We’ll be going live from coach Robb Akey’s National Signing Day news conference at 12:15 on Wednesday, Feb. 1. We will also have a full recap and (better quality) video piece up as soon as we can.
The Vandal men’s basketball team is in full stride, preparing for one more exhibition game against Lewis-Clark State College before opening the season against Eastern Oregon. During our weekly show tonight on local channel 8, we will be taking a look at a young man making a big difference for the Idaho Vandals…but if you don’t want to wait that long, you can catch the piece right here, right now.
Djim Bandoumel is a junior college transfer player who has some uniqueness among him — the most obvious being he played for the Canadian Men’s Development National team, the Canadian version of the Olympic Development teams here in America. Bandoumel was kind enough to give us some of his time to discuss his life, and his impact on the Idaho Vandal squad.
We’ll also have a in-depth written story for Bandoumel at some point this week for those who are more text savvy :)
With his flowing locks and dead-eye shooting, Jeff Ledbetter has had no problem at all making the transition from sunny Southern California to the wintry Idaho Palouse. The junior guard, who hails from Irvine, Calif., where he starred for the Irvine Valley Lasers, wasted no time establishing himself as one of the Vandals’ top threats from downtown.
In his first Division I game, on the road at Utah, Ledbetter exploded off the bench for 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting, and nailed four of six shots from beyond the arc. Those buckets were key to the Vandals’ season-opening 94-87 upset of the defending Mountain West Conference champion Utes.
While Ledbetter has not had a big-numbers night like that since, as coach Don Verlin plays with lineups and rotations, in virtually every game he’s provided a spark or forced defenders to take notice.
Take Sunday night’s victory over #25 Portland, for example. Jeff played a key role in a quick 8-0 Idaho run midway through the first half that broke the back of the visiting Pilots.
First, he dished to a wide-open Marcus Lawrence, who drilled the Vandals’ first 3-pointer of the afternoon. Just 57 seconds later, it was Ledbetter’s turn to score. Finding himself in position at the top of the key, Jeff pump-faked, stepped back and canned a contested trey. It was his only field goal of the night, but was it ever a big one.
Plus, he’s already grabbed a share of one honor: best hair in the WAC.
We sat down with Jeff last week to find out why he chose Idaho, how he’s developing as a student and an athlete and where he hopes the Vandals will go this season.
How did you get your start in basketball?
As far back as I can remember, my dad grew up playing basketball and my two brothers were playing, so a ball was put in my hands from day one.
I went to Orange Lutheran, and high school ball was a lot of fun. We had a great crowd, it was great to play in front of your friends. We never won CIF or state or anything but it was a fun time and a really good learning experience. It was the perfect school for me to go to.
Tell us about your career at Irvine Valley, and how did you end up with the Vandals?
I ended up going there after high school, I had a shoulder injury so I sat out and put on a bunch of weight, like 20 or 30 pounds. I knew I had to work hard, because my ultimate goal was to get to D-I.
My teammate, Kashif Watson, came up here first. I heard nothing but good things about Idaho and Coach Verlin and everyone, so I made it my mission to get up here too.
Moscow must have been quite a change!
Yeah, it was a lot different. I came out here in the summertime and didn’t know what cold meant, but I loved it from my first visit. All the guys chill together and we all get along, the chemistry was there from the start. I like having the college environment, too. I wanted to get away from California, experience something diferent, experience the seasons and the college town. As soon as I got here, I knew I wanted to play here.
Did you get any other offers?
There were a couple that I almost signed with after my freshman year, because Idaho didn’t have any scholarships available. But I decided to go back and play another year at Irvine. I didn’t want to rush into something because it’s a big decision to decide where you want to play. After that, Verlin called me up and it worked out how I wanted it to.
How do you think you’re developing as a player?
You know, I put on a lot of size in juco and that helped me a lot, getting in the weight room. You have to have strength to play at this level. A lot of is mental, though — you have to keep working, stay humble and never be satisfied with the way you are.
If you think you can always play better, you’ll keep getting better. That’s how we’ll have success this year. We are going to be the hardest-working team in the WAC.
What does it mean to put that Idaho uniform on and know you’re playing Division I?
It means a lot. That’s what happens when you work hard — you can do whatever you want. I had a few setbacks with injuries that made it really difficult. I spent a lot of time sitting out and wondering if my career was over and my dreams were done.
But my family and my close friends got me through those times. They kept pushing me to get back in there. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it.
You made a strong first impression in that Utah game.
