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Canisius Basketball - Coach Mike MacDonald

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Canisius Basketball


Interview conducted by Kevin Martone

June 2nd, 2003

Discussion with Canisius College Men’s Basketball Coach Mike MacDonald

The Canisius College Men’s Basketball Team and their Head Coach Mike MacDonald are looking forward to improving on their disappointing 2002-2003 season. The Golden Griffins struggled to a ninth place finish in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) as they were beset by injuries to players expected to provide both leadership and production on the court. Forward Toby Foster and Guard Dewitt Doss, two returning starters, were lost for the entire season. A season that started with hope - four starters returning, including productive Seniors Foster, Point Guard Brian Dux, and Forward Hodari Mallory - ended with a second consecutive season finishing in the bottom half of the MAAC.


The 2003-2004 version of the team must overcome this recent slide, as well as the loss of their All-MAAC performers Dux (2nd team) and Mallory (3rd team). I spoke with Coach MacDonald about the past season and his thoughts looking toward the future.


Kevin Martone: First, thank you Coach for taking the time to speak with me.


Coach MacDonald: No problem. Thanks for asking me.


KM: Prior to this past season, there was reason for hope and optimism in Buffalo. You were returning four starters from the previous year, including three standout Seniors. And, although your team was selected to finish sixth in the MAAC Pre-Season poll, there was a feeling that there was an upward potential for this team. For example, Siena College Head Coach Rob Lanier expected the Golden Griffins to “win a lot more games than people anticipate,” mentioning specifically Senior leadership and the expected outstanding point guard play of Brian Dux. However, the team finished ninth out of ten teams in the conference. In addition to the injuries your team faced, what other factors do you believe played a role in your disappointing season?


Coach MacDonald: Last year was extremely disappointing. You can never plan on injuries, and what they did to us was make us a much younger and inexperienced team. I really believed that we had the type of team to contend for the league title. But, all of a sudden we lost Toby Foster and Dewitt Doss out of our starting line-up, and what that did was force us to move Kevin Downey and Richard Jones into the starting line-up...which weakened our bench.


Another injury which really hurt us but wasn't as publicized was when Chris Ravello broke his hand. Chris was starting to play well for us (in his role). About 10 days before his injury he had a career high in our win over Siena. He went down and we were able to win at Loyola, but we went into a crucial early February stretch where we lost at home to Iona by three (after being up 14 with 10 minutes to go), lost at home to Manhattan by three (after being up 13 at the half), lost by four at Fairfield in a really close game, and lost at home to Niagara by three (after being up seven at the half). There is no doubt in my mind that if we had finished off those games, coming out of the end of January where we had just won three out of four, our season would have taken on a whole new look. We definitely wore down in those games, and Brian [Dux] and Hodari Mallory definitely wore down during that stretch.


KM: What can you take away from a season like this past year? How do you build on disappointment and try to return to previous levels of success?


Coach MacDonald: We all have a terrible taste in our mouths after last season, and we can hardly wait for practice to start in October, to rid ourselves of that bad taste. During this past year, Kevin Downey's father passed away from cancer (he was diagnosed in November, and he died in February) and that was a tragic blow for all of us. Chris Ravello's dad had a heart attack (he's doing better now!), Toby Foster lost his grandmother to a stroke, and Yaku Moten-Spruill had a 3-year-old nephew pass away. Those are tragedies. Losing a close game is not a tragedy. We have to handle our disappointment from last year, and turn it into effort this summer and fall. We will bounce back, I'm confident of that.


KM: Your team will lose four players to graduation this season, including two outstanding contributors: Dux and Mallory. Dux became the first player in Canisius history to finish his career with 1,000 points scored and 500 assists, while Mallory led the team in scoring (and placed sixth in the MAAC) this past season. How do you plan to replace the leadership and production of these departing players?


