Mid-Major Madness: So first I have to ask, how's the little guy (your son) doing?
It was so much fun getting a chance to experience the championship game celebration with him. We got a chance to play in the confetti, hold the trophy together. It was really great to have him around.
MMM: How did it feel to clinch that NCAA Tournament berth?
JC: It's just an amazing feeling. So much work goes into it; I've been coaching for ten years, been to the NCAA tournament twice and into a (conference) championship game six or seven times and it's hard to hold that hardware. It's great to go through that experience with your players, and a lot of times they don't realize how good they can be until they get that championship. Then they start to understand that all that craziness you've been talking and all that confidence you have in them is a reality.
MMM: Do you think those feelings were affected by how close you got last season, losing in the conference championship game?
JC: Definitely. We set it out as a goal this year. Every year in March we tell our guys "this is the time of year you want to be making your goals." I do think us playing in the game the year before helped us from having been there before and understanding the height of the moment. Both teams are about the same, but it's about the team that can handle the highs and the lows the best.
MMM: Are you surprised that you were able to reach the NCAA tournament in only your second season as head coach?
JC: I don't think so. You know me, I'm a real positive thinker. I think that any time you coach a team and focus on the positives and the things they do well, then their ceiling is limitless. If you're a great shooter and you work on it, who knows how great a shooter you can become. Our goal this year was the NCAA tournament, and I would never set a goal that was unrealistic. We made it, we felt like we deserved to be there, and it was the culmination of two years of hard work.
MMM: What do you think this trip to the NCAA tournament means for your program in terms of reputation and recruiting?
JC: I think it solidifies the fact that Mount basketball is back. We're going to be a contender for a long time. We've got guys who have experienced winning, which is the best experience you can have. Winning experience is the only experience that breeds winning. A tournament run always helps create buzz on campus that your basketball team is an elite program, and it's great to have that excitement on campus. So what we're talking about now is establishing those traditions so that the program can build on itself.
MMM: Often a run in the postseason is an opportunity to start working in strategy and shifting your plans towards next season - was that true for you even given the short duration of your postseason run?
It wasn't really true for us, we were just really locked in on Albany. I still think it helped our young guys to, if anything, see how hard postseason play really is.
MMM: Let me ask you about the game for a second; those Albany uniforms were really distracting, weren't they? Think you might try and follow suit?
JC: Very distracting yeah, they've got a good thing going for them. I don't think we'll do anything different than the clean look we've got right now, though.
MMM: Where did that great performance from Will Miller come from?
JC: He's played really well in big games this year; he made five threes in (the first half of) the game against Michigan State (back in November), and I feel like he's been really close. I think he's going to make ten threes [in a game] at some point in his career. He's an outstanding shooter, and that's why we brought him in here; there's more to his game in the future, but for where he's at right now, that was a skill we could capitalize on.
The way that Albany plays, if you have a four that can shoot from outside, he's going to have a lot of open shots. We thought they were going to leave him open and they did. I coached Troy Daniels at VCU, and I think Will is already ahead of him in terms of just shooting the ball - Troy's a bit more athletic, but Will's already a more consistent shooter.
MMM: So is this the beginning of multiple tournament appearances?
JC: Well, I hope so, I think we're starting to build something good and we've got a lot of confidence in March. I think my record in March is 9-2 or something ridiculous (note: 7-2 actually, plus 11-5 in February), so I think we have a lot of confidence we can win, especially on the road, in the tournament. We have confidence we can play these tough games on the road and find a way to win it, and I think that mentality served us well in the tournament.
MMM: Do you think the younger players got enough experience to soften the blow of losing multiple seniors heading into next season?
JC: I do. One thing we tried to do was to play our freshman a lot this season. Taylor Danaher and Gregory Graves will be back, and we wanted to build around the strengths of our players and how they can succeed. As our program changes we'll have to change how we play a little bit; we're going to have great size next season, including nine guys who didn't play this season.
Kristijan Krajina will be back for a sixth year, (Charles) Glover - who was the best guard this year - will be back after tearing his ACL. We'll add Andrew Smeathers, the transfer from Butler, and Chris Martin the transfer from Marshall, both tose guys are elite scorers and elite players. I like what we've got coming back. We probably won't shoot as many threes; we'll still press but we're not going to be as crazy with our press. I like the change; I think we'll be a more conventional basketball team now that we have the guys who can do it.
MMM: Wait, did you just say "we're not going to be crazy with the press"?
JC: Hahah, yeah. Well, we shouldn't need to be as crazy with the press since we'll be so much bigger, we won't have to go there as much. We're still going to try and create 16 turnovers a night; when we played smarter, we didn't need to run at the ball as much, and I also think that just because of that extra size we'll be able to trap better.
MMM: Do you think this success will have a tangible effect on future success?
JC: It's interesting how your kids' view of getting to play in the dance changes. When I was a student here, they had just gone in 1999 (under whatsisface). I didn't feel like the guys in the program were as appreciative of the work it took to get there.
The guys now have that appreciation. The task now is to work even harder every day, and now we'll start talking about working hard enough to win a game in the tournament. Let's win enough non-conference games that our record is 22-7 instead of 16-17. For a one-bid league, (reaching the big dance) is a huge opportunity. That's one thing you really have to fight against, making sure our guys know it's not guaranteed. I think we'll be alright in that regard.
My thanks, as usual, to Coach Christian for setting aside some time for us.