It seems like just yesterday that Hayden Lejeune was dominating opponents in high school basketball and leading the Sardis Falcons to provincials.
In fact, it’s been seven years since Lejeune led his school into the ranks of the elite in B.C. high school hoops.
And now he’s back, hoping to do it again in a different capacity.
After six years with the University of Victoria Vikes, the __ year old is volunteering his time as an assistant coach, taking what he’s learned and passing it on to the next wave of Sardis stars.
Lejeune is working with head coach Kyle Graves, who is also returning to the sideline after last coaching the senior boys squad in 2013, Lejeune’s last year.
UVic was an up-and-down experience for Lejeune, who took time to get comfortable at the Canada West U-Sports level.
UVic is a top 10-15 program in the entire country, and he barely played his first three seasons. But at the tail end of his career he was a starter averaging 11.4 points and six rebounds per game.
“There was a big adjustment period when I made that jump because I was so young, still a kid who needed to grow into his body. I was going against grown men and I just got destroyed,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to easy, but I did think it would be easier than it was, and it did get easier to compete as I got stronger physically.”
That been-there-done-that knowledge is now in his coaching tool-box.
Lejeune can look a 17 year old in the eye and tell them exactly what it takes to make it at the university level, and because his experience is fresh it carries more weight.
What also boosts his credibility is walking into the gym on practice night, grabbing a ball and executing a two-handed rim-rattling slam.
“No matter how many times I tell my players how I used to play and I’ve coached this and that, the moment Hayden comes into the gym and dunks it, they all of a sudden get excited,” Graves laughed. “They’re able to connect with him much easier.”
Lejeune remembers his high school days when Graves would “run us into the ground,” and he and his teammates would grumble about the drills he was running.
“We’d be like, why are we doing this? This is so dumb. But looking back, I wish I’d listened more,” Lejeune said. “You have to be able to run. You can’t apologize for being out of shape. It’s a must. There’s no excuses at the next level and if you don’t do it you’ll get chewed up and spit out.
“When I got to university, those guys were saying the same things Kyle was telling us all along, and I just wasn’t mature enough to realize it.”
Lejeune is still young enough where the players don’t view him as a dinosaur, and as long as he plays the same video games they do, he jokingly says he’ll be able to relate to them.
“The big thing I learned at UVic is to keep it different, keep them active and keep it fun,” he said. “If you have a team that wants to come to the gym and get better, it increases the amount that they do get better exponentially, just off the charts.”
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