Every year, I get the opportunity to speak with dozens of great coaches and players while writing feature stories for NBC’s College Basketball Talk. Usually only a handful of soundbite quotes get into the finished product, so I like to share the raw interviews here at STF after the fact.
This is my interview with Towson’s Pat Skerry, who took over a team that finished 1-31 in 2012. At the end of last season, the Tigers were 18-13, and held the record for the greatest single season turnaround in NCAA DI history. This despite the fact that the team was ineligible for postseason play due to APR issues.
Let’s scratch the surface of a coach on the rise:
STF: First of all, how did you do it last year? How did you get your guys into the right place mentally and physically to turn around a team that had little success previously?
Pat Skerry: We were fortunate that we had good players. That’s the most important thing. It took a while, but they did a good job of buying in. Make no mistake about it, you have to get good players, and then try to get them to play really hard and play together.
STF: The mental aspect of that is what interests me the most. I’ve covered college basketball for a while now, and your blueprint for turning around the team doesn’t differ from what any other coach has tried to do in that same situation. But it worked so spectacularly well for you.
PS: I appreciate you saying that. We honestly try to talk about just that day, just trying to get better that day. It’s really process-driven. But the players last year really bought into pride. When we got it going, we were in the mix for the league title and to set a record. We didn’t talk about the (postseason) ban, and they handled it accordingly. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but they handled it. But pride was the key piece.
STF: Now that you’ve done that, you have this next season in front of you. How do you keep that momentum going?
PS: That’s a challenge, but we’re better than we were last year, talent-wise. No question. But that doesn’t mean anything. Once again, it’s a daily thing. We have to honor the process. From a program standpoint, we’re thrilled that there are expectations based on where we started. But make no mistake about it, winning is really hard. I think Doc Rivers said that (chuckle). We’ve got our hands full.I know how good we can be, but that doesn’t mean we will be. We’ve got to go earn it and prove it.
STF: Even some casual fans have picked up on who Jerelle Benimon is. Who else should we be looking out for this season?
PS: We’ve got a really good senior class. Marcus Damas is our leader, and Rafriel Guthrie is our most improved player.
STF: Behind those guys, who do you have coming up who will carry this forward into the future?
PS: I’m excited, we’ve got some good young guys. They have to prove that they can turn into leaders. We’ve got two true freshmen who have impressed us in Walter Foster and Johnny Davis. We have two sophomores who return in Jerome Hairston and Timajh Parker. Jerome was on the All-Rookie team and is a lead guard who can score the ball, and Parker will step right in for us this year. Then our transfer from Vermont, Four McGlynn, is still a sophomore and he’s a very good shooter.
STF: You also have new facilities going up.
PS: We have a new building that is the nicest by far in our conference. It’s spectacular. I’m not trying to knock other places, but it’s not even close. It’s a $72 million building with all the bells and whistles. Our administration understands that facilities and infrastructure are every bit as important as what you do on your out of bounds plays. If you look at programs outside the BCS who have been able to break through and build something, that’s a big part of it.
STF: You’re redefining the possibilities for this program when the CAA is redefining itself as well, with so many of the successful Virginia schools heading to other leagues and the CAA tournament moving from Richmond to Baltimore. Do you guys have a chance to help create a new power base in the conference?
PS: You would hope, but we added Charleston as well, and they beat our brains in last year in the first game of the season. Elon’s going to be very good, and James Madison are the reigning champs. Northeastern were the regular season champs, and Delaware and Drexel… we got our hands full. Our league will be very good. We lost some teams that have historically been very good, but they didn’t finish on top of our league last year. I think you’ll see a legitimate six or seven teams that can win the thing this year, and we’ll be picked pretty high. That’s pretty cool this time of year, but it doesn’t mean much later on.
We’ve got a chance to be good. We’re not hiding from that.
“Backup guard Gary Neal’s stunning Game 3 performance with six three-pointers for the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals triggered a look back at his college career when he became only the third player ever to score more than 1,000 points for two NCAA Division I schools (18.3 ppg with La Salle and 25.6 ppg with Towson).”
TOWSON, Md. - Junior Jerrelle Benimon scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as the Tigers (18-13, 13-5 CAA) closed down the Towson Center with a historic 67-64 victory over Hofstra before a crowd of 4,119 on Saturday afternoon.
By posting their 18th win of the season, the Tigers completed a 17.5 game improvement over last year’s team that finished 1-31. Mercer posted a 17 game turnaround during the 2002-03 season and that was matched by UTEP the following year. The two have shared the record until today."