It was fun, it was just fun to get out there and play. My adrenaline was rushing, I don’t even remember how I made those shots. It was fun to be with this group of guys, we played together, we all rallied together and won as a team. It wasn’t me, it was a team effort.
We sat down with Vandal center Marvin Jefferson last week, and the Silver and Gold’s big man had some big thoughts for us. So much, that we had to break up his interview into two parts!
Last week, we posted the first half of our interview, as Jefferson looked back at the season that was.
Today, we’ve got the second half — talking to Marvin about the Vandals’ hopes for the coming season, his plans after he completes his senior season for Idaho and his thoughts about the competition in the WAC.
The Vandals’ season tips off this week with scrimmages tomorrow in Coeur d’Alene and Friday in Moscow. The Silver and Gold Game begins at 6 p.m. in Memorial Gym, as part of Idaho’s homecoming festivities. The season-opening exhibition game against St. Martin’s is set for 8:05 p.m. on Nov. 6, also in Mem Gym.
How did your summer go? I understand there was a real emphasis on working together and building the whole team.
I was here the entire summer and didn’t go home once. All the guys were here for most of the summer. We all got together, worked, lifted, studied, it was almost like in season. We were self-motivated and that was the best part, I think. It’s not just the coaches pushing us — we all want to up our game.
A lot of the freshmen came in during the summer, they got on board with the system and we got to know them. Everyone on the team got to know each other — there’s no awkwardness, nobody on the team is left out and we’re real tight-knit.
It’s a step up from last year because last summer nobody was here. Those few extra months with everyone together and playing basketball, it’s going to pay off this season.
What are the parts of your game you want to work on?
Number one, it’s about staying out of foul trouble. I was just talking to Coach Verlin about that in my preseason meeting with him, and I have to do better at that.
Number two, free throws — I’ve been working hard on my free throws. I think I only shot 57 percent last year and that won’t get it done. I’ve been shooting a whole lot of free throws this summer.
Number three, I want to do better at rebounding. Also, I need to just get more mature as a player — be more consistent, take my time in the post and make smarter decisions about when to go score and when to kick the ball out.
What do you like about your game?
You know, I’m real critical of myself. If you ask me, I feel like I didn’t do too well at all last year. The thing I did best last year was get better, I felt like I did a good job working on my game. I need to keep doing that this year.
Idaho’s Big Man on Hardwood established himself as a true force in the Division I paint last year, and Marvin Jefferson is back for his senior season with high expectations for himself and his team.
Last year, Jefferson made his mark as the Vandals’ only true big man — he was the only player on the roster with the size and skills to match up at center in a conference filled with talent in the paint.
Averaging 9.1 points, 4.5 boards and 1.8 blocks (3rd-best in the WAC) per game, Jefferson’s production and presence were vital to Idaho’s unexpected turnaround season.
We sat down with Jefferson to talk about his time at Idaho, his development as a player and his outlook for the hoops season that’s about to begin.
In fact, we have so much good stuff from Marvin, we’re breaking it into two parts. In this first half, he looks back at his first year in a Vandal uniform — in the second half, he’ll talk about the upcoming hoops season.
How did you get your start in hoops?
When I was younger, I played football a lot and that was my favorite sport. But when I got to high school, I was taller than everyone and the basketball coaches were hounding me. I started playing my sophomore year and went straight to varsity. I’ve been playing ever since.
How’d you end up at Idaho?
I was playing my sophomore year at Modesto Junior College and I had a whole lot of schools looking at me. There were big-time schools, mid-majors, everyone. Then my first semester I failed a couple classes, and a lot of schools stopped looking at me. They gave up, they didn’t think I was going to make the grade.
That’s when Coach Verlin came to me. He was one of the last coaches to recruit me and I was almost committed to another program. He started talking to me and I just liked the situation that was up there. I came up here on a visit and I loved the community, the college experience and the atmosphere that Idaho has. All the players seemed cool and I thought that with all the guys coming in, we could make something good happen here.
Clearly, you did make something happen — from being picked last to having the best season in years.
I knew from the beginning that once all the guys came together and were playing as one, that we’d be good. There was no doubt in my mind, because it was about us proving everybody wrong.
The biggest problem last year was that all the guys were new and they were coming into a brand-new program, and we had to get the chemistry going and get to know each other and learn the system. We played our best basketball toward the end of the season because we all got a better feel for each other.
From walk-on to stand-out, wide receiver Max Komar has exploded to the forefront of the Idaho Vandals’ receiving corps in 2009-10.
