Season Preview: CHD sits down with Illinois State coach Dan Muller

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 Illinois State coach Dan Muller about making the game-winning shot in an NCAA tourney game.  


You lost your six leading scorers from last year and do not have a single senior on the current roster. How will you be able to fill the offensive void left by the departure of so many starters? We have a brand-new team featuring only two returning players with Division I experience, so we will be completely different than last year. We have good talent but will not wait until next year to compete. They are showing me something new every day so I am learning who I can count on.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? With so many new guys we have not discussed goals, but our expectations are to compete for a championship and keep getting better. I expect us to look much better in January than we do in November. I want us to play fast and be a tough defensive team. I think we will have balanced scoring and I want people to view us as a gritty team.

In 1995, you were named MVC Freshman of the Year at Illinois State. How were you able to come in and contribute right from the start? It was a little like my current team. We had nine new players so I got to play a lot of minutes. We had three seniors who gave us great leadership and we finished second in the league.

You were a two time MVC defensive player of the year. What is your secret for playing great defense? It comes down to your mindset: you have to take pride in playing defense and want to play hard. I have always been good at picking things up quickly, which certainly helped. I was 6’6” and had good stamina.

In the 1998 NCAA tourney, you scored eight points including a layup with two seconds left in a one point overtime win over Tennessee. What did it feel like to be a hero in an NCAA tourney game? If I remember correctly I played all 45 minutes, so it felt exhausting! We lost our starting backcourt at the end of the regular season due to injury so it was tough to replace them.

You were a two time Academic All-American and a recipient of an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship. How much importance do you place on academics? Academics is non-negotiable, period. It is what is best for our players. The biggest part of my job is to help prepare them for the real world, so I tell them they have to go to class and reach their potential.

In the 2004 NCAA tourney, as an assistant at Vanderbilt under Coach Kevin Stallings (who was also your college coach), Matt Freije scored a school-tourney record 31 points (11-11 free throws) in a two point win over NC State. How were you able to overcome an 11 point deficit in the final few minutes? Two words: Matt Freije! It was one of the most exciting games I have ever been a part of. We had a group of seniors who had been through some tough times, but to win the way we did was a testament to their toughness. We got a little lucky here and there, but it was the 1st/last time I have ever run onto the court after a win as a coach.

With 0.7 seconds left in the 2005 NIT, Jason Holwerda threw a full-court pass to Corey Smith for a layup at the buzzer in a two point win over Wichita State. How did the play get drawn up and did you think it would actually work? Anything Coach Stallings draws up always has a chance to work! We worked on it in practice a few times. We got in that position after giving up a rebound on a missed free throw, but I do not know if it would ever work again. Jason threw a great pass. You need to know who your best baseball passers are.

In the 2007 NCAA tourney, Derrick Byars scored 27 points in a four point, double overtime win over Washington State. How does your coaching style change from regulation to overtime (if at all)? It does not change, but you play end-of-game situations differently. The key is to stay loose, make your free throws…and get the ball to Byars! That was another great group of seniors. We started the year 1-3, but it ended up being a very fun season.

Jeff Green scored 15 points including an off-balance bank shot with 2.5 seconds left in a one point win by Georgetown. Do you think Green should have been called for traveling due to picking up his pivot foot? Absolutely. There is no question!

You were named head coach at your alma mater in 2012. Why did you take the job and what was the hardest part of being a first year coach? Being able to return to my alma mater with the facilities to be extremely successful was a no-brainer once they offered it to me. The community deserves a team that makes them proud. The toughest part was earning and keeping the trust of a bunch of new guys while dealing with some adversity. It is always important to self-evaluate but you have to stick with your core principles.