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Season Preview: CHD sits down with Northern Colorado coach BJ Hill

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 Northern Colorado coach BJ Hill about losing a title game by a single point.

bj

Last year you won six of your final seven regular-season games despite not having a single senior on your roster.  How big of an advantage will your team’s experience be this year? I am looking forward to finding out, as I have not had a bunch of seniors since my first year here. There is definitely a difference on the practice court, which has been nice. They are hungry and anxious to put their stamp on the program by leaving their mark. I like where they are at mentally, but it is too early to tell for sure.

You begin your non-conference schedule in November with a game at Kansas State.  How do you think you are going to match up with the Wildcats? I have not looked at them at all, but we played Coach Bruce Weber’s team at Illinois during my first year so I know that he is a really good coach. It will be a great test for us in a venue like that off the jump.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? We have reached a point where we got over the hurdle of making it to the NCAA tourney, so we expect to compete for a conference title. We lost to Montana at Montana in the conference tourney semis last year, but we are poised and ready.  We have to value defense, and once we do I think we are talented enough on offense to do something special.

You played basketball at Grand View College.  How good a player were you back in the day, and how did you get into coaching? I was not very good, but good enough to earn a scholarship. My dad was a high school coach, but I did not realize it was in my blood until I volunteered at North Iowa Area CC (where I had played under Coach Steve Krafcisin). It has been a long road, but a fun one.

In the 2002 NJCAA national title game as an assistant at Coffeyville Community College, tourney MVP Jaime Lloreda scored 26 points in a one-point win by Dixie State after you led by 15 points with under 10 minutes to play.  Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? It is probably up there in the top two or three. We were in control for most of the game but Lloreda wore us out in the final seven minutes.

You spent several years as an assistant under Tad Boyle at Northern Colorado.  What makes Tad such a good coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him? Tad is one of the smartest guys I have ever been around: his IQ for all the aspects of the game is off the charts. The thing I learned the most is patience: how to develop players, how to recruit, etc.

In the 2010 CIT Terrell Smith scored 15 points in a four-point win by Pacific.  What is the biggest difference between the regular season and the postseason? One thing is the obvious sense of urgency: if you lose, then you are done. You have to try and keep your guys mentally fresh before you get into that situation. A coach has to have the vision before his teams are worn out: you can just see it on the players’ faces. Tad knew we would be good that year so he kept us fresh.

In 2011 you led your team to a conference tourney title in your very first year.  How were you able to come in and be so successful so quickly? I was fortunate to inherit four seniors who knew me. I was not going to fix something that was not broken, so the best thing I did was not put my own stamp on everything. We tweaked the defense a bit but that was about it. We did not have the most talented team in the conference but our players were great human beings and played well together.

You finished that season by being named Big Sky COY.  What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding honor? Any coach is only as good as his players and assistants. It was my first year as coach so my head was spinning the entire year, but you cannot get too high or too low in this business. Having guys like Big Sky POY Devin Beitzel and the rest of that group and a staff that bought in and had my back was huge.

What are your memories of the 2011 NCAA tourney (Kawhi Leonard and Billy White each had a double-double in a win by San Diego State)? It was real close until the final eight minutes. We were getting looks that we wanted but their size and athleticism wore us out on the boards.

JonTeitel