In the first five games of his senior season, Komar, who hails from Auburn, Wash., leads the Vandals with 25 receptions for 408 yards and two touchdowns — nearly matching his career best of 445 before the year is even half-finished. Add in a couple kick returns and Komar has racked up 510 all-purpose yards, the most of any Vandal.
In the Vandals’ victory over Colorado State last Saturday, a game where Idaho’s rushing attack was mostly blunted, Komar came up huge — “Mad Max in the Thunderdome” wouldn’t be much of an overstatement. He led all players with 12 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown, setting a career-high in yardage.
We sat down with Max to talk about his breakout performances this season, the changes he’s seen through a 5-year tenure with the Idaho program and what’s behind the team’s unexpected surge to the front of the Western Athletic Conference pack.
You put in a career performance against the Rams when the team needed it most.
Yeah, my coaches told me before the game that I needed to step up with Daniel Hardy being out from an injury — he’s one of our better players on the offensive side. Coming in to the game I had this feeling that it would be a career night. I had all my friends and family from back home and I wanted to put on a good show.
I just got into a groove with Nate (Enderle). He kept finding me because I kept getting open and he kept throwing me the ball. In the second half we went to that two-minute, no-huddle offense and that helped a lot because we threw the ball on almost every play. That gave me a lot of opportunities to make catches. It was an amazing feeling out there, I looked up at the end of the game and thought ‘Wow, I had 12 catches?’ It didn’t really feel like that many, I thought it was 7 or 8.
What did it mean to you to be able to step up in that situation?
Being a senior, for me it’s about continuing to be better throughout my whole career. During the season I’ve seen myself keep improving. Against Washington, I set a career record with 111 yards. Now I beat that with 152. It’s nice to see that hard work and the time I spent perfecting my routes and working with Nate, it’s all paying off.
What was it like walking into the Dome and seeing it totally packed to the gills?
Wow, that was an amazing feeling. I want to thank our fans for that, I haven’t seen it like that in here for the four years I’ve been here, except for maybe Boise State. Seeing that for a regular season game is so great. It definitely helps us, you know. Colorado State had two or three offsides on offense and we’d like to thank our fans for making that happen. It’s a great feeling to represent your university in front of all those fans and make them proud. They’ve been waiting for a team to start winning games.
With a new coach, a history of failure and a ridiculously thin bench, not much was expected of the Idaho Vandals women’s basketball team last year.
But Jon Newlee’s squad shocked the Western Athletic Conference by posting its best performance since joining the WAC, going 13-15 (10-6 WAC) and earning a 3-seed in the WAC Tournament. Newlee was a deserving recipient of the WAC Coach of the Year award, despite the fact that the Vandals lost in the quarterfinals — the lack of depth finally showed through.
Key to the resurgence of Vandal women’s hoops was a 5-3 spark plug from San Diego: Charlotte Otero. Controlling the Vandals’ offense, Otero dished up 100 assists while playing an astounding and NCAA-leading 40.6 minutes per game — that’s right, she averaged more than a game a game, thanks to overtime games.
This year, the Vandals are looking for their first postseason berth since Pat Dobratz took them to the 1986 Women’s NIT Championship. Otero’s floor leadership will be key to that quest, and we sat down to talk with her about the coming season.
Vandal Nation: Talk about how your basketball career got started.
Charlotte Otero: I started playing in fifth grade. My best friend was playing, and I kind of went along with what she was doing. I really loved it, and I was just good at it. Our high school (San Diego High) was really good, we never lost a game in our league for four years. We were league champions all four years, went to the state tournament twice and lost once in the final. The experience was great — I got to play with big-time players like Charde Houston, who went to UConn and is now in the WNBA.
What brought you to the University of Idaho?
I was originally going to try going to a JC in Arizona. It was fairly close, it had a four day school week so I could come home and visit my family. I signed there, but then my high school coach said, “Go try Idaho, give it a chance.” I said, “I don’t want to go, it’s Idaho, I don’t even know what’s out there, I don’t even know where that is!” But they convinced me to come out on a visit, the day after I graduated high school, and that changed my mind — I wanted to come play up here.
San Diego to Moscow, that must have been quite a change.
To be honest, at first I hated it. It took some getting used to, but I love Moscow now, it’s such a second home. I really don’t see myself moving back to California. I don’t know where I’m going to stay, but I love the small town atmosphere and the snow’s even growing on me — for the first couple months, anyway!
Talk about the difference you’ve seen Jon Newlee make in the program, as compared to his predecessor, Mike Divilbiss.
