San Jose State hoops looks to move up in MWC
San Jose State head coach Dave Wojcik seemed like he didn’t have a care in the world when he faced the media at the recent Mountain West Media Day in Las Vegas.
Wojcik, starting his fourth season at the helm of the Spartans’ program, is coming off his best season thus far. San Jose State went 9-22 overall, including 4-14 in the Mountain West.
“I think we¹re in a good place right now,” Wojcik said. “We return a lot of players (seven, four starters) and we¹re a year older. The off-season was great. We had a good recruiting class.”
Forwards Ryan Welaga (10.4, 5.2), Cody Schwartz (7.0, 5.2), MW Sixth Man of the Year sophomore Brandon Clarke (8.8, 5.6), and guards Isaac Thornton (5.3, 2.7), Jalen James (4.5, 1.9) and Jaycee Hillsman (4.5, 1.2), and Gary Williams Jr. (6.8, 2.3) all lettered last year. Redshirts Brandon Mitchell, 6-9 Ryan Singer and 6-11 Ashtin Chastain are back with the program.
When Wocjik took over, he had worked at programs like Boise State, Xavier, Wake Forest, Tulsa, Dayton and James Madison, all established programs. San Jose State has been anything but. The Spartans have made just three NCAA appearances and won just three conference championships, the last being in 1996 for both.
“I’ve been trying to change the culture in general, not just the basketball program, on campus and in the community,” Wojcik said. “I’ve gone out in the community and shook hands whenever I can. One thing we have going for us is that the Mountain West is a great conference.”
Go back over San Jose State’s schedule in recent years, and you will find a plethora of losses by eight points or less. That’s a play here or a play there. For whatever reason, SJSU has had trouble closing out games. Last year, SJSU lost four games by eight points or less in MW play. In non-league games, the Spartans had three losses by eight points or less. With a little bit of luck, the Spartans could have been a .500 team.
“We¹re so young and inexperienced,” said Wojcik. “I expect us to do a better job of finishing games this year.”
Welage and Clarke are both excited for the upcoming season. For a freshman to win Sixth Man of the Year Award is pretty impressive. He may have a larger role this year.
“I should be starting, but I truly don¹t care as long as I play a lot,” Clarke said. “If I start, I can bring that energy from the start of the game not when I come in for the first time.”
“I¹m excited for the season,” Welage said. “We have a lot of guys back. In the off-season, I focused on ballhandling and be more of a consistent 3-point shooter.”
Welage shot a team-leading 36 percent from beyond the arc. Clarke shot 63 percent though he only took about six shots a game. He was the team’s fourth-leading scorer.
“Brandon is very athletic and knows how to play the game,” Wojcik said. “He has a high motor. I know he¹ll be a 10 (points) and 7 (rebounds) guy this year.”
Wojcik & Co. face their strongest home schedule in recent years with Portland, Denver, Santa Clara, Bowling Green and Southern Utah coming to town. The Spartans have 18 home games, the most in recent memory.