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Season Preview: CHD sits down with Central Michigan coach Keno Davis

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 Central Michigan coach Keno Davis about being named national COY after replacing his father.

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You return four freshmen starters from last year but lost senior Kyle Randall (who led the MAC in scoring with 18.7 PPG). How will you be able to fill the offensive void left by Kyle’s departure? You do not lose a scorer like Kyle and expect to fill it with any one player (or even a committee). So we will just try to become a better team. I am not worried about replacing 19 PPG. We need to improve in all our statistical categories.

Last year Chris Fowler set a school record for freshmen with 167 assists. How was he able to come in and contribute right from the start? I have had some incredibly high-character student-athletes in the past, and I would put Chris right up there with the best of them. To be able to do that at such a young age and be such a good leader was incredible. His teammates also brought something to the table by giving him room to operate while also knocking down open shots.

Your team’s 3.32 GPA ranks among the top-10 Division I men’s basketball programs. What importance do you place on academics? When I met with the administration about the opening, we agreed that we would build a program without sacrificing academic quality and ensuring that we would help our players develop as young men. We recruit student-athletes who will work hard in the classroom and put in the effort to get the most out of their education.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? Last year we started four freshman and a first year transfer so we were very young. This year we have 10 underclassmen on scholarship, but we want to be better and push the upper limits of what we can accomplish rather than use our youth as an excuse. I want to see if we can be the best team in the MAC in March when it counts and then take our chances in the MAC tourney.

In the 2000 NCAA tourney, as an assistant under Gary Garner at SE Missouri State, Roderick Johnson had 19 points and 11 rebounds in a three point loss to #4-seed LSU. How close did you come to pulling off the upset? It was one of those games that was a tough loss. As a coach, you tend to remember the losses more than the wins. It was a grind-it-out game and they just made some threes at the end. On any given night, you put yourself in a chance to pull off the upset, which is what makes the NCAA tourney so great.

In 2007, you replaced your father Tom as head coach at Drake after he retired. What made your dad such a great coach? What is the most important thing you ever learned from him? There are so many things that I have learned from my father, both in basketball and beyond. Just being able to grow up while attending practices and coaching meetings helped give me knowledge of different situations and how to react to them. He instilled in me the importance of believing in what I do while also listening to other people.

You finished your first season as a head coach by going 28-5 en route to being named national coach of the year. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor? The year was so unexpected even from those close to the situation. Nobody could have believed what we accomplished in their wildest dreams! To have it all come together was amazing. We had a bunch of great student-athletes and the staff had worked hard for several years before that to help us reach that point.

In the 2008 NCAA tourney, your team came back from 16 points down with eight minutes left in regulation before Ty Rogers made a 26-footer with three defenders in his face at the buzzer in a two point overtime win by Western Kentucky (setting an NCAA record with the 30th combined three point shot of the game). Where does that rank among the most clutch shots you have ever seen? It comes up every March because that shot rightfully gets replayed along with many other famous shots. I was proud of our comeback. Usually when you see last-second shots it is due to a defensive breakdown, but we played great defense and they just made an amazing shot, so I tip my cap to them.

In February 2009, as head coach at Providence, Weyinmi Efejuku scored 16 points in an eight point upset of top-ranked Pitt. How did it feel to see your fans storm the court after beating the #1 team in the country? Even though it was my first year at Providence, those players had a lot to play for. The seniors wanted to make a run at the end of the season and go as far as they could. To beat the #1 team in the country on Senior Night, where there were not a lot of sports going on around the country that evening and have it be the top story in the country, is something that I will always treasure.

In 2011, you joined the Big Ten Network as an analyst for a year before being named head coach at CMU in 2012. How did you like working in TV and why did you decide to get back into coaching? After being let go in Providence I wanted to make sure that I did not take another coaching job unless it was the right fit. There were not any opportunities at the time that I felt were a great fit. I got a Communications degree at Iowa and have always enjoyed watching all the coaching shows. So to get the chance to work for the Big 10 Network as it was building/growing was invaluable. The opportunity to go to practices/games and break down what other teams were doing allowed me to take notes about things I liked and things I wanted to stay away from. In the end, it allowed me to be better prepared for when my next opportunity came to be a head coach.

JonTeitel