When GE Coleman was hired as the new University of Hawaii at Hilo basketball coach in July, he had to hit the floor running while trying to bring in talent to upgrade his roster.
Now, a little over two months into the job, the 31-year-old Coleman has brought in eight recruits to join six returnees and a promising local walk-on to bolster a team which went 6-19 overall and 4-13 in the Pacific West Conference last year.
“Our goal was to bring in more athleticism to the program and I think we accomplished that,” said Coleman, the former Central Washington University associate head coach who was hired July 1 as the Vulcans coach.
“We’ve added some size and quickness to the team so that we can play the type of basketball we want to play — putting defensive pressure on for 94 feet,” Coleman said. “We really want to get after it defensively. We’ll use four or five presses, and then we’ll play man 85 percent of the time when we’re in the half court.”
Coleman and assistant coach Tyson Sturza hit the recruiting trail hard in July and August and believe they’ve brought in enough talent to make a difference in their first season at UH-Hilo.
“We’ve got some athletes and added more quickness,” Coleman said. “But the biggest thing now is to get them into shape to play the type of basketball we want to play. We’ve also got to get them to play together as a team, on both offense and defense, if we’re going to be successful.
“But I like the guys on the team and believe we can have a really solid season. I know everyone will work hard and if we can all be on the same page, we’ll be able to do what we need to do.”
The recruits include:
• Jeff Perkins, a 6-foot-6 junior from Seattle. He transfers from Utah State University-Eastern where he averaged 10.2 points per game on a 14-17 squad.
• Dom Campbell, a 6-6 junior from Apple Valley, Calif. He played last year at Tacoma Community College under coach Carl Howell. Limited by a foot injury, Campbell played only 12 games and averaged 2.8 points per game.
• JaMario Clayton, a 5-9 combo guard out of Durham, N.C. He averaged 26.1 points while playing at Ocean County College in Toms River, N.J. and earned JC All-America first-team honors.
Clayton scored over 1,000 points in his two seasons at the New Jersey junior college.
Former UH-Hilo standout Andy Smith, the current Ocean County College head coach, helped Coleman sign the high-scoring Clayton, who is a junior.
• Yevgeniy Dyachenko, a 6-4 junior shooting guard from Sacramento, Calif. He played last year at powerful Yuba Community College, shooting over 50 percent from 3-point range and leading the state in 3-point shooting percentage.
“Yev played in a really strong program at Yuba and his coach called him the best shooter he’s had in 18 years at the college,” Coleman said.
• Darius Johnson-Wilson, a 6-6, 250-pound sophomore forward from Hilltop, Wash. He played at Tacoma CC last year and gives the Vulcans a strong inside presence.
• Kevin Dancer, a 6-6 junior forward from Pasadena, Calif. He played at Tacoma CC last year, averaging 19 points and was named the league’s most valuable player.
“Kevin is extremely athletic and can get to the rim,” Coleman said. “From 17 feet and in, he’s a scorer.”
• Darnell Williams, a 5-11 junior guard from Hilltop, Wash.
“Darnell’s younger brother played for us at Central Washington,” Coleman said. “Darnell is a deadly mid-range shooter and could be a dynamite defender for us.”
• Joey Rodriguez, a versatile 6-foot junior point guard who played at College of Marin and was named all-conference. He can play either guard spot and is an excellent defender.
Rodriguez was signed in June by then-Vulcan assistant coach Zac Zepponi, who oversaw the UH-Hilo men’s basketball program for two months after former coach Jeff Law resigned after 15 seasons to coach at Western New Mexico. Zepponi is not returning as an assistant under Coleman.