Two years ago this week, “dumpster fire” would be an apt description of San Jose State men’s basketball. The roster lacked depth, due to injuries and disciplinary issues. Unless the opponent was below Division I, a loss was a sure thing. The current players had to pay for the sins of their predecessors’ unsatisfactory Academic Progress Rate with a lighter practice schedule.
Fast forward to this week, which San Jose State enters with a 14-11 (7-7 Mountain West) record. As head coach Dave Wojcik has slightly over a year remaining on his contract, the improvements under his watch make the case for him keeping his job in the long term.
The latest two recruiting classes have brought the highest level of talent to The Walt in recent memory. Sophomore forward and leading scorer Brandon Clarke was conference coaches’ choice for Sixth Man of the Year in 2016 and has earned three Player of the Week honors, the first for San Jose State in four years. Ryan Welage, another sophomore forward, is also a reliable scorer. Freshman guard Terrell Brown has risen from walk-on to a streak of six consecutive games in double figures beginning on Jan. 25 at Colorado State.
Regarding academics, San Jose State’s official biography of Wojcik says that the team “raise[d] its grade point average one full point” leading up to the 2015-16 season. In Wojcik’s first three seasons, every senior on each roster completed his degree, and there have been no known cases of players becoming academically ineligible. These factors helped improve the Academic Progress Rate enough to restore full practice time in 2015.
Given the many losing seasons in the past decade, being 14-11 is relatively fortunate. These wins included breakthrough win streaks and victories over certain opponents. The recent four-game winning streak was the first in conference play since 1996, the year San Jose State made the NCAA Tournament. On Feb. 4, San Jose State beat New Mexico for the first time in program history. The Feb. 7 win over San Diego State was the first since 1999.
The increase in wins has also boosted home attendance. Average home attendance this season is at 1,784, the highest in the Wojcik era. The past three home games have had attendances of 2,000 or more, the first such streak since 2014. Also, the Feb. 7 San Diego State game had the perfect formula for enhancing San Jose State’s brand: a national telecast on CBS Sports Network, a rowdy student section in a crowd of over 3,000, and students storming the court after the buzzer.
Finally, from my personal interactions with Wojcik over the years, I can say that he has approached his job with nothing but class and dignity. He risked his win-loss record in 2014-15 to show that no player is above the rules. Not only does he talk about values like character and academic success, but his teams have shown such values. Unlike the former football coach, Wojcik has never made excuses for losses.
The results on the court, in the stands, in the classroom, and in the overall culture make the case for president Mary Papazian and interim athletic director Marie Tuite to commit long term to Wojcik as head coach.