Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Evansville coach Marty Simmons about upsetting North Carolina in the NCAA tourney to end Michael Jordan’s college career.
You have a pair of big men from Lithuania on your roster, how have you been able to create a pipeline to the Baltic Republic? Our staff had a contact who watched Rokas Cesnulevicius play in an AAU tourney, which is how we got started on him, and he played on a club team with Egidijus Mockevicius when they were younger. We always have feelers out to see who we should have on our radar.
Your non-conference road schedule includes a game against the Hoosiers in November: is it just another game to you or will it be weird to head back to Bloomington? It is never weird: my years there were terrific. They have some of the greatest fans in the country and Assembly Hall is one of the most amazing venues in the country.
The school’s all-time scoring leader Colt Ryan graduated last spring, how will you be able to fill the offensive void left by his departure, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? By committee: Colt was one of a kind in terms of his skill set and attitude, so no one guy can replace him. We think we have one of the most talented freshmen groups we have ever had. Our expectations are always high: we are a young team but we will improve quite a bit as the season moves forward and we hope to compete for championships and play in the postseason.
You were given the nickname “Mule” after carrying your Lawrenceville High School team to an IL Class A state title, who gave you the nickname, and how did you like it? My high school coach gave me the name during my freshman year. I liked it: more people in my hometown called me Mule than Marty!
Take me through the 1984 NCAA tourney as a player at Indiana: It was an incredible season. Most people thought Auburn would beat Richmond, but the Spiders pulled off the upset. After we beat Richmond we played Michael Jordan and the Tar Heels. Coach Knight told us to make sure that Jordan did not get anything back door: Dan Dakich did a great job of forcing Jordan to take perimeter shots and blocking him out on the offensive boards. Steve Alford had an incredible game during our upset of North Carolina.
You played for Coach Bob Knight: what sort of influence has he had on your own coaching style? He has had some influence, but Coach Jim Crews has had the greatest influence: he has been a mentor to me for a number of years.
You scored four points in a two-point loss to Virginia. Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? It was a low-scoring game between two well-coached teams, and it came down to the final minutes. Any loss is devastating but that was a tough loss because we were so close to making the Final 4.
In the 1985 NIT title game Reggie Miller scored 18 points in a three-point win by UCLA. Could you tell even back then that Miller was going to become a superstar? It was easy to tell: he was a lights-out shooter and a very confident player. I remember his ability to get shots off quickly.
During the off-season you transferred to Evansville to play for former Indiana assistant coach Jim Crews. What makes Crews such a great coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him? He is a great person: one of the finest individuals I have ever been around in my life. He is a basketball encyclopedia and understands the game inside and out. He is such a well-rounded person: we were prepared every night but he also used basketball as a tool to teach us about life.
Crews named you team captain even though you had to sit out a year as a redshirt: what is the key to being a good leader? I think he did that to give me a head start. You need a strong work ethic and have to set a good example, so when the staff asks you to do something, you do it. I would always repeat what Coach Crews said because I tried to be an extension of him. If you concentrate on helping others, then good things will happen to you.
As a senior you finished sixth in the nation in scoring with 25.9 point per game. What is your secret for being a great scorer? Great teammates: I could not have scored a point without them. They would help get me open, accept their roles, and put me in a position to be a great scorer.
In the 2013 CIT Mockevicius had 13 rebounds in a loss to eventual champion ECU, what did your team learn from that loss that can help you this year? ECU was an outstanding team: we walked into a buzz saw there and the atmosphere was off the charts. When you play against really good teams you have to stay focused, and we got out of sync a little bit. It all comes back to basic fundamentals: shot-fake, use the extra pass, be sound defensively, etc.