Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Kent State coach Rob Senderoff about coaching a future (NFL) Hall of Famer.
You lost both of your leading scorers from last year (Chris Evans, Randal Holt), how will you be able to fill the offensive void left by the departure of these two seniors? That is probably the biggest question mark on our team. Kris Brewer and Darren Goodson were great in league play so I think they will both step up a little bit, and we will need some of our new guys to take over as well. We had very balanced scoring during our trip to the Bahamas, so we might not need to rely on any one guy. Chris and Randal hit so many big shots for us, so I am concerned about who will make the crunch-time plays for us when the game is on the line.
Your non-conference road schedule includes trips to Temple, Seton Hall, and Princeton, which of these three games do you feel will present your biggest test? All three of them will be big challenges, as will College of Charleston, but our first road game will be at Temple on national TV. They beat us in Kent last year, and to me Coach Fran Dunphy is one of the best coaches in the country.
What are your own expectations for the upcoming season? We have the same expectations year in and year out: win 20 games and the regular season division title. It gets harder each year as teams like Akron and Ohio have done great as of late, and Buffalo will be better than ever. Our goal is to compete for a league title and we need to do a better job at home this year.
You went to college at Albany where you were a student assistant under legendary head coach Doc Sauers: what made Doc such a great coach, and what was the most important thing you ever learned from him? He is obviously a phenomenal basketball coach who was very detail-oriented and was committed to doing things that he thought was right for his team. I learned that if you are committed to something, you have to see it through.
One of the players on your team when you were an assistant at Kent State was Antonio Gates. What was he like as a basketball player, and could you have ever imagined back then that he was going to become one of the best tight ends in NFL history? He is probably the best and most dominant player I coached in college. He was humble and allowed himself to be coached but at the same time knew that he was great. When a play was needed in crunch time, he always came through for us. There was a line dance at former Kent State assistant Rob Murphy’s wedding…and Tony was the best dancer there. He just has a natural gift to be the best at anything he does. I would argue he is one of the top three tight ends ever.
In 1999 you became an assistant at Yale. How did the Ivy League compare to the rest of division one basketball? It was my first experience recruiting on the road. At Kent we mostly recruited in the Midwest, but at Yale you have to be able to go all over the country and learn how to communicate with people from all over. It gave me an opportunity to talk to a lot of AAU coaches and showed me how hard you have to work to be a successful recruiter. I worked for a great friend in James Jones who is still there and was the JV coach when I was at Albany.
In the 2010 NIT Ben Uzoh scored 14 points but missed a baseline jumper off the rim in the final seconds of a one-point loss by Tulsa: did you think the shot was going in? I know he got a heck of a look, so I was happy it did not go in. Ben was a great player, and he probably makes it more often than he misses.
In the 2011 NIT Justin Greene scored 11 points including a layup with three seconds left in a one point win over St. Mary’s: where does that rank among the most exciting games of your career? It was great because we were disappointed after a one-point, overtime loss to Akron in the MAC tourney title game. We found out we would be playing in California on Sunday, flew there on Monday, and played on Tuesday. Justin finished a great play and it was an exciting moment for our guys.
You replaced Geno Ford as head coach at Kent State in 2011, why did you take the job? I was excited to get the opportunity to become a head coach, everyone who gets in this profession at any level dreams of running their own program someday. It is a great basketball program with tremendous tradition.
In the 2013 CIT the refs called a combined 49 fouls in your loss to Loyola (MD). what did your team learn from such a physical game that you think will help you this year? We beat Fairfield at the buzzer before losing a hard-fought game to Loyola. The experience of having two postseason games against good mid-major teams will help our program going forward.