Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich about making the NCAA tourney as both a player and a coach.
You played basketball for Coach Paul Westhead at La Salle in the 1970s. How good a player were you back in the day? I was very, very average! I was the backup PG, and nobody was sad when I graduated. I loved Coach Westhead: he was the best, and I think he would say that nobody worked harder than me.
In the 1978 NCAA tourney Michael Brooks had 35 points (14-17 FG)/14 rebounds in a six-point loss to Villanova. What was it like to play your city rival in the tourney, and where does Brooks’ performance rank among the best you have ever seen? I was lucky enough to make it to two NCAA tourneys at La Salle. The first time I made it I was a teammate of Kobe Bryant’s dad Joe. We lost to Syracuse as they went on to make the Final 4. Michael was our star and the consensus POY. He had a lot of great games for us.
After graduation you became an assistant coach under Morgan Wootten at DeMatha HS (the defending national champions). What made Wootten such a great coach, and what was the most important thing you ever learned from him? Morgan is a fantastic coach because he is a fantastic person: nobody communicates with people better than him. I once heard the phrase “communicate to motivate, and motivate to lead”, and he is a leader like nobody else. If you want to coach, the best thing you could do is work for Morgan.
As an assistant coach under Speedy Morris at La Salle in 1990 you finished the season 29-1 (with only a 121-116 loss to Loyola Marymount). How close did you come to going undefeated? We lost to my old coach (Westhead) at the Philadelphia Civic Center, which turned out to be the last game that Hank Gathers played in his hometown of Philly before he tragically passed away that March. It was just a shootout at the OK Corral.
In the 1992 NCAA tourney Terry Dehere scored 24 points including an 18-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left in a two-point win by Seton Hall. Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? We had them beat, which I think Coach PJ Carlesimo would tell you as well. He admitted before the game that he hated the matchup with us. Randy Woods made a jumper to put us up by eight points with a couple minutes left, but even though we could not hold onto the lead, it was still a great game.
What are your memories of the 2007 NCAA tourney as head coach at Niagara (you beat Florida A&M before losing to Kansas)? We made it to the NCAA tourney in 2005 (the school’s 1st NCAA appearance in 35 years), which was a thrill for the whole school. We started out poorly in 2007 but won 15 or 16 in a row down the stretch thanks to a bunch of kids who refused to lose.
Last March you made the NIT before losing to Maryland. Do you feel you left the Purple Eagles in pretty good shape going forward under Coach Chris Casey? I hope so. I will always treasure my time at Niagara and I wish them nothing but good things. Chris is a first-class guy and a real hard-worker.
You lost all five of your leading scorers from last season but have brought in several transfers (including double-digit scorers Juan’ya Green/Ameen Tanksley from Niagara) since being named head coach at Hofstra in April. Why did you take the job, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? When I was recruiting players at Niagara I said that I would only leave if something special came along…and that is exactly what Hofstra is. They know how to be successful and have a fantastic academic tradition with great athletic facilities. Our goal is to surprise a lot of people: it is always better to surprise them than disappoint them.
In November you will participate in the Hall of Fame Tipoff by facing the defending champs in their house. How are you preparing for Louisville? We have two games before that one, which will be our third game in five days, so we have a built-in excuse! I am just living the dream as a coach at a wonderful university with a great bunch of kids. I have to make sure I am not in awe of Rick Pitino: he is a fantastic coach and a Hall of Famer.