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 forward Luke Apfeld about his “perfect game”.
You had three ACL surgeries before ever stepping onto the court in a Vermont uniform. How have you been able to keep bouncing back from injury after injury? For me there was never a question of whether or not I was going to play in a college game: it was just a matter of when. My goal had always been to play college basketball and I was not going to let something I had no control over take that from me. The doctors told me to hang it up after my third ACL surgery, but I knew that I would not be able to come to terms with falling short of my goal. I knew I was going to play college basketball, I just had to wait a bit longer than most.
As a sophomore you scored a career-high 24 points (11-11 FG) in a win over Towson. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were “in the zone”? The funny thing is I had no idea that I did not miss a shot until after the game was over. I knew that I was having a good game offensively, but I did not know that I was breaking records or anything like that. My teammates just found me in good spots and all I really had to do was make some open layups and jumpers. That is what happens when you have great teammates: they make you look really good!
What are your memories of the 2012 NCAA tourney (you beat Lamar before losing to #1-seed North Carolina)? It was awesome. We had an up-and-down conference season that ended with a huge win for our program. Going down to Long Island and beating Stony Brook in their gym is something that none of us will ever forget. Then we headed to Dayton and continued to play some good basketball. We were able to capture a postseason win for Vermont, which is something to be proud of. Playing UNC in Greensboro was another awesome experience. It is not every day that you get to go up against five NBA guys on the same team. The result obviously did not go our way, but we were able to send our seniors out the way they deserved.
Last year you were team captain: what is the key to being a good leader? I think that the key is being able to relate and connect with each and every 1 of your teammates, knowing that each relationship is going to be its own unique thing. You have to be able to connect with each guy in a different way in order to bring the best out of them. Some guys need motivation, some need confidence, and some just need to be shown the ropes.
In the 2013 CBI you scored 11 points in a loss to eventual champion Santa Clara. What did you learn from that loss that you think can help you this season? I think the most important thing we learned was that being good is not enough. We were good enough to go to the CBI and play a close game against Santa Clara…but if we were great then we would have been able to defend our home court in a championship game and advance to the NCAA tourney. I think after playing in Santa Clara our whole team has a heightened sense of urgency and a clear understanding that we have to be great in order to accomplish our goals.
You ranked 2nd in the conference with 85.4 FT%. What is your secret for being a great FT shooter? I had two whole years where all I could do was shoot FTs and set shots. Shooting a free throw is a constant. There are no variables: it is just a matter of finding a rhythm and doing the same thing over and over again.
You graduated in May with as a double major in English and sociology and are now pursuing a graduate degree: how are you able to balance your work on the court with your work in the classroom? Basketball and my injuries in particular have taught me to give 110% in everything I do no matter what it is. Challenges and our ability to overcome them are what define us as people. A full academic schedule paired with a full basketball schedule is not something that is easy to do, but then again if it was easy, everyone would do it. I also have to give credit to my parents: they always stressed academics before athletics, homework before practice, etc. Academics were always my foundation and basketball was a privilege.
You play at Cameron Indoor Stadium in November. How do you prepare to face Coach K and the Blue Devils? We are all excited for the game. It is one of the most historic venues in all of sports and Coach K is one of the greatest coaches of all times. Having said that, we have to approach it as just another game. We cannot get too caught up in the hype/awe. At the end of the day we are a pair of D-1 basketball teams playing against each other. The goal is to win and we are going to prepare as best we can in order to try and do just that.
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? Experience is what is going to get us through all of the hard times we come across in a season. At this point there is nothing that we have not seen as a group. We have played against some of the best teams and players in the nation, won and lost close games, and been through injuries and adversity: not all teams can say that. If we can put all the pieces together then we are going to be very tough to beat.
A decade from now are you more likely to be a pro basketball player, a civil rights attorney, or an English professor? I will most likely be a civil rights attorney. I do not think the knees have much in them, and by then I will be ready to devote my time and energy to other things. Law school is a long and hard road, but that is something I am very familiar with. I welcome any challenges that it might bring.