With one season under his belt, 'Coach Vando' looking to take Golden Eagles to new heights
In his office tucked away at the end of the hallway, USU Eastern mens basketball coach Adjalma Becheli still has plenty of room to hang photos, posters and any other pieces of the information that a basketball coach needs to see on a daily basis.
But one picture on the wall of Becheli's office stands out to him and multiple times a day he looks up from his desk to be reminded of what it represents. In the photo is the Golden Eagles team from 2009-10 that finished third in the nation at the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament. Among the players celebrating with the third place trophy is coach Becheli who has seen himself shift to being the head coach over a three year period after working as an assistant for both the mens and womens teams.
It was one of the high points in the program's history and the picture serves as a daily motivator for Becheli and his players to reach that level of success again.
After a 14-17 season in his first season as the head coach of the mens team, Becheli said he was pleased with how the team played over the season despite battling injuries, depth issues and general bad luck at times.
"It was between a lot of excitement and a lot of frustration," said Becheli when discussing his first year as head coach.
Becheli, commonly referred to as 'Coach Vando' by those around him, and the Golden Eagles came into the season as a bit of an unknown with a roster filled with plenty of newcomers who joined the team at the last minute. While the team had little time to get acclimated with each other and learn the new offensive and defensive systems, Becheli said the team put in a lot of work into the little time they had together before the season started and looked ready to go.
But injuries quickly crept up over the early part of the season as the depth of the team was quickly tested. Near the end of the season and the latter part of the Scenic West Athletic Conference schedule upon the team, only seven players were available to play in games, a challenge Becheli said was "extremely difficult to overcome".
"We were down to seven players total and we only had one guard on the roster," he explained. "Every player had to contribute down the stretch."
With a smaller rotation to work with, Becheli said he had to completely revamp much of what the team was doing on both sides of the ball. While the players had to quickly learn a new style of play, Becheli said he also had to closely monitor how hard the team worked in practice, how much time they were on the floor playing in games and much more.
"The injuries happened and then we had to change our style very quickly which was tough on the team but they continued to battle and never quit at any point during the season," he said.
Dealing with injuries is unique because it can happen to anyone at anytime, but play is the SWAC is always a tough deal no matter the team. Going on long road trips to North Idaho College, College of Southern Idaho, Snow College and Salt Lake Community College are one thing, but those teams are also regularly ranked in the top 25.
"Playing in the SWAC is tough especially when you play teams like Southern Idaho, North Idaho and Salt Lake three times in a season. You've got to be able to make the adjustments the second and third times you play them," he said.
He looks at SWAC play in a simple way. The first time you play a SWAC team provides an opportunity for an upset, the second time requires adjustments to be made and the final time around requires having toughness and physical play to overcome their opponent.
With the season now over, the time for rest is nowhere close for Becheli and assistant coach Carter Roe. Both coaches have been out on the road watching potential recruits, talking to colleagues from around the U.S. and in other countries, watching video and putting together what needs the team has going into next year's team. Becheli said he is shooting to have his teams be competitive year in and year out and he has his eyes focused on 2014-15 as the SWAC tournament will return to Price for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The Golden Eagles used the home tournament as a springboard to the NJCAA National Tournament winning a number of close games that Becheli said was possible thanks to the support of a raucous home crowd.
"We're looking to get a great group of freshmen together this year and build the team back up," Becheli explained. "Carter and I are trying to find the right players who are willing to work hard, become better athletes at USU Eastern, be willing to compete against some of the best players and teams in the country and represent the school in the best way possible."
While he now has a full year as a junior college basketball head coach under his belt, Becheli said he is still thankful for an opportunity he didn't always think was possible.
"Being hired to be a head coach here was really big for me," he said. "I love being able to help the players on the team to become better basketball players and teaching them how to play the game the right way."
With the 2012-13 season proving to be an interesting season from start to finish, Becheli said he is looking forward to the chance of getting the Golden Eagles back to the top of the SWAC standings and a place in the NJCAA National Tournament. He won't have to look far as the team photo in his office from three years ago provides a daily dose of motivation that carries him through each day.
"We're very excited for next season and we're working really hard on recruiting right now," he said. "It's a challenge to do all of this, but it's fun and I love it."