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Season preview: CHD interviews Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins

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 commences our season preview series by chatting with Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins about trying to win the MAC West Division seven out of the last eight years.

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After high school you worked as an assistant at UCLA basketball camps while serving as a chauffeur for Hall of Fame coach John Wooden: what was it like to spend time with the legend, and how much of an influence was he on your life both on and off the court? It was Coach Wooden’s camps. I do not know if I can put his influence into words. It was about a 30-minute drive in each direction for 25-30 days each summer, so I got ask a lot of questions and get a lot of answers. It was like sitting in on a tutorial every day. I did not take away a lot of Xs and Os from him, but learned how to focus on the fundamentals of passing/shooting/dribbling. The majority of what I learned from him took place off the court, such as the Pyramid of Success and doing the best at everything you do. It is like your connection with a parent: you do not really appreciate everything they tell you until later in life.

In in your first year as coach of the Broncos you went 26-5 and made the 2004 NCAA tourney: how were you able to come in and be so successful right from the start? It all goes back to talent: as Coach Wooden said, “You may be able to out-coach a few high school coaches, but the majority of college games are decided by talent because most of the coaches know what they are doing.” We were able to build our roster from the ground up so it was a bit of a perfect storm.

In the 2005 NIT you had a two-point overtime loss to TCU: how does your coaching style change during overtime (if at all)? My style does not change a lot: so much is dictated by circumstances, such as who has fouled out and who is still left. Every game is different: a kid with four fouls might actually be fresh because he has sat most of the game due to his foul trouble, whereas another kid with four fouls who played 38 minutes might be exhausted.

In the 2011 CIT you had a one point loss to Buffalo: did you think that Demetrius Ward’s jumper at the buzzer was going in? Yes: when it left his hand I thought it had a decent chance, as he had made a lot of big shots for us all year.

In the 2013 CBI you won back-to-back overtimes games against North Dakota State and Wyoming: how was your blood pressure doing by the end of that month?! We had played North Dakota State the previous year in the Bracket Buster, so I was not pleased to be seeing them again because they had seen us before. We blew a pretty big lead in the 2nd half before winning the game in OT, so I felt we were playing with house money at Wyoming, which is not an easy place to play due to their great fans and altitude. I got sick when I was there and almost did not coach the game. After we beat Wyoming we literally did not know where we were going next, so we just sat in our hotel by the airport and waited to find out. Every coach’s blood pressure drops as soon as your season is over, but it was a pretty good accomplishment for that team.

You have won the MAC West Division in six of the past seven seasons: how has your team able to be so dominant for such a long period of time? Again, talent has a lot to do with it. I have great assistant coaches, which is a very underrated topic and not talked about enough. We have had a couple of players transfer in, but we do not take a lot of JC kids. We have continued to recruit well and by the time our players are juniors and seniors their sweat equity has paid off and they really care about winning.

In the 2014 MAC tourney you had an OT win over Akron before scoring 98 PTS in a blowout of Toledo: what will it take to get back there after losing all-tourney team player Shayne Whittington to graduation? The loss of Shayne is a big one. I don’t like the term “back-to-back” because it means you are looking backwards, which I think is a mistake. There is only one 2014 season and one 2015 season: the mindset it takes to win is staying hungry.

Last year you were named conference COY after making the NCAA tourney for the 1st time in a decade: what did it mean to you to receive such an outstanding honor? I have never placed a lot of emphasis on individual awards: the players/staff have a lot to do with it. My contract contains some bonus money for awards, but I gave all to my staff.

Your non-conference schedule includes a trip to the Wooden Legacy tournament in November: how excited are you to spend Thanksgiving with your team back in your home state? Very. We have been fortunate to have a good relationship with ESPN and the tourneys they run. My assistant Larry Farmer played for Coach Wooden and coached at UCLA, so I think it means a lot to him as well. We are going to play three good teams on a neutral court, which will show us what we need to work on and what we are doing well.

What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? Coach Wooded said that success is a direct result of knowing you did your best: it has nothing to do with the # of wins you get in a given year. We have no control over injuries, which have derailed us in the past. Our goal is to play as well as we can possibly play, and our expectation is to be one of the top teams in the conference.

JonTeitel