Until 2013, Dave Wojcik had always been an assistant coach in a career spanning two decades. Then an assistant coach at Boise State, Wojcik, moved 670 miles southwest that April for his first head coaching position at San Jose State. Wojcik, 9-52 in two seasons, seeks to turn around a perennially struggling team and has recruited players he believes will create a more competitive atmosphere.
How did we get here?
Wojcik inherited a team in disarray. Athletic director Gene Bleymaier had just fired the previous head coach George Nessman, who had gone 86-161 in an eight-year tenure with just one winning season. Several players were dismissed from the team. In fact, the 2010-11 season was San Jose State’s only winning season since the 1990s!
The troubles would continue throughout Wojcik’s first two seasons. The team went 7-24 in 2013-14 and 2-28 in 2014-15. Not a single win last season was against a Division I opponent. That season also included NCAA-imposed practice time restrictions consequential from poor academic performance by players from Nessman’s final season. Wojcik even had to request the assistance of two SJSU football players temporarily mid-season, as a multitude of injuries and disciplinary issues depleted the roster.
This year, with an improved Academic Progress Rate, the team has been granted a full practice schedule. What difference has this made for preseason practices? “More repetitions, more opportunities to be around our players and to get them better,” Wojcik told Inside the Spartans on Oct. 31.
Breaking down the team
Wojcik, now in his third season, has two second-year assistant coaches, Mike Lepore and Tyler Ojanen. Joining Wojcik’s staff this year is Rodney Tention, previously assistant coach at San Diego. Tention also has head coaching experience at Notre Dame de Namur and Loyola Marymount and was also an assistant under Lute Olson at Arizona from 1998 to 2005, including Arizona’s 2001 NCAA Tournament runner-up season.
Three players return from redshirts. Freshman center Leon Bahner (6’11”, 240) and sophomore guard Jalen James (6’3”, 170) return to competition after premature, season-ending injuries last season for which they were granted redshirts. Senior guard Princeton Onwas (6’6”, 215), a transfer from Utah, becomes eligible this season after sitting out the previous per NCAA rules for four-year transfers.
The team returns just five letterwinners, including two starters, from last season. They are junior guard Isaac Thornton (6’3”, 190) and walk-on senior center Ivo Basor (6’8”, 240). Basor, a walk-on who transferred from Monterey Peninsula JC, started 14 games in place of the injured Bahner and averaged 2.8 points and 3.8 rebounds. With Bahner back, Basor is likely relegated to backup. Thornton averaged 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds. Of the three starters lost, one (Jaleel Williams) graduated, while two (Darryl Gaynor and Rashad Muhammad) transferred. Three key reserves are back: sophomore guard Danny Mahoney (6’0”, 160), junior forward Brandon Mitchell (6’6”, 215), and sophomore forward Ryan Singer (6’9”, 220).
Perhaps the most surprising name on this year’s roster is senior guard Frank Rogers (6’9”, 225), who was dismissed from the team in January for violating team rules. Wojcik told the San Jose Mercury News: “We asked him to do a variety of things to show he wanted to be part of the program...he took care of the things he needed to take care of off the court, and he looks really good right now.” Rogers, who transferred from San Francisco, averaged 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds in nine games played in 2014.
Six new players join the team, with five freshmen and one junior college transfer. The five freshmen are:
- Center Ashtin Chastain (6’11”, 245)
- Guard Brandon Clarke (6’7”, 190)
- Guard Jaycee Hilsman (6’6”, 225)
- Forward Cody Schwartz (6’8”, 205)
- Forward Ryan Welage (6’9”, 190)
Wojcik confirmed to Inside the Spartans that Chastain will sit out this year after injuring his foot during summer workouts.
Junior guard Gary Williams, Jr. (6’5”, 215) joins the Spartans after transferring from Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. He previously went to Castlemont High School in Oakland, Calif. “He’s very vocal, he’s just an unbelievable personality kid, [and] he does a great job leading,” said Wojcik about Williams. James, Onwas, and Williams are the three team captains, confirmed Wojcik.
This is a young team with some talented older players. How the team will finish is reasonably somewhere between “last year’s disaster” and “top half of the MWC”.
Breaking down the out-of-conference schedule
The Spartans played one exhibition game, a 112-59 victory over the NAIA’s Pacific Union on Nov. 7.
The team begins regular season play on Nov. 14, hosting Idaho. SJSU will play 12 non-conference games before beginning Mountain West play on Dec. 30 hosting Utah State. Of the 12 non-conference opponents, two are non-Division I. The Spartans also play three games at the Great Alaska Shootout invitational hosted by the Division II University of Alaska-Anchorage. They are scheduled to play Toledo on Nov. 25, with two other opponents to be determined. SJSU will play three OOC games against teams that had postseason appearances or winning seasons:
- Montana (Nov. 16, home): 20-13 (14-4 Big Sky), Big Sky Tournament runners-up and regular season champions, NIT first round
- Toledo (Nov. 25, neutral): 20-13 (11-7 MAC)
- Seattle (Dec. 20, away): 18-16 (7-7 WAC), CBI semifinals
The only game against a Power Conference opponent is a road contest on Dec. 8 against the Big East’s Marquette.