Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Robert Morris coach Andy Toole about beating Kentucky last March.
Your non-conference road schedule includes trips to Kentucky, Oklahoma State, and Alabama. Which of these three games do you feel will present your biggest test? Is there an option D (all of the above)?! All three of those teams are poised to have a great year so they will be incredible tests for our guys, but we want to step up and play against the best so we will give it our best shot.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? It is hard to tell right now. We have six new guys and six returning guys, and it is a competitive group that is improving. My hope is that after we get some games under our belt we can develop into a good team: we know it will be a process so we want to be prepared as a staff.
Your 21st birthday was on 9/11. What on earth was that like? It was a pretty s—– day: I petitioned to get my birthday moved to the 10th or 12th, but it did not work out. I went to my first class that morning after some conditioning drills and someone said that a plane crashed into the first tower. I just went back to my room and ended up sitting by the TV the rest of the day. My dad came down from New Jersey to take me out to dinner, and the only restaurant that was open in the entire city was (legendary cheesesteak place) Geno’s.
You played for Coach Fran Dunphy at Penn. What makes him such a great coach, and what is the most important thing that you ever learned from him? There is a long list of things I learned from him. What makes him great is his focus on the things that are important: he does not worry about things outside his control and keeps it simple about what it takes to win.
In 2003 you made the NCAA tourney after going 14-0 in conference play. How was your team able to stay focused for every single Ivy League game that year? We learned the hard way. My junior year we did a great job in non-conference play and thought we were a pretty good team…until starting our Ivy League season 2-3 and had to win out and then beat Yale in a playoff just to make the NCAA tourney.
In the 2009 NEC tourney title game as an assistant under Coach Mike Rice Jr. at Robert Morris, Dallas Green made his only basket of the game on an eight-foot baseline jumper with 2.5 seconds left in a two-point win over Mt. St. Mary’s. In the 2010 NEC tourney title game he deflected a potential game-winning shot before making a pair of free throws with seven seconds left in a two point win over Quinnipiac. Where does Green rank among the most clutch players you have ever seen? He is way up there: not just from those two games but a lot of other games along the way. He had great instincts and was always in the right place at the right time.
In the 2010 NCAA tourney: Karon Abraham scored 23 points in a overtime loss to #2-seed Villanova. How close did you come to pulling off a historic upset? Really, really, really, really close! There was a stretch toward the end where I thought it was going to happen because Villanova was on their heels…and then all of a sudden the tide turned. We were so deflated at the end of regulation but we did every single thing within our power to win it: it bothers me to this day that we did not win.
In 2010 you were named head coach at Robert Morris, why did you take the job? There are only 351 D-1 head coaching jobs, and when you get offered one at age 29 at a great school with good players returning, you take it.
In the 2011 NEC tourney Jamal Olasewere scored a career-high 31 points and had 11 rebounds in a three point overtime win by LIU. What made Olasewere so unstoppable? He did everything and was just incredible. He made two early three point shots that night, and was a nightmare match-up because he was so quick on the perimeter and so tough around the basket. He played like a man possessed: every time they needed a big shot he made it.
In the 2013 NIT Lucky Jones scored 15 points in a two point win over defending national champion Kentucky in front of the largest crowd in school history (which you called “probably the greatest consolation prize you can possibly have”). Where does that win rank among the highlights of your career? It is a night that I will never forget. As a player and coach you are fortunate to be involved in games like that, so it ranks up near the top. In the locker room afterward we just enjoyed the win, and that memory will last a lifetime.