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Q&A: Tracy Dildy talks recruiting, budget issues and the path forward at Chicago State

The Cougars will turn to a pair of newcomers to jump start the program.

NCAA Basketball: Chicago State at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the offseason, we’ll try to catch up with each WAC head coach to get their thoughts on the previous year and what to expect in 2017-18. Chicago State’s Tracy Dildy, who will be entering his eighth year on the South Side, was kind enough to spend some time with us last week.

Flip back to February 2016 and things weren’t looking great around Dildy.

His team was nearing the end of a 4-28 (0-14) season that would look trivial in the grander scheme. CSU had sent notices of potential layoffs to 900 employees amid a budget crisis that shrouded the university in uncertainty. But he didn’t update his resume or look for another job. Instead, he added a responsibility, becoming the school’s interim athletic director in July 2016. He still holds this role.

This most recent season wasn’t much better on the court. The highlight was a Jan. 12 win at Utah Valley that snapped a 19-game WAC losing streak, but the Cougars ultimately finished 6-26 (1-13). This was the third-straight season of double digit league losses, as CSU fielded one of the least efficient offenses in the country.

With all that noise — the losses, budgetary headlines — it can be easy to forget that CSU was competing in the WAC not that long ago. Flash back to 2013-14, and the Cougars were .500 in conference play and beating a quality New Mexico State team.

Here’s Dildy on how his team can get back to that level, balancing his role in CSU’s administration and more.

Mid-Major Madness: What were some challenges serving as the interim athletic director and head mens basketball coach at the same time?

Tracy Dildy: There will always be challenges, but the challenges are minimal if you have a great staff. My staff for the most part are veteran and experienced both on the administrative side, as well as my coaches. I stay out of their way and let them do their job, and fight for their needs. The staff has made the transition a little easier.

MMM: Was working in administration something you had ever seen yourself doing?

TD: I never had given it a thought, but I’m glad now I’ve actually gotten this opportunity because I can see a whole different side. It’s not about one sport. I was so caught up in my team, and what my team needs. But I’m now seeing that from the administration side, and fighting for every sport. It’s definitely something I can see myself doing going forward.

MMM: What impact has the budgetary situation had on the mens’ basketball team?

TD: Last year we felt it [in recruiting], but now it’s behind us. The university has done a great job getting the word out that we are committed to the WAC, and they feel the exact same way. It was something that really hurt us a year ago, but we don’t even have to have that conversation now. We’re involved with some great kids. We’re involved with some kids that could really have people saying “wow.” Kids that could be Players of the Year in [the Chicago Public School league]. It’s something in the past. I’ve reminded kids that we’ve been here as a university for over 150 years, and that I’ve never looked for another job or updated a resume. People don’t realize that we’re in a lot better shape than other universities.

MMM: What were you most proud of with last year’s team?

TD: No matter how long the losing streak or how bad things seemed, these guys really came in every day of practice and worked their tails off. No matter how embarrassing the defeat was, these guys came the next day and really, really came to work. I’m proud of how they finished the season. We had a double overtime loss against Grand Canyon, played well against UMKC. Then the conference tournament, in that game [against New Mexico State] we were playing without our leading scorer [Fred Sims] and our starting center [Patrick Szpir] and it was a game the whole way. Usually teams that have the kind of season we did, at the end of the year they are ready to get it over and stop competing. Those guys kept fighting.

MMM: What do you remember about the team’s reaction after the Utah Valley win?

[CSU snapped a 19-game WAC losing streak with a 70-61 win at UVU on Jan. 12. It was the Cougars’ first league road win in nearly two calendar years.]

TD: Let me tell you what, I don’t think our guys realized how big of a win it was. At the end of the year, with the run UVU went on after that loss, I think it motivated them. It was the first time we had won there, and we’ve won at Bakersfield, UMKC, UTRGV, won at Seattle - now we can put UVU on there. The only place we haven’t won is New Mexico State.

MMM: What will it mean to lose Trayvon, and everything he meant to the team?

[Trayvon Palmer is out of eligibility after nearly averaging a double (15.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG) as a senior. Third-leading scorer Clemmye Owens V is also out of eligibility. Sims, the leading scorer (18.1 PPG), landed on the All-WAC second team after a great sophomore year. Since the interview, he decided to return for his junior season after declaring for the NBA draft without signing an agent. ]

TD: It’s interesting. I love Trayvon and love Fred Sims, who is testing the waters. Our best two players last year were two kids sitting out, Jelani Pruitt and Travon Bell. Everyday at practice, talking about confidence and skill level it wasn’t close that those two were the best two players on the team. Just to have those two guys, joining what they’re bringing back. One thing I can assure you, and I said this last week at the AD’s meeting, we won’t be at the bottom team next year. We’re bringing in athleticism we haven’t had since our first year in the WAC.

MMM: You mentioned that first year in the WAC in 2013-14, how do you get back to that level?

[Bell is a 6’3’’ guard from the Chicago Public League (Mather) that took a redshirt and will have four years of eligibility. Pruitt is a 6’5’’ guard that transferred from Div. II West Florida and will be a redshirt senior.]

TD: We’ll be able to guard the way I want to guard, just because of our personnel. The last few years we’ve kind of had to do some things I didn’t like. I’m not a zone guy, I’m a pick you up full court, press you guy, that’s the way I’m wired. I had to give in because we didn’t have the athleticism to go out and guard that way. Now we’ll get back to being able to play like that. I’m excited about it - it’s going to be good for the conference.

MMM: What makes you excited about those guys that were sitting out?

TD: It’s their mindset. They’re guys that go into games expecting to win because of their personality. It was tough on them last year watching us play and struggle.