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.