna beat Rob, to show him how much I’ve accomplished, and make him proud of me. I know he wants to beat me just as bad, but we are still really good friends.”

South Puget Sound is averaging 99 points per game and Hoyt has a gameplan should the Clippers have a hot night shooting the ball.

“If they do that against us, hopefully we score 100,” Hoyt said.

Columbia vs. Simpson JV, 6 p.m. Friday

The Jumpers will face Simpson JV in the first set of games in the Columbia College Classic. Last season, the Jumpers beat Simpson JV 74-56.

Hoyt likes the Columbia Classic because it gives his team more home games and an opportunity for the community to come out and watch.

Columbia vs. MJC, 6 p.m. Saturday

Modesto Junior College and Columbia has had competitive games the last few seasons. In their last meeting, the Jumpers topped the Pirates 71-61 in a come from behind win.

With the proximity of the two schools so close, it would seem as if it would be a natural rivalry game. Hoyt knows that the two communities enjoy the matchup, but he thinks that whatever team is wearing the opposite color jersey is a rival.

“When it comes to rivalries, I think everyone we are playing is a rivalry,” Hoyt said. “I just like playing whoever is next on the schedule. When it comes to MJC, it’s been a competitive game the last few years. We’ll be ready and they will challenge us.”

All high school and elementary school students receive free admission to the Jumper games, and a free bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling cider will be given to each fan for Tuesday night’s games against South Puget Sound.

Contact Guy Dossi at (209) 588-4538 or and follow him on Twitter at @DossiGuy.