Columbia seeks the Central Valley Conference title

Columbia College head coach Rob Hoyt talks with his team before practice Thursday afternoon.

At the beginning of each season, Columbia College head basketball coach Rob Hoyt feels he has constructed a roster that is better than that of the previous year. This year is no exception. And if it’s true that nobody knows more about the machine than the man who made it, you’d have to take Hoyt at his word and assume he’s got a well-oiled Claim Jumper machine ready to go.

Columbia has a roster with players from California, Florida and Maryland. And with returning sophomore stars Seth Coddington and Landis Spivey, Hoyt has a good feeling about the upcoming season.

“I think collectively, we have a deeper team,” Hoyt said from his office inside Columbia’s Oak Pavilion Thursday before practice. “We have 11 active players, so I think 1-11, we are much deeper than we have in the past. In the past, we’ve had typically one standout player, one very good player and two guys who are complementary to those guys and then guys who are good at their roles and filling gaps. We’ve had a good job of being successful with what we’ve had. Now that we have more depth with a higher basketball IQ, we’ll have the ability to absorb more information.”

The Claim Jumpers are coming off a 2018-19 season where they finished third in the Central Valley Conference with a 12-4 record. Columbia reached the playoffs, only to lose to Yuba City in the opening round 72-62. Hoyt has never won a conference championship since taking over for the Jumpers in 2013, but he feels his team is on the right path.

“I love the chase,” Hoyt said. “It’s hard. Our league is tough. All that we can control is our attitude and effort. We are going to try to be the best we can be. I don’t hope for any particular team to not do well or not to be good. If we are playing at our absolute best, I think we can beat everybody. I feel like we are getting closer and that we are going in the right direction and that’s fun. That’s why you compete.”

Columbia seeks the Central Valley Conference title

Freshman Jamie Gonzalez shoots in traffic during practice. 

Coddington and Spivey are Columbia’s top returning players. Spivey, from Langston Hughes Academy, in Stockton, finished his freshman season averaging 14 points per game and 5.2 rebounds. Spivey scored a career-high 38 points in a 105-50 win over West Hill Lemoore, and later had games with 31, 29, 21 and 25 points.

Coddington, a guard from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, average 13.7 points per game, had a shooting percentage of 49.8, had 6.9 boards per game and 4.6 assists. Hoyt believes that Coddington, along with Spivey, may be two of the top returning players in the conference.

“He (Coddington) could be the best player in the conference,” Hoyt said. “I don’t know what the other teams have, but when it comes to returning players, I think that he and Landis (Spivey) are the best returners in our conference.”

Columbia seeks the Central Valley Conference title

Sophomore Seth Coddington moves the ball up the floor.

Coddington knows that as a sophomore, he’s being looked at to not only play at a high level, but be a leader for his younger teammates. That’s a challenge he is willing to accept.

“I’m very comfortable with that,” Coddington said. “I have taken on more of a leadership role, where last year, I had to take more of a backseat. I’m ready to get the season started and perform.”

One major issue Hoyt had over the offseason was trying to figure out how to replace star forward Yosnier Cobas. As a sophomore, Cobas was Columbia’s most dominating player who led the team in rebounds.

“You’re not going to be able to replace him,” Hoyt said. “He’s a two-time all-state honorable mention player. If there was a Yos 2.0, we’d love to replicate that, but that’s not how that works. We feel comfortable with Kaleb (Carter) coming back. He’s really going to step up and be a shot blocker and protect the rim.”

Columbia seeks the Central Valley Conference title

Columbia sophomore Landis Spivey drives to the paint during practice. 

During each offseason, Hoyt takes a long look in the mirror and tries to figure out ways to improve himself as a coach. What worked, and what didn’t is a question he continuously asks himself. Heading into the 2019-20 season, Hoyt wanted to change the way practices were run. He wanted to eliminate things that would not directly improve his team, such as running sprints or drills for the sake of drills.

“There’s a lot of fluff in coaching and I think that coaches have these drills, and I’m guilty of it too at times, where it’s, why are you doing it?” Hoyt said. “Is it because you did it as an athlete and it makes you feel good as a coach? But if it doesn’t directly relate to how you play and what you do, then why are you doing it? Practice has either got to be competition, or development. If you are not developing or competing, then you are wasting your time.”

Hoyt feels that the team drills his team runs will circumvent the need for conditioning. His team is in shape and ready to play, but he doesn’t see the need in running them hard for no reason, when by the end of the year, they may have run out of gas, which has been the case over the past number of seasons.

Having a large roster is also a way Hoyt plans on keeping his players fresh. Coddington was one of the players who never came off the floor as a freshman. Now, with a deep bench, Hoyt can keep his guys fresh with constant substitutions.

Columbia seeks the Central Valley Conference title

Columbia freshman Makai Reaves moves the ball Thursday during practice.

“We are a lot deeper this year, so we won’t have guys playing 40 minutes like we did last year,” Coddington said. “Being deeper lets us keep that gas in the tank.”

Scoring points should not be an issue for the Jumpers. Along with Spivey and Coddington, Hoyt is excited with the abilities of Grayson Carper, of Clovis West High School in Fresno, along with Deshawn Bartley, Makai Reaves and Keith Shakes.

“We have a chance to be really fun to watch,” Hoyt said. “I think we are going to shoot it better than we have in the last three or four years. We have a lot of interchangeable pieces, who can play all over. We are going to be extremely flexible and well-rounded.”

Spivey added, “We have a good mentality. We all have a high motor and we want to play hard and fast.”

Joining Hoyt on the bench again is legendary coach Rick Francis and first-year assistant Kyle Gouveia. A 2014 Calaveras High School graduate, Gouveia played four years at California State University, Stanislaus, and even spent some time playing in England after graduating from college.

Columbia seeks the Central Valley Conference title

Columbia assistant Kyle Gouveia talks with players during practice Thursday afternoon.

“He has the right mindset coming in,” Hoyt said of Gouveia. “He wants to get into the coaching profession and he has the mindset of doing whatever he can to help. He doesn’t come in acting like he knows everything. He wants to learn from me and from Coach Francis and he wants to help.”

So, is this going to finally be the year that the Claim Jumpers end the season as CVC champions? If it is, the Jumpers will have to earn it every time they step on the floor and Hoyt knows it.

“Our conference is going to be arguably the best conference in Northern California,” Hoyt said. “The teams who will be good are going to continue to be good and the teams who are at the bottom, will improve.”

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