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Fueled By Grief And Hunger, San Jose State is Becoming Mountain West’s Cinderella

SJSU is no longer the Mountain West’s laughing stock.

NCAA Basketball: San Jose State at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose State cruised past San Diego State 76-71 Tuesday night, a game that won’t soon be forgotten by head coach Dave Wojcik and his players. It has been a challenging four years as a Mountain West member for San Jose State, but it finally appears to be hitting its stride.

With the win, SJSU improves to 5-6 in conference play this season. This is a fairly substantial benchmark for the Spartans, given that Wojcik’s teams had won just five conference matchups the last three years combined en route to becoming Mountain West’s designated cellar dweller. Last season was considered an improvement for SJSU, winning three of its first 11 conference games, but this season it already has five wins in 11 tries.

It hasn’t been easy mountain to climb for fourth year head coach Dave Wojcik. The Loyola graduate spent over two decades as an assistant coach before arriving at San Jose State prior to the 2013-14 season. His first three seasons were a rude awakening as well, with a combined W-L record of 18-74 and 5-47 league record. Wojcik’s second year was the most challenging, as San Jose State managed to muster just two victories the entire season - wins over non D-I schools Bethesda and St. Katherine. His team was 0-28 against NCAA D-I competition.

There is something noticeably different about this year’s team, however. Even despite losing its top two scorers Princeton Onwas and Frank Rogers to graduation in the spring, there appears to be even more leadership and cohesiveness with this younger group.

Tuesday’s win over San Diego State might end up being a turning point for this program. SJSU thoroughly controlled the momentum for 40 minutes (either tied or ahead for 67.1% of the game) against the Mountain West’s most decorated roster. The Aztecs have reached the tournament six of the past seven years and consistently fields the most talented roster year in and year out. But despite SDSU’s personnel and future hall of fame coach Steve Fisher on the sidelines, the Mountain West’s former whipping boy is morphing into a program that could be a factor in the conference for years to come.

A potential explanation to San Jose State’s current winning streak might not only apply to what’s happening on the basketball floor, but also off of it.

Dave Wojcik lost his father, Fred Wojcik, shortly after its emotional victory in Albuquerque over the New Mexico Lobos this past Saturday. Mercury News’ Jon Wilner published an article yesterday afternoon on Dave’s connection to his father and his turbulent week.

“He was our rock. You never think your rock is going to break or crack - it broke. He’s looking over us. He’s a guardian angel and I’m very proud to say he is my father,” Wojcik said after the New Mexico win. He was wearing a tie in honor of his father during the game as well.

Albuquerque Journal’s Geoff Grammer said after the game that he had never witnessed a louder and more passionate postgame locker room during his career. Wojcik’s players understood the circumstances of their coach and pushed as hard as possible to get the ‘W’ on Saturday. Those efforts have spilled in to this week, with a favorable matchup against the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV on Saturday. The Spartans could potentially be an even 6-6 in league play prior to its showdown at Fresno State on February 15.

San Jose State is quickly becoming the darling of this conference. With a roster that ranks 285th in the country in experience but is already blossoming under Brandon Clarke’s POY-esque season (18.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 60.9% FG) and Ryan Welage’s productive year (12.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG), this will not be the last we see from Wojcik’s Spartans.

Is there any other locker room you would want to be a part of right now?

Not me.