Although we’ve already previewed the NEC, too much NEC content is never a bad thing. St. Francis (PA) leads the pack in our preseason rankings, and Red Flash coach Rob Krimmel was kind enough to spend some time discussing the upcoming season.
Krimmel is a former Red Flash point guard that was an assistant before being named head coach in 2012. St. Francis (PA) has made two CIT appearances over his five years in charge of the program, and went 11-7 in NEC play a year ago.
Here’s what he had to say.
Q: When you took over as head coach in 2013 the team’s record was 5-24, but you have progressively improved the program ever since, how have you been able to build consistency and what is your main selling point in bringing recruits to Loretto?
Coach Krimmel: I have to give a lot of credit to the staff, recruiting is more than just selling a basketball program. Recruiting involves selling an institution as a whole , it starts with having people on staff who know the school very well. Four members on the coaching staff including myself, are St. Francis alums. Surrounding yourself with people who know the school enables you to share a vision and similar goals. Once you have a vision, you can sell that vision to recruits and seeing freshman buy into that vision throughout college until they are seniors is really special. I also have to give credit to the higher up administration at this school, they have done a wonderful job.
Q: Your team has the most production and experience returning in the NEC. What was the key for you and your coaching staff getting the majority of the team to stay together, in a conference decimated by transfers?
Coach Krimmel: This is a really challenging question to answer; with transfers becoming so prevalent in college basketball I still do not accept that as the new normal. It is difficult to get into all of the reasons why guys transfer because there are so many variables. I can’t keep a guy from transferring who wants to be closer to his family at home. Here at St. Francis we are proactive about it and talk about it with recruits during the recruiting process. My staff and I let it be known we have a four year plan, and talk to the recruits about buying into it. We aren’t afraid to start freshmen, and help them progress over four years which is a big selling point. Another thing that has really helped has been our locker room culture, out players share a great passion together which helps with the team chemistry.
Q: Keith Braxton’s buzzer beater to defeat Wagner in the NEC semifinals, and the conference championship game loss to Mount St. Mary’s were two big moments last year. What are some things the team learned from that experience, and what do you tell your team with this year’s high expectations?
Coach Krimmel: The most difficult part of being a coach, is seeing your team fail. But failure in basketball is ultimately inevitable. Honestly last season I was worried about our team’s leadership after losing two of our captains from the year before. There was a stretch last season right before conference play where we lost seven consecutive games. But the team did a great job rallying around the leadership of captains; Georgious Angelou, Jamaal King and Josh Nebo which really turned our season around. Compared to last season when we were predicted to finish 9th, we will not sneak up on anyone this season. All of the guys on the roster are well aware of that, and will use last years challenges as experience to deal with adversity we will face in the upcoming season.
Q: Your team has fantastic backcourt depth with three of your top four scorers returning in Keith Braxton, Isaiah Blackmon, Jamaal King, and add a redshirt senior in Malik Harmon. How will this impact the pace you guys play at and the rotation?
Coach Krimmel: One advantage to having that type of depth in the backcourt is that it provides the rest of the coaching staff and myself with lots of flexibility to try out different things. It will be important for us to experiment with different looks and try new things out. One advantage to this system will be our strong perimeter shooters, if you look at championship caliber teams they all have solid if not very strong perimeter shooters. We have some guys that can really shoot from the outside which we will build off of.
Q: Losing Josh Nebo hurts all around; he did it all. How has the team adjusted defensively and the how have the big men been progressing this offseason to fill in for all of the production left in Nebo’s absence?
Coach Krimmel: I want to start off by saying that my two assistant coaches (Eric Taylor and Andrew Helton) do a great job at developing post players. If you look at the improvement Josh made from his freshman to sophomore year in the post it is amazing seeing the finished product Josh was. With that being said we will need to adjust defensively as we lost a phenomenal defender and shot blocker. Defensive rebounding is a department we need to make improvements in. We were near the bottom of the conference in that last season, we need to limit teams to shot possessions so we can do what we do best which is getting out in transition.
Q: What player or players have really opened your eyes over the off season in terms of improvement off of last season?
Coach Krimmel: Deivydas Kuzavas was a very pleasant surprise as a freshman last year, he is a good athlete, he is very unselfish and he can run and catch. He will step into a bigger role this year down low with Josh gone now. But he impressed me during the off season by putting on 15 pounds of muscle, he is truly embracing the role of being that ‘next guy’ and making a significant impact. Two other guys who really stepped up and had their moments in the CIT last year were Scotty Merridth and Andre Wolf. Andre is a former walk on who we awarded a scholarship to this season, and Scotty is one of the hardest workers and toughest guys I have ever coached. Also watch out for red shirt senior Malik Harmon. People forget his freshman year he was NEC rookie of the year, Malik will make an impact on this years team he is still working on getting his body and mind back in game mode after last years season ending surgery.
Q: How have the freshman/transfers been adjusting to college and how do you look for them to contribute this season?
Coach Krimmel: The freshmen are currently in their easiest part of the year, but academic wise and preparing for the season they have passed with flying colors. Markus Vallien is a lightning quick guard who can also shoot, who will only add to our back court depth even more. Forward Mark Flagg is 6-9 and a true stretch four which is something we have not had in a while. JuCo transfer Luidgy Laporal had great success last last season averaging 10 [points] and 7 [rebounds]. After losing such a key player like Josh we knew we had to go out and get a transfer who already had some college experience, even if it was JuCo.
Q: The non-conference schedule has some real tests; how are you looking for it to prepare your team for conference play?
Coach Krimmel: We really wanted to provide our guys with fun opportunities so we scheduled a trip out to the West Coast to open our season up against two very good teams in Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. Secondly, we needed to prepare our team for NEC games in hostile environments, similar to Mt. Saint Mary’s in last year’s NEC championship game. So we decided it would be smart to schedule games at two of college basketball’s more historic and hostile environments in Duke and Louisville.
Q: Finally, tell me about how exciting it is to coach in such a close competitive conference where any team can win on any given night?
Coach Krimmel: What makes our conference special is that there is never a dull moment. FDU was picked 9th in the preseason poll when they won the NEC two years ago, and we were picked to finish 9th as well but made the conference championship game last season. There are more unknowns this season due to the transfers, but the coaches do a great job recruiting and I don’t expect a drop off in talent. There are no easy nights and it is important to pay attention to the scouting reports for every game, it happened a few times last year when the last place team beat the first place team.