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 Portland assistant coach Michael Wolf about recruiting players from all over the world.
You return your two leading scorers from last year (Kevin Bailey and Ryan Nicholas), how much pressure is there on them to be leaders this year? I think Ryan in particular has carried that mantle since his sophomore year as he has continued to lead and expand his role. Kevin also carries influence with his teammates regardless of whether or not he is a captain. I am excited because he has really bought in and will have a leadership role for sure, but everyone will contribute because good leaders need great followers.
Your roster contains players from Canada, Ukraine, Spain and the Netherlands, how have you been able to create a pipeline of international talent? The international game is a very skilled game, which lends itself to our style of play. Our conference has become a skill-based conference because we do not have Oklahoma State-type athletes, but we can still compete with the best teams in the country. Our conference also has the highest percentage of international players in the country. Our school as a great international student community, which has encouraged us to help diversify the campus. The biggest upside for the international players is that they can come here, play at a high level of basketball, and also get an education. Eric went to the U-19 World Championships in New Zealand in 2009, which will hopefully get us a recruit in the next class that we have had our eye on for awhile. Sometimes the technology abroad is not always compatible with our own, so thank god for Youtube!
Your non-conference road schedule includes back-to-back trips to Oregon State and Michigan State. Which of these two games do you feel will present your biggest test? It will be hard to find a better non-conference opponent than Michigan State, which will help prepare us for WCC play. We need to play those games whenever we can, but scheduling is always a challenge based on money and travel. We have a couple of hurdles before then but our guys are very excited about our schedule.
Your team has lost at least 20 games in each of the past two seasons: what will it take to start turning things around this year? We have to score more than the other team! Our players have learned a lot through that process: there has been a lot of frustration, but our staff understands the gaps that have to be closed and the guys have been really responsive to that. Every team has good players and wants to win so it often takes some maturity and leadership.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? We do not talk about goals involving hard numbers, but we want to build a championship culture that involves competing for championships. We look at our league and expect to be ready to compete every night. Coach does a great job of keeping everyone focused on getting better today. The other expectation is to develop a strong work ethic.
You played basketball at Tufts: how good a player were you back in the day, and how did you get into coaching? I had a solid role on a couple of really good teams. I played with Pat Skerry who is now the coach at Towson, and my roommate was runner-up for D-3 national POY.
You still rank in the top-10 all-time in school history in both three pointers made and percentage. What is your secret for making shots from behind the arc? The first part is to start your career soon after the introduction of the three-point line! I played PG in high school and had the body of a tight end, so I just spent a lot of time teaching myself how to shoot. I got to train with Steve Kerr after high school and he knew what he was talking about: I owe a great deal to him.
In the 1998 NCAA tourney as a graduate assistant at Stanford under Coach Mike Montgomery, Arthur Lee scored 13 of his 26 points in the final 2:04 in a two-point win over Rhode Island: where does that rank among the most clutch performances you have ever seen? Without question it is the most clutch performance I have ever watched from the first row. I think I still have scars from the guy next to me grabbing and slapping me during that comeback! Our whole team was able to make plays when the game was on the line. Art’s comfort with the moment is what always stuck in my mind: you would never know what the score was based on his stone-faced approach.
Jeff Sheppard scored a career-high 27 points in a one-point overtime loss to eventual champion Kentucky: how close did you come to pulling off the upset? It was a great college basketball game with a terrific environment and atmosphere. Both team played hard and competed on every possession. As a fan it was exciting because of the contrasting styles: they pressed and ran while we were more of a half-court team who played a smash-mouth type of basketball.
You joined the Portland staff in 2006 after working alongside Coach Eric Reveno at Stanford: why did you take the job, and what makes Eric such a good coach? I took the job because in this business you do not often get to choose who you work with. Eric is 1 of the good guys: I respect his integrity and he is a meticulous planner, which gives us the road map to execute how we want to build our program. He understands the big picture of college basketball which allows us to do our jobs with plenty of latitude. He is willing to get feedback from the whole group and listen to our opinions.
You lost three straight CIT games from 2009-2011: what is the biggest difference between the regular season and the postseason? During the season there is lots of prep time for each game and you have a background against your conference opponents, which makes it more of a chess match. In the postseason there is very little turnaround time once the bracket is announced so it comes down to players making plays. We played well in each of those three years but our opponents just played a bit better.