Season Preview: CHD sits down with UC Davis coach Jim Les

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 UC Davis coach Jim Les about coaching his own son.  

Tyler Les, Jim Les

Your older brother Tom is Bradley’s all-time assists leader and your son Tyler currently plays for you at UC Davis. How do you like coaching your son and who is the best athlete in the family? It has been awesome because Tyler and I have a good father-son relationship based on our love of basketball. I grew up in a basketball family and hands-down we would all say that Tyler is the best player in the family.

Your non-conference road schedule includes games at Utah and Stanford. Which of these two games do you feel will present your biggest test and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? I am always big on having a tough non-conference schedule to challenge your team, and this year is no different. We also play Nevada and Air Force. The next step for us is to get a 20-win season and compete for a championship. The guys I have are working hard so I am excited for this season.

In the 1986 MVC tourney title game, as a player at Bradley, you lost at Tulsa to snap your national-best 22-game winning streak. How big of a home-court advantage did the Hurricane have? That was the first year they chose a specific site to host the tourney rather than the team with the best record. Give Tulsa credit because they played well, but the home court had something to do with it.

You finished that season by winning the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the best college player under 6’ tall. Did you see your 5’11” height as an advantage or disadvantage on the court? I always thought it was an advantage.  In a lot of different walks of life the short guy gets overlooked, so it gave me a mental advantage.  It also gave me the challenge of being an underdog against bigger guys who did not take me seriously due to my size.

Your 884 career assists remain in the top-20 all-time in NCAA history. What is the key to being a great PG? My spot on that list keeps going down every year with all the great PG’s who come through the NCAA! It sounds elementary but you have to be able to dribble, pass and shoot the ball. You have to make both the simple pass and the spectacular pass, and if you can score as well then you will be the ultimate threat. Once you have the basic skill set you need to be the CEO: Chief Energy Officer. A good PG is an extension of the coach on the floor.

In 1991, you led the NBA in three point shooting at 46.1%, and the following year you were runner-up to Craig Hodges in the Long Distance Shootout contest at NBA All-Star weekend. What is the secret for making shots from behind the arc? I try and impress upon my players that the key is repetition. I was not a great shooter in college and was horrible during my first year in the NBA. Everyone is looking for the SportsCenter highlight, but if you are willing to put in the time you can develop the skill of shooting the basketball. I spent an awful lot of time in the gym shooting game shots. I did not take 1,000 different shots a day, but rather one shot that I took 1,000 times.

After retiring, you spent three years as an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs. What is the biggest difference between coaching men vs. coaching women? It was great for me to learn how to coach and what it meant to be a coach. I worked for Coach Sonny Allen who gave me a tremendous amount of responsibility, so I had to really study the game and learn how to communicate that knowledge to our players. I was overly impressed with the women’s willingness to be coached, and they held us accountable for being solid in teaching them the proper technique on both ends of the court. It really helped my progress as a coach, a communicator and a teacher.

In the 2006 NCAA tourney, as head coach at your alma mater, Marcellus Sommerville scored 21 points (five of nine from behind the arc) in a four point win over #4-seed Kansas. Where does that rank among the biggest wins of your career? I do not know if any one game stands out, but it was great to put 15 guys together and challenge them to rise up over obstacles. A lot of people did not think we could build a winner in such a short amount of time, yet we got to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 50 years. I am now at the eighth best public school in the country and excited to prove people wrong by building a winner here at Davis.

In the 2008 CBI title game, tourney MVP Jerome Jordan had 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks in a six point win by Tulsa. What made Jordan such a dominant player? They played a zone defense for a majority of the game with him in the middle and it turned us into a perimeter shooting team that went cold in the second half. We were an undersized team after Patrick O’Bryant went to the NBA, so Jordan’s size really bothered us.

In the magical 2009 CIT, you became the first coach to win games in four different postseason tourneys in NCAA history. What is the key to winning postseason games? It just starts with your approach every day to work as hard as you can and put your effort into building a winning program. You have to eat, drink and sleep it. Once you establish excellence, the tougher challenge is to maintain that atmosphere. When you are at a mid-major program you will find that fame is fleeting because you cannot reload every year like they do at Kentucky and North Carolina.

Chris Roberts hit a 70-foot bank shot at the buzzer in a one point win over Oakland. Where does that rank among the most clutch shots you have ever seen? I have seen the highlights a couple of times over the years. If that had occurred in the NCAA tourney, it would probably be revered as one of the greatest shots ever based on the distance and situation. It ranks as a great memory because it gave us the win and because Chris is such a great young man.