More than 5,000 Division I basketball games will be played this season. Someone has to go first. “Why not?" said the coach at Eastern Washington.
That’s why Jim Hayford’s Eagles and Texas Southern will be tipping it off next Friday in Cheney, Washington at the rather bleary hour of 8 a.m. PT.
That’s why, when the alarm goes off 90 minutes before dawn next Friday, Eastern Washington senior guard Parker Kelly, will consider jumping into a cold shower, like his parents used to make him do back in his AAU early-morning tournament days in middle school. “Actually, it worked,” he said over the phone. “I might use that.”
That’s why athletic director Bill Chaves is promising a secret new item at the Reese Court concession stands, since nachos won’t exactly match the hour. “I can tell you there’s something happening with our dining service,” he said. “I can tell you I think it’s sweet and has bacon on it.”
That’s why Hayford will be up with the goldfinches, trying to make sure his players have on their game faces before the sun ever shows. “The guys are going to be getting up at 5:30 a.m., whether they like it or not,” he said. “I’m a 5 a.m. guy. I’m right in my strike zone.”
They were originally scheduled to play this game at the more civil hour of 6 p.m. But that’s no fun. By then, many of the 157 Division I games that opening day of the season would have already been played. Hey look, there’s a noon CT game at Sam Houston State.
So instead, Chaves decided his school should go to the front of the line, even if it had to beat sunrise to do it. For the record, the Eastern Washington football team played the nation’s first game of the season, on August 23. They think a little differently in Cheney.
“We have a red football field. At the end of the day, anything’s possible,” he said. Apparently at the start of the day, too. “For our team, it’s kind of like the Ben Franklin game, right? Early to bed and early to rise.”
Hayford mentioned that “we kind of get encouraged to think outside the box,’’ and correctly noted that nobody would be calling him to ask about this game if it started at 6 p.m. “We’ve really been working hard to get our program to a place where I think it’s worth some attention, as we move into a real promising season.”
Indeed, opponents might have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat the Eagles this season. With four starters back in Hayford’s fourth season, Eastern Washington was picked by the coaches to finish second in the Big Sky. And this should be a good opener. Texas Southern was in the NCAA tournament last March.
To play during morning rush hour, Chaves first had to get his administration to agree. Then make sure his opponent was on board. “Texas Southern and Coach [Mike] Davis and those guys have been great. They were all in,” Chaves said. At least it will be 10 a.m. to the Tigers.
Here’s the question. If you play in the morning, will they come? Meaning the students? Chaves is curious to see. No organized events have been planned for that morning by the student body as yet, but as Chaves said, “Our students are kind of day to day and week to week. This will be Nov. 14. It might as well be 2018.”
Hayford is predicting a strong student showing, plus a side benefit, since they’ll already be up. “We should have a great attendance at all the 10 a.m. classes Friday.”
Except for Kelly. It’s not every day a guy has an excused absence at 10 a.m. because he might still be shooting some late free throws to seal a game. “Math 114,” he said. “That’s not a class I mind missing.”
One other upside. Eastern Washington is only 15 minutes from Gonzaga, which also opens that day. Finally, a chance to beat the nationally-regarded Zags, if only on the clock.
“They’re pretty good over at Spokane,” Chaves said. “They’re playing that night at 6 o’clock. It kind of gives us breakfast in Cheney and dinner in Spokane.”