Collegehoops.net's Jon Teitel is in Philadelphia all week bringing you live coverage and interviews from one of the opening weekend's most intriguing venues.
NCAA Tournament Q&A
Coach Danny Kaspar, Stephen F. Austin
Q: Has it sunk in yet that you’re in the NCAA tourney, and do you think Syracuse might be tired after their 6-overtime game in the Big East tourney?
A: It did not take long to sink in. I am not an expert, but I have lots of postseason experience, although I am not sure if our players do. Syracuse has a great tradition, but the exhaustion factor doesn’t matter because any #3 seed is good. I think Syracuse will be rested.
Q: What did you learn from being an assistant for Coach Billy Tubbs at Lamar in 1980 during their run to the Sweet 16?
A: Tubbs was great at making players believe they could win, even if they have doubts that are fed by the public. Tubbs made everyone practice hard, but kept the players loose and relaxed, and just had them play their game.
Q: Was it frustrating to be the #1 seed in last year’s Southland conference tourney but not get to the NCAA tourney?
A: We had injuries at this time last year, as Josh Alexander got a hip pointer in our final regular season game. He played through the pain, but it affected his shooting. I thought we would have gone to NCAA tourney last year if he was healthy, and Eric Bell was only 80% as well.
Q: There are few teams who feature not 1 but 2 conference players of the year: do you need an all-around effort or can Alexander/Matt Kingsley do it themselves?
A: I think a total team effort is required, but we also need some players to step up and do an outstanding job. Eddie Williams stepped up last weekend to help us win our conference tourney final: we probably need 3-4 guys to score in double digits.
Q: Alexander hit 2 free throws with 7 seconds left to clinch the conference tourney semifinal win over Texas A&M CC: was it extra-special for you (being a Corpus Christi native)?
A: It’s funny you ask: it was extra-special because we held Kevin Palmer (the best player in our league) to 13 points on 2-of-11 shooting. I still run a camp in Corpus Christi, and interviewed for the coaching job there when it opened up. There was some vindication in beating them, as I thought their previous AD might have given me a token interview.
Q: What are your team’s strengths/weaknesses?
A: We have a lot of experience, and play good team defense. We have 9 guys (including 2 very good players) who play significant minutes, so we are very team-oriented, and do not commit a lot of turnovers. We are not very big in the backcourt (starting guards are 5’3” and 5’10”), and we could stand to shoot the ball better, and I would like to have a 10-man rotation for extra depth.
Q: What did you learn from your non-conference schedule?
A: We lost to Texas A&M, but could have won that game. We were down by 2 late in the game, and the same referee made 3 straight calls against us. We came away from that angry that we lost, but confident that we could play with teams like that. We caught Arkansas at the wrong time: they were hot, and our kids were thinking of heading home for Christmas the following Thursday. We beat Oklahoma last year, which gave us a lot of confidence.
Q: How did Kingsley blow up after playing only 1 year of varsity ball in high school?
A: He did not blow up: it was an evolution. At times in the past I was ready to send him packing: he was like a scared little pup coming out of high school, but eventually gained 25 pounds. He showed no signs of physical maturity until his junior year: he was a great kid, but had no confidence, and did not blossom until his senior year. He was a freshman redshirt, after growing from 6’6” in high school to 6’8½” in college. We tried to get him to walk on, but the NCAA rescinded a prior rule, and that allowed us to get 2 more scholarships: otherwise, we would not have got him, although he had no other D-1 offers.
Q: SFA only won 10 games in the 2 years before you were hired: how did you turn it around?
A: I originally coached here from 1983-1986 as an assistant, and met my wife here, before I was hired away by Baylor to be an assistant. We had 10 losing seasons in 12 years before I got here, but just finished our 4th 20-win season in 6 years. After I started, we lost a couple of conference tourney finals on our opponent’s home courts by just a few points, which was frustrating.
Q: What does the 1st NCAA tourney in SFA history mean to you, the program, and the school
A: This is my 9th year here, and it means a great deal to the school with free publicity and increased school spirit: we have had some very good home crowds this season. It is a tremendous boon in terms of recruiting, but will hurt us with scheduling, as fewer teams will want to play us. It raises everyone’s awareness of our program, and validates my coaching ability. The town is excited, and I am happy for our community, but happiest for our players who are also very excited. We were very hurt last year that we didn’t make it, and are happy to be here after seeing the level of talent in our conference go up this year.
Tournament Talk Q&A's