Things are a lot different. Everything’s more fun, the game is more our style of play, the way I want to play. Before, it was all about slow it down, run this play, run that play. Now we run up and down the court all the time. It makes the game so much more fun to play and I’m sure it’s much more fun to watch. We also get a lot more support out of our coaching staff. Having coaches who have more experience and know what they’re doing has helped us as players, because we have much more confidence in what they’re telling us to do.
Princeton McCarty’s unassisted faceplant a yard shy of the end zone in the Vandals’ victory last week over the New Mexico State Aggies is a sure bet for the year-end sports blooper shows.
But that one moment overshadowed a strong season-opening performance from the sophomore running back. He punched in for a touchdown on the next play, and ended the day gaining 96 yards and one TD on eight carries. Overall, the Vandals rushed for 171 yards, with four players racking up double digits on the ground. The resurgent rushing offense is a key to the rebirth of Akey’s Army.
We sat down with McCarty this week to talk about his big trip, his big play and the Vandals’ big game Saturday against the Washington Huskies.
Vandal Nation: OK, we have to ask. What happened there at the goal line? Did you hit a divot or just get tangled up?
Princeton McCarty: I just tripped. That’s all I can really say. I don’t think there was a divot or anything, I just turned around to check behind me and bam, I was down.
Was it planned that you’d get a second chance?
Definitely. After I got to the sideline, it hit me. I realized, “Oh my God, I’m at the one, I gotta finish this off.” I told coach (Robb Akey) that I wanted the ball on the next play. The offensive line really set up that hole, though. The way they lined up, I knew there’d be an opening. I ran exactly behind Kevin Small and I remember his block just driving over a guy.
What does it mean to the team to get that first win in the season opener?
It’s big. You know, we feel confident now — it’s a new year, what’s happened before is in the past. This is exactly what we wanted to come out and do, because from spring ball on, your first opponent is marked on the calendar. You want to come out strong and that’s exactly what we did.
Quite a difference from last year’s opening game (a 70-0 loss to Arizona), wasn’t it?
Oh yeah, I forgot all about that. I had to think about who we played. Starting the season like this, it helps a lot. You realize your team’s identity, you see people make plays and you realize how good of a team you can be. We’re leading the WAC now. That’s a great feeling, and it makes us all want to build on that so we can stay there.
The 2009-10 Idaho Vandals men’s basketball schedule came under fire almost immediately after its release on Tuesday. Some fans have questioned the strength of the non-conference schedule, and in particular, the lack of a “marquee” home opponent.
Yesterday, we talked to coach Don Verlin about the teams the Vandals will be facing. In the second half of our interview, we asked Verlin why the Vandals’ slate isn’t chock-full of major-conference opponents — and in the process, found out much about his scheduling philosophy.
Vandal Nation: There’s been a fair bit of criticism of the schedule, much of it targeted at the lack of a perceived “marquee” opponent. Why isn’t there one?
Don Verlin: One of the things I’m working hard on is to schedule home-and-homes. You know, last year we played Gonzaga and Michigan State — those guys won’t come play here. Our fans will never see them. If you study college basketball, the home team wins about 80 percent of the games. I believe we need to have good, quality wins, and we’d love to play anybody in a neutral-court setting. But we’re not going to put our team at a disadvantage by doing two-for-ones or guarantee games.
But doesn’t it hurt the Vandals’ RPI, not to be playing more “power-conference” teams?
The RPI is based on the games you win. It helps a little bit when you play tough opponents and lose, but most of it is still calculated on wins. You don’t see teams get into the NCAA Tournament with at-large bids with fewer than 20 wins. With the games we play, the challenging regional matchups and teams like Utah and Washington State, I think we can have a real nice RPI.
So with the Vandals improving, fewer teams are interested in taking us on?
Right. Coaches aren’t stupid, for lack of a better term. They want to schedule games away from home they think they can win. If not, they want it on a neutral court or they want it at home. Last year when we scheduled, everyone wanted to play us. Now, nobody wants to play us. When you get better, even though it becomes a better RPI game for them, the other guys don’t look at it that way. They don’t want to lose. We’re all trying to schedule wins.
That’s one reason I’m really happy about the deal we have with Washington State to keep the rivalry going. We have a four-year agreement with them to play home-and-home, and that’s great on their part.
But we’re not the only school that has to deal with these problems. We have to do a better job of getting our schedule balanced. If you’re going to compete at the top of this conference, you have to look at the teams that are at the top. They’ve got schedules with 8 games at home, 6 on the road — and that’s where we need to be.
