Send to KindleCredit: John Medina, San José State Athletics
When Gene Bleymaier took over the athletic director’s job at San Jose State, the Spartans community knew that it hired an administrator that was proactive and would make putting Spartans basketball in the forefront a mission. He arrived from Boise State, where he had a 30-year tenure which had seen the Broncos change conferences three times and the Boise State football program become a national power. The vaunted blue turf was also installed during his tenure in 1986.
Bleymaier was also busy making the Broncos a player on the hardwood, which included hiring Leon Rice as the basketball coach. Bleymaier and Rice also brought in coach Dave Wojcik as an assistant three years ago. During that time, Wojcik learned the Mountain West and, as Bleymaier transitioned into the San Jose State job in May, 2012, Wojcik became a natural choice once the hoops job opened to try to lead the Spartans into the new MWC digs and the national picture.
“There was transition from the WAC to the Mountain West at Boise State as there was here,” Wojcik told College Chalktalk. “That helped my cause and made this job easier. The former AD at Boise State that hired us [Bleymaier] is at San Jose State and he knew what we did there.”
What they did – Rice and Wojcik that is – was lead the Broncos into the NCAA Tournament a year ago for only the school’s second time in 19 years. The task is similar at San Jose State, where the Spartans haven’t seen the tournament brackets since 1996. Wojcik noted that the essentials that he needs to be successful are in place in San Jose to get the program up and running and make it a staple in the Mountain West Conference.
“The big thing for me is the athletic director, the change of conferences, and the location (Silicon Valley, 30 miles south of the Bay Area), said Wojcik, “We want to recruit not just in California, but all over.”
The Spartans bottomed out in the WAC with back-to-back nine win seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12. The squad finished ninth in both seasons. Only one tournament appearance, the CBI in 2009-10, was on former coach George Nessman’s resume as the program finished eighth or below six times in his eight years.
“I think it takes a while,” Wojcik said on building and transitioning a program through uncharted waters, “We had to clean house. We added nine new players and we just want to bring in a culture and establish it and then hopefully, we can compete in two years.”
Wojcik and his staff scored a pair of three-star guards as part of that recruiting class, according to ESPN.com as Jalen James of Chicago’s La Lumiere School comes in as an option on the point while Rashad Muhammad of Las Vegas power Bishop Gorman will be a factor as a shooter on the perimeter.
The first-year San Jose State coach kept four players and two key performers in Chris Cunningham and D.J. Brown, the Spartans’ top two returning scorers from a year ago. Both players averaged over 30 minutes per game. Brown led SJSU in three-point baskets with 42 and managed 3.3 apg. Cunningham was the team’s leading rebounder with nine per game, averaging close to a double-double.
“D.J. was the point guard the last two years,” explained Wojcik, “We are hoping that both of their [Brown & Cunningham] game experiences will be a positive for us.”
Wojcik’s resume is impressive with over 20 years of experience and 11 postseason appearances. He played high school basketball in Wheeling, West Virginia for the late Skip Prosser, who achieved a great deal success at all of his stops, most notably Wake Forest and Xavier. Wojcik began as an assistant to legendary Lefty Driesell at James Madison during the 1991-92 season which led to him eventually rejoining Prosser as an assistant at Loyola (Md.) two years later. He then went to Xavier with Prosser in 1994.
“He helped set a dream for my brother (College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik) and I, as we were both from a small town,” said Wojcik of Prosser, “We said, ‘Why can’t we make it and dream big?’”
Wojcik’s dream has now led him to one of the most fertile states in the nation, as California is a major ground for mining basketball talent. He has a definite dream and vision of how to ascend the ladder at San Jose State. The campus lies in the beautiful Silicon Valley which Wojcik can certainly use as a recruiting tool in attracting excellent talent from outside the Golden State. He plans to take a different approach and create a more of a tight-knit atmosphere… one that he was immersed in at both Xavier and Wake Forest.
“My whole thing is not to use just JUCO recruits,” he said, “You have to get people who will be here four or five years and then sprinkle a JUCO kid. That’s what we did at Boise State and Xavier and that is what we are looking to do here.”
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- Ken Cross
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