Coach MacDonald: Obviously, Brian and Hodari were very good players for us last year...we cannot expect Dewitt Doss and Toby Foster to just replace their numbers and their leadership. But, we do expect them both to come back and give us the production they had in 2001-2002, when they averaged between nine and eleven points per game. If they can do that, and guys like Jon Ferris, Yaku Moten-Spruill, Richard Jones and Kevin Downey can improve their games, we should be able to fill the void. Brian and Hodari and Toby Foster and Tom Perkovich (a walk-on) all received their degrees on May 17, but we really only lose Brian and Hodari out of our rotation. [Editor’s note: Toby Foster graduated but was an injury redshirt last season and has one more year of eligibility left.]

KM: Looking forward to next season, there are many parallels to last offseason. Like last season, you have a number of starters returning from a disappointing season (Guard Kevin Downey, Center Yaku Moton-Spruill, and Forward Richard Jones). Injured starters from the 2001-2002 season Doss and Foster will also be back from their redshirt seasons. It is, once again, a team laden with upperclassmen. How will you ensure your team does not repeat history? Do you plan to prepare differently, attempting to change the results of this past season? Or will you simply continue to do the things that have worked in the past, hoping that injuries will not decimate your returning team before the season starts?

Coach MacDonald: We will continue to do the things that have made us successful. You cannot plan injuries, nor should you fear them. We just have to be a little deeper in case they hit, and I think we will be this year because of the experience we went through last year.

KM: Are there any newcomers for next season you are especially excited about? Who are they and what do you hope they will bring to the team next season and beyond?


Coach MacDonald: We signed three freshmen for next year. Chuck Harris is a

6'4" guard who is a very good shooter and really knows how to play. Darnell

Wilson is an athletic 6'6" forward who has a good nose for the ball and Randy Minto is a 5'11" point guard from New York City who reminds me of Clive Bentick ('01 graduate). These guys should really give us better depth in case the injury bug hits. Our two best recruits will be Dewitt Doss and Toby Foster, now that they are healthy.


KM: This past season, the MAAC as a whole brought in an infusion of strong newcomers, including St. Peter’s freshman sensation Keydren Clark, Siena freshman Michael Haddix, and Iona’s Marvin McCullough, in addition to Canisius’ Kevin Downey. Do you sense that the MAAC overall is improving and becoming more and more competitive? What else must the conference do to continue to become stronger?


Coach MacDonald: The MAAC is what it is...a real good mid-major league. We get in trouble when people say we should do things to become stronger. Those freshmen you mentioned are very good players, and the more good players you bring in, the better the league will be. One thing I want to add is that Kevin Downey should have been on the All-Rookie team. He averaged the third most points in the conference among the freshmen, started every game for us, played over 32 minutes a game, and had to deal with his father's illness and eventual death. I know he probably didn't make it because of our record, but he should have made it based on his consistency and solid play.


KM: As conference realignment dominates the college basketball news this offseason, do you believe the MAAC will be affected by changes in the Big East Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference? What should the MAAC do to ensure it remains a strong conference with like-minded institutions and competitive athletics, especially basketball?


Coach MacDonald: The MAAC is one of the few leagues that make sense. Look at our membership. All of the schools have similar enrollments, similar arena, and similar mission statements. That's what a conference should be! Look at the Atlantic 10 where you have small Catholic schools like St. Bonaventure and Duquesne grouped in with big state schools like UMass and URI. Does that make sense? Those leagues were made for basketball without any thought being given to the other sports. Now you see the Big East, which was formed for basketball, being ripped apart for football! All MAAC fans should be proud of their league and the schools in it. The MAAC cares about academics and student welfare, which is really the type of league you should want your school to be a part of. Do you think academics and student welfare are being considered at Miami? No way. What is being considered is money!


I get upset when people say, “We should be ready to make a move to the A-10 or the Big East.” Why? We are in a league that makes sense, and from a men's basketball standpoint has been very competitive and very even. In the last ten years, seven out of the ten teams have been to the NCAA Tournament (and two of the three teams that haven't [been to the Dance] just joined the league in '97-'98). So why look to move? Let's just keep improving, and enjoy what we have!

KM: Thank you for answering these questions, Coach. Good luck next season.


Email Kevin Martone with any questions, suggestions, or comments.


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