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 Vermont coach John Becker about surviving both a house fire and a tourney game against the Tar Heels.
You played basketball at Catholic University. How good a player were you back in the day, and what made you get into coaching? I was not much of a player. I was a decent shooter but always loved the game and just had a passion for it.
Your first coaching job was as an assistant at Gallaudet. How difficult was it to coach players at a school for the deaf and hard of hearing? It was an extremely difficult place to coach especially since I did not know sign language when I started. It took me a couple of years to get proficient which made it a little easier, but it was still a very tough place to coach.
In 2006 you took a pay cut from $90,000 per year as a software salesman to become director of operations at Vermont for $10,000 annually. How difficult a decision was it being a married father of two, and do you have any regrets? I definitely do not have any regrets. My family knew how difficult it was to get on a D-1 staff and I have known former Vermont coach Mike Lonergan since college so I felt comfortable with him. My wife has always been very supportive of me and when the opportunity came we did not want to have any regrets. It has all worked out better then the best-case scenario.
In the 2009 CBI (as an assistant coach at Vermont) Calvin Haynes hit a high-arcing shot with six seconds left in a one-point OT win by eventual champion Oregon State. Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? That was a tough loss but the tougher loss that year was losing to Albany in the America East Quarterfinals. We had a really good team that year with Mike Trimboli and Marqus Blakely. That was a really good game: Trimboli hit what appeared to be a game-winner only to have Haynes hit a tough shot as time expired.
You were named head coach at Vermont in 2011 and set a school record for wins by a first-year coach after going 24-12 (the second-most wins in school history). How were you able to come in and be so successful so quickly? Good players and coaches. We struggled a little early by losing five in a row, but really came together late in the year and got on a roll at the right time.
In December 2011 your house caught on fire. How did surviving that tragedy change your life? We won’t ever live in a house with a fireplace! Seriously, it has had a lasting impact on my family, especially my children. To smell fires burning or to hear fire engines definitely catches all of our attention. I also have a new found appreciation for firefighters: they saved our lives by waking us up and getting us out of the house safely in the early morning hours.
What are your memories of the 2012 NCAA tourney (you beat Lamar before losing to #1-seed North Carolina)? I have so many great memories. Achieving your career goals so early in your coaching career almost seemed surreal. The way we played the final 3 games of the year was off the charts: we were in such a good groove. I feel that if we had a little bit better of a match-up in our 2nd game we might have been able to win…but playing a UNC team with four or five lottery picks in Greensboro was just too much.
In 2013 you made the CBI before losing to eventual champion Santa Clara. What did you learn from that loss that you think can help you this season? I thought we struggled offensively last year especially in our final 2 games. I have to coach them better and make sure that we understand our offensive identity and play to our strengths.
You play at Cameron Indoor Stadium in November: how do you prepare to face Coach K and the Blue Devils? We are really looking forward to that game and I know the guys are excited. I have realized that you have to treat the biggest game just like any other game: stick to your routine and prepare to win.
Your team returns all six of its players who played the most minutes last year: how much of an advantage will your team’s experience be this year, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? Our experience will only be an advantage if our seniors lead us and set the tone every day. Our expectations are to continue to improve throughout the season and hopefully be playing our best basketball in March. We expect to compete for the America East Championship.