Jon Teitel's Interview Series: Cal Poly's Mike Wozniak
CHN writer Jon Teitel recently spent some time with Cal Poly great Mike Wozniak, catching up with the sharpshooter on both his career at Cal Poly and some of the things on his plate today. Second on his school's all-time scoring list, Wozniak remains the school's all-time leader in three pointers made.
Jon Teitel: You grew up in Texas and Indiana. How did you end up at Cal Poly?
Mike Wozniak: I got some looks in the Midwest from schools like Butler and Indiana State but I wanted to expand my opportunities, so I went to California to play for the Pump Brothers and Bob Gottlieb. I wanted to try to go to USC, but in the end it came down to USD and Poly. I chose Poly because it was a prestigious institution, gave me the chance to play as a freshman, and it was a wonderful college town/environment. Actually, these were my criteria for all the schools I looked at.
JT: You played several different sports in high school. Which was your favorite, and why did you choose to stick with basketball?
MW: Golf is actually my favorite sport now; I would rather tee it than tip it. It was all basketball in high school in Indiana, although I had played QB until the 8th grade in Texas.
JT: In 1998 you set a school single-season record with 89 FT%. How were you able to maintain your focus for such a long stretch, and what is your secret for free throw shooting?
MW: I just followed an old George Lehmann routine: Balance, Eyes on Target, Elbow Keeps the Basketball Straight, Follow Through. I would just take one dribble, think about my legs, and follow through. When I work with kids on their own free throw shooting, I tell them to believe in their routine. It also helps to practice outside your comfort zone, and try to block out your surroundings.
JT: In 2000 you scored a career-high 36 points and had no turnovers in an eight-point loss to UCSB. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?
MW: No doubt, but I had other games where I felt "in the zone". We could not get many defensive stops, as it was a very retaliatory game with a lot of points (we lost 87-79). During one game in my senior year of high school I had 35 points in the first half after making all eight of my three-point attempts. You hear a lot about being "in the zone", but you do not think about it at the time. I do remember getting a lot of points off the dribble in that game against UCSB and getting to the line a lot.
JT: You still hold the record for most three-point field goals in school history. How big a weapon was the three-point shot in your offensive arsenal, and what is your secret for three-point shooting?
MW: It was a huge part of our game. Our coach Jeff Schneider was a Tubby Smith disciple, so we would press full court and get a lot of points in transition. I finished three shots back of Adam Jacobsen's conference record of 311. I joke with that kids I work with that as a 6'2" guy who was not that athletic, my three-point shots counted more than a dunk. The three-point shot was a big part of Poly's style, as it opened up the post for the big guys down low, and that was one of the reasons why I chose to go to Poly.
JT: Your career overlapped with Chris Bjorklund, who is the leading scorer in school history (2,006 points). How on earth were the two of you able to share the ball enough to each score so many points, and was Bjorklund the best teammate you ever had?
MW: Coach Schneider paired us together, so we trusted each other and screened for each other. Chris could stretch defenses just like I could, and he was great, but our point guard Ben Larson was the best teammate I ever had. Ben was a fellow Indiana guy, our team leader in steals, ran the offense, and was very unselfish.
JT: You currently are a talk show host for ESPN Radio. How did you get into the business, and how do you like the job?
MW: I traveled and played one year professionally then got my MBA at Poly. I started a youth basketball academy, then did color commentary for Poly games and then got hooked up with the local ESPN affiliate. Now I have even started calling national games for the Pac-10 and Big 12; business connections are very helpful.
JT: You also do some color commentary for your alma mater's games. What do you think are the biggest changes in the college game since you played a decade ago?
MW: Most people say athleticism/size/speed, but I think it is the willingness of coaches to go smaller (like Jay Wright at Villanova). In the past coaches tried to recruit guys to fill specific roles, but now they are searching for players who can play multiple positions, multi-tool guys who can do a little of everything.
JT: You also serve as director of the Youth Basketball 3-Ball Academy. What kind of work does the Academy do, and have you had any notable graduates?
MW: My first group of guys are currently sophomores in college, but several of them are playing in college. The Academy just grew from local parents asking me if I could teach their kids to shoot like I could. It is now a year-round program that travels to tourneys around the country. Right now we have eight teams, and we have kids from every high school in the area.
JT: When people look back on your career, what do you want them to remember the most?
MW: I just want them to know that I cared. I was a kid who graduated in four years and took academics seriously, as I looked at books and basketball as dual obligations. I did my best to work with the administration and boosters. I know it is not just a one-way street; at a small school it is often about relationships. I used basketball as a vehicle to enjoy the world.
Mike is also on my list of best fantasy players in Big West history:
Cal Poly: Mike Wozniak (2000): 1,903 PTS (#2), 308 3PM (#1), 86 FT% (#2)
Cal-State Fullerton: Leon Wood (1984): 1,876 PTS (#2), 744 AST (#1), 81.1 FT% (#2), All-American
Cal-State Northridge: Brian Heinle (2001): 1,641 PTS (#1), 785 REB (#2), 290 AST (#5), 76 BLK (#2), 149 3PM (#2), All-American
UC Riverside: Howard Lee (1972): 1,386 PTS (#2), 1,004 REB (#1)
UC Davis: Mark Olson (1976): 1440 PTS (#4), 869 REB (#2)
Long Beach State: Ed Ratleff (1973): 1,820 PTS (#3), 683 REB (#4), 410 AST (#5), 2-time All-American
Pacific: Ron Cornelius (1981): 2,065 PTS (#1), 973 REB (#4), 57 FG% (#3), 2-time All-American, conference POY
UC Irvine: Jerry Green (2002): 1,993 PTS (#1), 162 STL (#1), 2-time conference POY
UCSB: Carrick DeHart (1990): 1,687 PTS (#2), 133 STL (#2), 196 3PM (#2), All-American