This fall, head coach Mike Dunlap enters his sixth year at the helm of the men's basketball program. Asst. Sports Editor Jameson O'Neil sat down with Dunlap to talk about last year's historic 22-win season, goals for this upcoming season and how to bounce back after preseason injuries to two starting players.
Jameson O'Neil (J.O.): What are the positives that have come out of preseason and training so far?
Mike Dunlap (M.D.): Eli [Scott] at the point guard is a definite positive, and everybody can see that. One, they didn’t think that he could do it, and two, he’s doing it. And his numbers are an indicator that that’s a good move for us. Second, I would say that a lot of our freshmen are getting to audition, and their performance in the [first two games] was very good.
J.O.: Before the season started, Joe Quintana and Dameane Douglas went down with injuries. How do you bounce back after losing two key players?
M.D.: Well, immediately, you talk to your players about a plan. First is who’s going to take their spots, so we did that. [Second] is, we simplified things that maybe those guys could have done and then just boiled it down.
J.O.: Last year was a historic season, with the team achieving the most wins since 1989-90 and earning a spot in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). How do you try to sustain that success this season, especially after losing three key seniors to graduation?
M.D.: Whether it’s Eli [Scott] or Erik Johansson or whatnot, it’s using [the] experience of those guys that were involved [last] season to help the new guys assimilate. As far as whatever this [year's] team is, [we will be] dramatically improved and different in January. And we know that because we’re going to take big jumps, [and] because we’re mixing a very new group together. But we’re excited about that because our leadership is in place.
J.O.: Who is a leader on this team?
M.D.: Well, I would say obviously Eli, as a captain, and so is Erik. Those are our two leaders as far as that goes. We're going to get leadership from Dameane and from Joe, in that we’ve incorporated their voice into a lot of the decision[s] and what we do, and we don’t want that leadership to go away just because they’re hurt.
J.O.: What will this team's style of play look like this year?
M.D.: It's probably more of the same. We’ve come to find that we can shoot the three better—we know that, it’ll happen over time—but we can still play through our post [and] get a lot of free throws. So, I think the similarities are more than the differences. It’s just that we also have improved.
J.O.: What have you learned over your five years as head coach here?
M.D.: I always thought that, coming in the door, the program would take time to lift. And in our fifth year, we got above the 20-win mark, which is significant. The thing that I'm learning now is where to lead [the program] next. Obviously, we want to get us back to the NCAA [Tournament], and that goes back to our recruiting. What I’ve learned is you’re only as good as who you recruit, and I think the school has allowed us to recruit [well].
J.O.: What do you think the players on the team have to prove this season?
M.D.: I think a lot of people have us for dead. We’re the true underdog all the way through the year, and that’s a great position to be in. Our players are smart enough to know that.