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Heath Schroyer Year One

March 4, 2003 Columns No Comments

A Sigh of Relief

by Jed Tai

Close the books on Year One of the Heath Schroyer era at Portland State.

With no post-season in sight because of their last place rank in the Big Sky conference standings, PSU’s home game Saturday against first place Weber State was its last contest of the season. And despite a gritty effort, the Vikings fell to the Wildcats in their finale, 83-73.

Although it wasn’t a season to fondly remember for Viks fans – their final record of 5-22 set a school record for losses in a season and worst shooting percentage – it was a year that allowed Schroyer and his staff to implement their system, build interest in the program, and learn from their experiences.

It almost started out as if the Vikings might end things on a high note, by pulling off an improbable upset against Weber State, a team that entered the game undefeated in conference play. Behind 60.9 percent shooting and the senior backcourt of Kevin Briggs (14 points) and Jeb Ivey (12 points), the Vikings fought their way to a 41-36 lead at the half.

Unfortunately for PSU in the second stanza, it quickly became clear who the better team really was. Utilizing their size and strength inside, Weber State didn’t take long to take over the game. By the halfway point of the half, the Wildcats held a commanding 11 point lead, at 65-54. Meanwhile, the open looks PSU had in the first half dried up, and a 22-9 rebound deficit after halftime caught up with them. The Vikings could never get any closer than eight points the rest of the way out.

Despite the loss, the Vikings played the way they played the entire season: they never gave up. PSU battled Weber State to the very end.

“The greatest tribute you can give them is how hard they play,” said Weber State head coach Joe Cravens. “They were like killing a snake; we just couldn’t get them dead. They kept coming.”

The game was the final time in the green and white for Briggs and Ivey, who finished out their careers with 20 and 18 points respectively to lead the Vikings. Both came out of the game with seconds left to appreciative applause from the 756 on hand at the Stott Center. Clapping the most of all was Schroyer, who couldn’t say enough about what he got from his two seniors all year long.

“I’ve appreciated everything they’ve done,” he said. “They gave me their heart and soul all year and I’m committed to helping them by doing whatever I can to help them succeed in life. They’re great young men and they’re going to represent the institution and this program really well in the future.”

Both Ivey and Briggs hope to continue their careers in the sport, whether it be playing or even coaching down the road.

“Remain young at heart for as many years as possible, and see what happens,” said Ivey when he was asked what was next in his future. “I’m willing to do whatever I can to keep on playing.”

As for head coach Heath Schroyer, you couldn’t have asked for a tougher first year on the job. But after a year filled with injuries, player defections, and tough losses, what possibly could he have learned?

“Patience. I learned patience,” said Schroyer. “But I also learned how bad I missed winning. You never get tired of winning. But I learned that these kids here have a lot of heart.”

Others on the outside can empathize with Schroyer’s pain.

“It’s tough that first year when you’re trying to change an attitude,” said Cravens. “That first year is just like a roll of the dice. He’s obviously had some injuries that had a lot to do with it, and he had some kids that weren’t willing to make the sacrifices that he demands that you make.”

“But I think they’ll be a contender next year,” he said. “This year was a change of attitude year for them and I think that was his main goal, and I think he’s accomplished that.”

Thus, the final chapter of Year One has been written. Schroyer is eager to turn the page to start Year Two.

“We’re going to get better,” he said. “We paid for sins of the past this year. But we got through it and now it’s time to (recruit our kind of) guys, and continue to get the guys that are here better. Once we do that, we’re going to be successful.”

“Next year starts Monday.”

Not Taking It for Granted

There have been rumblings that Weber State could make its way into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection if they don’t happen to win the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Some of the factors mentioned in their favor – in addition to their perfect conference record – have been their projected RPI rating in the 40s, and that across the nation, it’s been a fairly weak year for “mid-major” programs, allowing someone like Weber State to slip into a spot that normally would be reserved for someone else.

However, as much as this talk has been going around, Weber State head coach Joe Cravens isn’t buying into it.

“I feel like we’ve got to win the Big Sky Tournament to reach the NCAAs,” he said. “I have no confidence that if we get beat in the conference tournament that we’ll make the NCAA tournament.”

To that end, the Wildcats will need to concentrate on earning that automatic bid on their home floor.

“We’ve got to win two games, it’s as simple as that,” he said. “We’ve got to come out and play hard, and play solid basketball.”

Cravens won’t even get into speculation about possible NCAA tournament seeding or anything like that.

“First things first, I’m concerned about our very first game of the tournament,” he said. “If we’re fortunate enough to win then we’ll worry about the second one.”

Pilots Ready to Head Down South

The Portland Pilots have finished the season strongly, having won two of their last three games on the road – including a stunning upset of WCC first place team Gonzaga at The Kennel. On Saturday, the Pilots completed the regular season with a 75-63 win over Santa Clara. Freshmen Eugene Jeter and Donald Wilson, who have slowly become head coach Michael Holton’s best players, led the way for UP with 24 and 13 points respectively.

The Pilots now move on to the WCC tournament in San Diego, where under the new tourney format, they will have to win four games to earn the league’s automatic bid. The #6 seeded Pilots (they earned a tiebreaker over Loyola Marymount based on their projected RPI) will face LMU on Friday, March 7, with the winner of that game to face #3 seed San Francisco the following night. The winner of that game will face #2 seed San Diego for the right to play in the Championship game on March 10.

Looking to Secure Bids

Oregon and Oregon State entered this past week looking at their pair of games at home against the Southern California Pac-10 schools as necessary wins crucial to their post-season hopes.

For Oregon, the NCAA Tournament was at stake. What started out as a brilliant year has quickly gone south, with the Ducks scrambling to make sure they have an invitation to the Big Dance. Given that next week was a tough road trip to Arizona, Ernie Kent and company knew that their last two home games of the year would be absolutely critical. After a 79-66 comeback win over USC on Thursday, the Ducks put it to hapless UCLA on Saturday on national television in a record 79-48 rout. With the two victories, Oregon ensured itself of a winning conference record and a sigh of relief from its fans. The Ducks will now concentrate on getting itself a decent seeding from here on out.

For Oregon State, the visions weren’t as grandeur. Coming into the week with a 12-11 record, the Beavers needed at least one win to ensure a spot in the eight team Pac-10 tournament, not to mention keep alive any hopes of possibly getting an NIT bid. While Thursday night would be a disappointment as OSU fell 69-66 to UCLA, the Beavers bounced back and got their Pac-10 tourney bid by nipping USC, 61-60, in the final home game for seniors Philip Ricci, Brian Jackson, Jimmie Haywood, and Mike Cokley on Saturday. Any wins from here on out will likely be gravy for Jay John’s team, although if they can maintain at least a .500 record, the NIT may very well be a possibility.


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