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Season preview: CHD interviews Texas Southern assistant coach Keith LeGree

To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Texas Southern assistant coach Keith LeGree about playing pro baseball with Torii Hunter and David Ortiz.

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In 1991 you were named a McDonald’s All-American: what was it like to play with four of the Fab 5 (MVP Chris Webber/Jimmy King/Jalen Rose/Juwan Howard)? It was great! They are still good friends of mine and we formed a very close group that year. They flew us in for four or five days so we got to spend a lot of time together visiting kids in a hospital, hanging out in our hotel rooms, etc.

In December 1991 in only your sixth game as a freshman at Louisville you made a 26-footer over a couple of defenders at the buzzer in a 1-point win on the road over LSU: did you think the shot was going in, and where does that rank among the highlights of your career? It is definitely up there. We were undefeated at that point and had to go to LSU and play against Shaquille O’Neal: that was one of the loudest places I ever played in during my college career. I made a few threes that night and was playing with a lot of confidence, so when it left my hand it looked good. It was a great moment in my basketball career.

In the 1993 NCAA tourney you scored two points in a loss to 1-seed Indiana (who shot a combined 62.2 FG%): was it just one of those scenarios where every shot they put up seemed to go in because their entire team was “in the zone”? Calbert Cheaney made 10-12 field goals that night, and to be a young guy playing against a team coached by Bobby Knight was tough. Cheaney and Jamal Mashburn were the two best players I ever faced in my college career. The Hoosiers were executing their offense and knew exactly where to go.

You transferred after you sophomore year: why did you decide to leave, and what made you pick Cincinnati? I love Coach Denny Crum and I enjoyed my time there: I grew up as a big Cardinals fan due to their style of play. The South is all about football, so I wanted to go to a basketball school. Crum believed in the high-post offense after working for Coach John Wooden earlier in his career, but I was more of an up-and-down the court kind of guy. Cincinnati recruited me very hard out of high school and I developed a close relationship with Bob Huggins during that time. He was a hard-nosed guy but I needed to be pushed. It changed my whole life because playing for Coach Huggins eventually led to me becoming a coach.

In February 1996 Miles Simon stripped the ball away from Danny Fortson and banked in a 65-foot shot at the buzzer in a 3-point win by Arizona: where does that rank among the most amazing shots you have ever seen? It was torture! It was one of the toughest losses of my career because we played well and had a good team that year. I thought the Wildcats fouled Fortson as he tried to make the game-winning layup. I could not believe Simon’s shot went in because he was so far away but somehow he had the perfect trajectory.

You played in the Minnesota Twins farm system for seven years from 1991-1997: how did you balance college basketball with pro baseball, and could you have ever imagined at the time that your 1997 New Britain Rock Cats teammates Torii Hunter/David Ortiz would still be going strong in the majors? It was tough to balance both sports, and I think it affected my basketball skills. I played baseball from a very young age and it came easy to me. I feel that summertime is the most important time to improve as a baseball player. We played 142 games in the minors so it was hard to work on my basketball game: you cannot get the work you need to improve year in and year out when you have a baseball game every day. The Red Sox were in Houston a couple of years ago and I got to catch up with David at his hotel: we are still good friends. I got to see Torii do some amazing things while playing next to him in the outfield. He could not hit that well back then but he is still 1 of the best I have ever seen at having a nose for the ball. I felt like David had no business being in the minors for so long because hitting came so easy for him.  He kept it exciting for the fans from day 1 and was always there to give some advice.

After retiring from pro baseball you returned to Cincinnati in 1998 to get your degree: what importance do you place on academics? I have three kids and I try to teach them that academics are the most important part of life. You can get distracted while playing a pro sport because you cannot take summer school to get more credits. If a pro team releases you then you need something to fall back on, so I encourage people to get as much education as they can and be the best student they can be. If I ever become a head coach I will have my players take pride in the classroom because it makes things easier on the basketball court or baseball field.

Your seven games in December include six on the road against teams who made the NCAA tourney last March (Baylor/Florida/Gonzaga/Michigan State/Kansas State/New Mexico State): how are you going to be able to survive that daunting gauntlet? It is going to be tough for us and we will have to grow up in a hurry. We are playing programs with some great coaches so it will be a good measuring stick for us: hopefully we are up for the challenge and will be grown up by the time we get into conference play. Coach Mike Davis is one of the best offensive coaches I have ever been around: he is great at handling his players both on and off the court. He knows what it takes to win and has a system that requires everyone to buy into it and do what they have to do. We have won titles in the past, so it is proven to work.

Your top-two scorers from last year have graduated (Aaric Murray/DD Scarver): how will you try to replace their combined 34 points? We have a bunch of guys who can score in their own ways and we have a lot more depth this year, including some transfer players and junior college players who can definitely help us. Madarious Gibbs came on strong toward the end of last year and really helped us get to the postseason. I think it will be done my committee rather than going to a specific guy all the time like we did last year with Aaric. We had some good shooters last year but now have some guys who can break down people off the dribble.

What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? We have a talented group of guys, but Coach Davis says that we underachieved with our talent last year so 1 of our goals this year is to play to our potential. Every year we want to win our conference, play the right way, and have our young men represent our school in the right way.

JonTeitel