The 2009-10 Idaho Vandals men’s basketball schedule has been released, and we sat down yesterday with coach Don Verlin to find out his thoughts on the Vandals’ foes and the chase for the Western Athletic Conference championship.
Tomorrow, in the second half of the interview, we’ll quiz Don on his scheduling philosophy and the challenge of putting together a winnable mid-major schedule.
Vandal Nation: I have to say, this looks a lot like a Stew Morrill schedule down at Utah State.
Don Verlin: Well, I did them at Utah State, so it would look pretty similar! We don’t have as many home games as those guys have. They have 19 home games and are hosting a tournament — it’s a great deal for them. I wish we had more home games. That’s the thing I don’t like about our schedule.
You’re opening up the season with some real road challenges, at Utah and North Dakota State.
That’s going to be a tough trip. Utah, they’re a real good team that won the Mountain West and went to the NCAA Tournament last year. Then we’ve got to get to Fargo, not an easy journey, to play North Dakota State, which won the Summit League. Two of our first three games are played against conference champion, NCAA Tournament teams. Early on, we are going to find out exactly where our team is at.
Comparing the tentative schedule to the final one, you were able to move the Portland game up to early December. Was that so the student crowd will be in full force?
Yep, that’s exactly why we did it. It’s going to be on a Sunday afternoon, 5 p.m. start. I thought that after Sunday football, our fans would come out and watch us play. It’s going to be our first game back in the Dome and we’re excited about that. Portland’s a very good West Coast Conference squad, they beat Nevada and Washington last year and took Oregon to overtime. They return everyone so it’ll be a real test.
They beat us last year too.
Yes they did, and we’re going to want a little payback for that.
Hard to believe, but Idaho Vandals hoops will kick off in just over two months. We sat down with men’s coach Don Verlin to talk summer workouts, scheduling and his goals for the season ahead.
Vandal Nation: Talk about the Vandals’ progress over the summer.
Don Verlin: I evaluate the summer based on how we did in the weight room and how we did in the classroom.
Our guys did a great job in the classroom, they passed all of their summer classes and are moving toward graduation. We have no eligibility problems and everyone made academic progress.
Now, we also made tremendous strides in the weight room, Nate Barry, our new weight coach, he did most of the work. I thought one of our weaknesses last year was our physical strength and quickness, and I thought we improved tremendously there. That’s why we like bringing in new guys over the summer, like Joe Kammerer and Shawn Henderson, so they can learn how to lift weights properly, and not get hurt.
Our guys and Washington State had open gym together as well, just 5-on-5 pickup games. That gave the guys a chance to play together and play hard against good competition.
Contrary to what one might expect from a pair of hotshot point guards, Steffan Johnson and Mac Hopson seem to have a real good rapport on the court. Was that something you worked on building during Steffan’s redshirt year?
No, that was more up to them – they both have great mutual respect for each other’s game. They know that for our team to reach our potential, there’s going to be, a lot of times, I think, they have to be on the court together. They will be on the floor a lot together this year. As a coach, it’s a great luxury to have them. Both of them can play the point, both can play the off, either way. I’m going to rely heavily on Mac, Steffan and all our seniors to be team leaders this year. How well we do is going to depend on how much responsibility they take for the team.
In the 2007-08 season, Steffan Johnson lit up the courts of the Big West Conference as the Pacific Tigers’ star point guard. He earned First Team All-Big West honors, averaging 14.5 points, 4.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 46.2% from the floor and a solid 41% from downtown. Last year, he ran into some troubles at Pacific and was expelled. He transferred to Idaho to join Coach Don Verlin’s rebuilding program. Teaming with First Team All-WAC point guard Mac Hopson, Johnson could give the Vandals the most feared backcourt duo in the conference.
We sat down with Steffan last week for his first interview as a Vandal.
Vandal Nation: How’d you get your start in hoops?
Steffan Johnson: It was early. I started when I was two years old, thanks to my dad. He taught me the game and I was hooked right from the start.
Why did you choose Idaho?
Well, the Verlin connection helped for sure. (VN: Coach Don Verlin’s twin brother, Ron, is an assistant at Pacific.) I knew they were rebuilding at Idaho and as soon as I started looking to transfer, I liked what I saw in Coach Verlin’s program. I liked the players he was bringing in and I liked that it would be closer to home. I’m from Seattle and now my friends and family will get to see me play more often.
It seems like you and Mac Hopson have a really good rapport on court. Is that something you’ve been working on?
Not really – I think it’s more natural than anything else. I’ve been working hard to know how all my teammates play, and understand our strengths and weaknesses. With Mac and I, I think it’s just good coexistence on the court.