Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Houston Baptist coach Ron Cottrell about being named named NAIA national COY.
You have two juniors, one grad student, and no seniors on your roster, and you also lost your leading scorer from last year (Art Bernardi): is this team built to win now or do you think this is going to be a rebuilding year? We have a team with the mindset and ability to win now and they have the work ethic and desire to do so. We will go through our lumps early on but I think we might be able to make a run similar to last year (winning 10 of our final 13 games). How quickly we can come together and adapt to a new league is really an unknown, but we are really excited to be in the Southland Conference.
Your non-conference road schedule includes trips to Texas Tech, Texas, Michigan, and DePaul. Which of these four games do you feel will present your biggest test? We also go to South Alabama, Southern Miss, and Wright State, so it is our toughest schedule across the board during my time here, there are no easy games. Our guys are not shying away from it at all: we played Michigan pretty well a few years ago, but I know that this is not the same Michigan team.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? I am like any other coach so I do not like to put any concrete goals out there. If we continue to grow and play our best basketball in February, then we will be on the right track.
You are known for your up-tempo offense and pressure defense, which you learned you’re your mentor Nolan Richardson. What made him such a great coach, and what was the most important thing that you ever learned from him? I did get a lot of my philosophy from him, as well as how to deal with student-athletes. He is a man who is passionate about everything he does and compassionate about everyone around him. He really cared about who his players were as individuals. We want to run and play fast, which was ingrained in me from my time with Coach Richardson.
In the 1989 NCAA tourney as an assistant to Coach Richardson at Arkansas your team shot 58% in a 120-101 win over Loyola Marymount. What was it like to face that legendary team led by Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble (each of whom had a double-double)? Those are unbelievable memories: I remember both teams going up and down the court and never knowing when it was going to end! They were so skilled at shooting the ball, whereas we tried to create havoc: it was a meeting of two very different styles.
In the 1990 NCAA tourney Todd Day scored 25 points including a layup after rebounding his own miss with two seconds left in a two-point win over Dayton. Where does that rank among the most clutch shots you have ever seen? I have had a few that I remember, but since that shot was to win an NCAA tourney game it certainly ranks in the top three or four. Todd was such a special player and does not get the credit he deserves. He is still a really good friend.
Lenzie Howell scored 21 points in a three-point win over conference-rival Texas, how big of a home-court advantage did the Longhorns have in Dallas? There was not that big of an advantage. Reunion Arena was known as “Barnhill South” because our fans traveled really well to the conference tourney which was hosted there. We had beaten the Longhorns three times earlier that season, and I was so happy that we were able to beat them a fourth time.
From 1998-2007 as head coach at Houston Baptist you made 10 straight trips to the NAIA tourney, how were you able to remain so successful for such a long stretch of time? There are a lot of reasons. We had a great tradition at a school that had been to an NCAA tourney and had many players go pro, so there was a passion for basketball on our campus. We turned that into a home-court advantage and have strong support from our administration. You can only win so many games as a coach: you need a whole community across the board who has a desire for you to be truly successful.
In 2003 you went 31-3 (including a 25-game winning streak), scored 100.4 PPG, and were named NAIA national COY. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor? The honor was a product of having an unbelievable team: every guy knew his exact role as to what it would take to win games. It did not hurt to have national POY Rod Nealy(!), but there was no jealousy because the rest of the guys just fed off of his humble personality.
In 2009 your program made the leap from NAIA to D-1, what is the biggest difference between the two levels? I jokingly say that the difference is 3” at every position! The game is still played and coached the same way, just with bigger and stronger athletes.
You also spent 15 years as athletic director: how were you able to balance the two gigs simultaneously? It was certainly an effort in setting priorities and knowing that every day would be jam-packed. I had great staff on both sides: the coaches in our other sports knew that I would have to focus on my team during basketball season, and my assistant coaches could take care of things when I had to step away.