I sit down to talk with first-year Mount Saint Mary's head coach Jamion Christian about what it's like to coach his alma mater, where he sees his team going this coming season, and whether it's possible to want to win too badly.
Mid-Major Madness: Is coaching at your alma mater everything you thought it would be?
Coach Christian: It's been a great experience. (Former head) coach (Jim) Phelan comes by once or twice a week; I did not anticipate how much he's been around and willing to help while I've been adjusting to my role over the last six months. This is a program with a great history - it doesn't get talked about much, but there's a great history and surroundings.
MMM: Has coaching at your alma mater presented any particular challenges or benefits?
CC: Well, it's been fairly easy to connect with the alumni base and work on bringing them back in. (Former head coach) Milan (Brown) did a good job, but any time you change between three coaches in three years, you're going to lose some alumni base.
As far as challenges, our league is becoming so good. Long Island, Wagner and Robert Morris at the top presents a definitive upper tier, and the challenge is breaking into the top four of a great conference like ours.
MMM: You are returning most of last year's rotation, while adding in Sam Prescott (transfer from Marist, averaged 11.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg in soph '10-'11). Will Prescott step right into a starting role? How do you see the rotation changing from what took the floor last season?
CC: With all our guys, it's all about making the journey and coming together. I see Sam fitting in because he's a big, athletic wing - the thing I love the most is that he's a high practice guy. Every rep he goes as hard as he can, and he leaves it out there on the floor.
MMM: Part of the team's 8-21 record last season was a 2-7 mark in games decided by 5 points or less - what needs to change in order to make those kinds of games break in your favor... or avoid those kinds of close contests to begin with?
CC: Our style of play will help with that - we work at creating mental and physical fatiguw within our opponents. Our group growing together will also make a difference; the team that grows together the fastest and strongest will win those games. We also work on special situations every day, and we make it a priority to finish strong.
MMM: Your team faces a very challenging non-conference schedule; Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Indiana and Western Michigan, all on the road. What are your goals for games like that?
CC: Well the first thing is, any time you step on the floor you are looking for a win. I like a challenging schedule, because I want guys to believe in themselves. I've seen first hand during my year at VCU what a good win can do for your confidence, and I think that's the only way.
These games give our team an understanding of how to play to that level, the one that's required to defeat a top opponent - then, when they get to tourney, your team has confidence to win a game like that.
MMM: Since it's in your conference, I wanted to ask you about the news from Long Island University. Do you think the school handled their business appropriately?
CC: You know, with those campus issues...you dont get a chance to know all the details of it. With the information that we outside the school see, it's closer to rumor than fact. Without knowing the complete details, all we can do is speculate; (school administrators) had more details of what is right and what is wrong.
These schools are still a place of higher education, so they are not only thinking about basketball, but about every student, especially a high profile place like Long Island.
MMM: What will anyone who followed the team last season be surprised by this year when your team takes the floor?
CC: I think they will be surprised at how hard we play; we call it mayhem, forty minutes of high rotation, full floor man-to-man defense. It's a test, not for the faint of heart; it's about being high energy and having a passion to do something bigger than yourself.
You want to recruit a certain skill level, but you also have to recruit a certain mindset and composition. You need a guy who wants to go to Georgetown and win, to knock off the big guy - hopefully you can find guys with a huge chip on their shoulder.
MMM: Do you have a chip on your shoulder?
CC: [Chuckles]. Yeah, I would say that I do - working in this field, you're a competitor, so you want to be the final guy standing at the end of the day - and that's especially true as an alumni of the program.
MMM: Do you think it's possible to care too much?
CC: We can only focus in on one thing at a time; the best way to have a great team is to focus on the daily things. We call it being process driven - I just have to focus on the process, workout by workout, to achieve that big picture end goal.
Everyone should be asking themselves "what can I do today to help my team get better," and getting everyone to do that will lead to success. I think I definitely want it too badly on a daily basis, but I think that it helps us. Fighting for perfection, that will help you in the long run.
If you can try to be perfect in all those daily aspects of the process, then the results will show up in the end.