Season Preview: CHD sits down with Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari

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 Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari about having your son tear his ACL right before the start of his senior season.


One of the three seniors on your roster is your son Billy, how has it been coaching him? I was really enjoying it…until he went down last week with an ACL tear and found out that he will miss the entire season. It has been a very difficult thing for me and for him: it is always hard being a coach’s son. I tell my team that endurance produces endearment, and Billy had endured a lot. I will move forward as a coach, but it will be harder to do so as a father.

You lost both of your leading scorers from last year (Terell Parks and Ceola Clark), how will you be able to fill the offensive void left by the departure of these two seniors? You cannot replace either of them with one guy: Ceola was one of the most complete point guards in the nation and Terell is the kind of athlete that we do not often get in our league. It will not happen overnight, but as a group I hope that we can be a competitive team.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? I expect our seniors to shift from complementary to impact players, and our newcomers can really get some experience if they buy into our culture of defense and taking care of the ball.

In the 1975 NCAA tourney at Kansas State you played two minutes in an eight poit overtime loss to Syracuse.  Do you think that Rudy Hackett got his shot off before the buzzer at the end of regulation to send it into OT? The Final 4 back then was not played in huge arenas like it is today, so it was tough to be five seconds away from going to the Final 4. Our flight home connected through Chicago, and as we walked around O’Hare Airport after the game it was tough to see the look on the face of our coach Jack Hartman. We realized that it would have been a big deal for him to make the Final 4: even after coaching Walt Frazier at SIU, I think the Final 4 would have been the crowning moment of his career.

In 1980 you graduated from law school at DePaul, passed the bar exam, and served as an assistant on Hall of Fame Coach Ray Meyer’s basketball team that started the season 25-0.  How on earth were you able to balance all of these different things at the same time?! I had worked at Ray’s summer camps in the wilderness in Wisconsin: we did not really “work” them, but rather survived them! Older people are very averse to change, so he was more comfortable with me (despite being in law school full-time) than having to break in a new guy on his staff.

In the 1981 NCAA tourney as a #1-seed, John Smith made a wide-open layup under the basket at the buzzer in a one-point upset by St. Joe’s.  What the heck happened on the final play? There were only 32 teams back then, so we had a bye while St. Joe’s beat Creighton in the 1st round. We lost our opening game three years in a row despite being ranked #1, but that one was the hardest. I believe we were playing not to lose while they were playing with house money: we literally froze on the final play.

In the 1984 NCAA tourney Delaney Rudd made a shot at the buzzer in regulation and Danny Young made a shot at the buzzer in OT to clinch a two-point overtime win by Wake Forest.  Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? It was definitely the most devastating for me as an assistant, primarily because it was Coach Meyer’s final game. I remember the media interviewing Joey Meyer in the locker room about taking over for his dad: he was very frustrated. They fouled us on purpose because they thought we would miss a FT…and we did. If we had won then we would have had a memorable game against Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma team that made it all the way to the title game. It is amazing to me how much better teams will play after they have a tourney win under their belt. Back then top-ranked teams like us had a bye while the lower-seeded teams had already gotten their feet wet.

In the 1995 NIT as head coach at Bradley, Deon Jackson scored 30 points including two free throws with seven seconds left in a one-point, double overtime win over Eastern Michigan.  Where does that rank among the most exciting wins of your career? That game is certainly up there. Our fans at Bradley were so knowledgeable and sensed that we had the momentum. Earl Boykins missed a short jumper late in the game, and I would remind him of that often in the future!

In 1997 you led team USA to a gold medal at the World University Games in Italy.  What did it mean to you to win the gold, and which of your players impressed you the most (Boykins/Bryce Drew/other)? I think they sent me over there because they felt a guy whose name ended in a vowel would be treated better in Sicily! I learned to only eat in restaurants that end in a vowel and to judge the quality of their food by how many forks you have. We trained for four weeks in Peoria and Earl showed right then and there that he was fearless. We trailed Canada in the first half of the gold medal game and Earl made several baskets in a row to help us mount a comeback. I also remember scraping a car because the streets were really narrow, although I am sure that USA Basketball remembers it much more than I do.

In the 2012 Summit League tourney title game as head coach at Western Illinois, Nate Wolters scored 14 points in a two-point win by South Dakota State.  How much of a home-court advantage did the Jackrabbits have playing in Sioux Falls? They had a huge advantage.  The reality is that Wolters and Coach Scott Nagy had a better team that season, but we played pretty well that night and might have beaten them on a neutral court. It was like a Big 10 arena with 8,000 of their fans and about 100 of ours. It was on a Tuesday night and a lot of people watched because there was not much else going on that night, and I think that game helped put our program on the map.