Calaveras Enterprise sports editor Guy Dossi spoke with Columbia College head basketball coach Rob Hoyt about what he and his program have been doing since the team last played in Feb. 2020. The two spoke about keeping in touch with players, trying to recruit with a shortened high school basketball season and if he expects to be back coaching his team in the fall.
Guy Dossi: You have been around basketball most of your life. From playing in elementary school and high school, to playing at Columbia and then coaching, you have always had a season to dive into. What was the most difficult part about not having basketball since February of 2020?
Rob Hoyt: When the realization came that we are not going to have a season, there was a level of disappointment and then quickly after that, it was just about trying to figure out how to move the program forward. It was just a new challenge. We had guys on campus in the fall because we were meant to believe we were going to have a season. It was all about structuring the guys’ days from when they would wake up, to study hall, to working out. We moved the hoops outside to the tennis courts and moved weights into the tennis shack, so we could workout outside. And then the second semester, after it was decided there would be no season, the guys moved home and it was much more difficult to monitor them, and rightfully so because they were in their respective hometowns. It was a disappointment and a challenge and we were just trying to keep everything together and moving in the right direction and we are still doing that now.
GD: Did you keep in touch with the guys during that second semester?
RH: There was a lot of time spent on the phones. I didn’t do a whole lot of Zoom. To me, a Zoom meeting with your team is like fake hustle. You don’t really have a feel for the room and guys can’t really engage with each other. I feel that guys were doing it just to say they were doing it and I don’t know how much it accomplished.
GD: The last time you guys played was the playoff loss to Santa Rosa. Had you won that game, your team would have played down south in the Elite-8. However, those games were canceled before they were ever played. So, would you rather have lost to Santa Rosa, but gone down fighting, or advanced to the Elite-8 and had everything taken away from you and had that bitterness hanging around for years to come?
RH: I would have rather won the game and then had it taken away, not that I like either of those options. I would have rather gone out winning. There would still be that “what if” had we gotten there, but that’s what I would have chosen. I was really happy with that year and that was one of the best teams in school history.
GD: The last time you guys played, Grayson Carper was one of the best players on the court and he was just a freshman. Last year, he had the option to return to Columbia, but you encouraged him to transfer to a four-year university and now he’s at California State University, Fullerton. Where’s the line between wanting to win and have the program be successful, and doing what’s right for the players? Because had Carper stuck around, you guys would pretty much be unstoppable.
RH: When it’s the season, we do what’s best for the team. When they move in and they are here and it’s the first day of school, it’s about the team and the team comes first. When that season is over, it’s now about what is best for each guy, and we want to find the best spot and best opportunity for those sophomores. With Grayson, he’s a D-1 basketball player and he doesn’t need to burn another year at Columbia. Grayson wanted to come back and had no aspirations of leaving. He loved it here and I have a great relationship with him, and I made him leave because that’s what was best for him. Ultimately, our job is to be a bridge between the high school and four-year level and to help these young men grow and to get them out. Winning is secondary. We want to win, but we want to get these guys out and get scholarships and get them to that four-year level.
GD: You guys opted out of the season pretty early last year. There were a few Central Valley Conference teams that did play, but you guys weren’t the only team in the CVC to opt out. Looking back, do you feel that was the right decision to make?
RH: We opted out early and we encouraged our president at the time to make that decision because the consensus was, we were being strung along and it was going to happen anyway, so let’s pull the bandage off now so we can all move forward instead of being in the state where everything was pending. We could see the writing on the wall, and we just needed to get over the disappointment and start moving forward to the 2021-22 season and that’s what we’ve been doing since Thanksgiving.
GD: How difficult was it to recruit this year, when most high schools only played around 10 games?
RH: I don’t think it was any more difficult, it was just different. The most difficult thing was seeing everybody play. It was going to these gyms and recruiting and seeing everyone play and for a long period of time, we weren’t even allowed in our own gym. That was the most difficult part. It was seeing it go on basically at every level around us, but not being able to do it. As far as recruiting, we are getting five transfers from other junior colleges. We have two guys coming right out of high school and then we’ve got guys who stuck around from the fall and two guys who were previously on our roster. Every year is different, and you have to replace guys and build a team, so there’s always a level of difficulty. Maintaining the program on a day-to-day basis was harder than the recruiting process.
GD: Aside from getting most of your players to move on to four-year universities and your winning record at Columbia, I think the thing that has impressed me the most is how, over time, the fans have started to go to Jumper games and pack the Oak Pavilion. That last season, you could feel the energy in the gym and attendance was great. Are you worried about having made all that progress with getting fans back into the gym and then losing it all because people might not want to risk going to a game?
RH: I honestly think people will want to come. I don’t think that people are going to not want to be at the games, but on the other side of it, it may be forced from the school side of it. I don’t know exactly how that is going to shake up. I don’t know if people are going to be there or not, but we just want to play and get back to normalcy. I don’t think we’ll fully get there this year, but I think it will be better than it was. We had something building that was special and we did it the right way and I feel that we have the support of our community, which is super special. We have one of the few home-court advantages in the state. Whether people are going to be allowed to come to the game or not, or whether we are going to have people or not; that’s just going to be a bonus if people are there.
GD: As we have seen over the last year-and-a-half, things can change at any moment. Are you allowing yourself any room for disappointment, should word come down that there isn’t going to be a season, or if there is a season, it will be shortened?
RH: No. Zero. I’m allowing myself zero space for that. We were told by the CCCAA (California Community College Athletic Association) that we will be having a full season. There may be testing and there may not be, and we don’t even know the guidelines on that. If we did not play, I can’t even think of that. We will be playing.