Floriani: Behind The Scenes At Big East & A-10 Media Days

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2010

Ray Floriani of NBE Basketball Report and College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the NEC and MAAC, but he also covers many events and games in the NYC metropolitan area. He had the opportunity to attend the Big East and Atlantic 10 Media Days last week and snap a few photos.

Big East Media DayWednesday, October 20 – New York City

The media days are upon us, a sign as indicative of the first leaves falling that the opening tip is not far away. Last Wednesday, the Big East had their day at Madison Square Garden.

The media days often provide a host of scripted quotes. “We have a big challenge… our seniors must step up… there are no nights off in the (fill in your league) conference…” Despite their regularity, they serve a purpose of promoting the conference and they afford the chance to renew acquaintances. For us media types,  it is great to see friends you haven’t seen since March and to discuss the game with the coaches in a calm environment. All coaches are 0-0 and optimistic (for the most part) about the upcoming campaign. With games a few weeks away, you can actually get a chance to engage in some small talk if there isn’t a big media crush at that coach’s table.

The day started with everyone in a theater-type seating area. Commissioner John Marinatto gave a short “state of the conference.” Marinatto opened with a call to remember Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, injured a few days ago, in everyone’s thoughts. Marinatto said renovations at MSG will make the “Big East postseason tournament the premier conference tourney in the country.” The commissioner also noted that since expanding to 16 teams, NCAA bids have increased by 20% for the Big East. Austin Freeman of Georgetown, the preseason Player of the Year choice, addressed the group on behalf of the players.

Marquette head coach Buzz Williams fields questions at the Big East’s Media Day at Madison Square Garden

The working media session was broken into two parts. Each school had its own table where the head coach and a few players were present to field questions. The first half saw eight coaches interviewed by electronic media as TV affiliates. The other half stayed at their tables with a few players from their team as print media ascended. After about 90 minutes, the procedure was reversed. Following the work session a luncheon was provided before everyone adjourned.

A few short notes from someone in attendance:

  • Buzz Williams’ methods of attention to detail and organization always intrigued me, as the Marquette leader is an advocate of maximizing each possession, even if it means limiting them. We discussed the concept of possessions and points per possession. As I discussed the four factors often seen on this site, which include free throw rate, offensive rebounding percentage, turnover percentage and effective field goal percentage, Williams dutifully made extremely meticulous notes in his book. Turnover rate is something of paramount importance to the Marquette mentor. “We have been outstanding in taking care of the ball,” Williams said. “It is something we emphasize.” Looking at the turnover rate (percentage of possessions ending in dreaded TOs) the last two seasons, Marquette’s TO rate has been 15.3% and 14.8%. I noted that 20% is the threshold that teams want to avoid; hitting it, or even worse, exceeding it, is unacceptable.  “If one-fifth of your possessions end in a turnover, your offense is not good,” Williams added. Amen.

  • I enjoyed speaking with Corey Fisher of Villanova. He remembered one of the high school games his team won which I officiated a few years ago. A very engaging personality, when asked where is the toughest place to play in the conference he answered, “can I say Villanova?”
  • The media gravitated to the heavy hitters in the conference, including Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Bob Huggins and Rick Pitino to name a few, though a significant crowd was at the table of new St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin. New coaches attract a following to see what the plans are for rebuilding or if there was recent success, perpetuating it. Lavin attracted the masses because he is the St. John’s coach in this New York market, has recruited well and is a nationally-known basketball personality. His new assistant, Gene Keady, was in attendance and fielding media inquiries as well.

St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin was a major draw after beginning his tenure catching up on recruiting.

While most talk is of the generic variety on these days, it is discussions as this one, that quicken the pulse and get one studying the calendar. Like the fans, I can’t wait to get the season started myself.

Atlantic 10 Media DayThursday, October 21 – New York City

On Thursday, it was time to head over to the Atlantic Ten media day. College Chalk Talk colleague George Rodecker joined me for the drive. Chelsea Piers is exactly what it says – a pier. Well, formerly a pier on the Hudson River which has been renovated to a succession of offices, restaurants and gyms. On the way over, George touches base with CCT editor Chris DiSano, who has driven down with Andrew Green, also of CCT. Chris alerts us that parking is $54. “That’s more than the mortgage on my parents’ first home,” I said in shock. George added a few observational insights not fit for print.

We get to Chelsea Piers and the parking rates show $54 is for 8 hours or more. Given the length of our stay, we should be out with a $35 tab. A bargain ? We park and ask information for directions to the A-10 Media Day. Information misguides us. Finally, we run into Ed Pasque, associate commissioner of the conference who leads us to our destination, the CBS College Sports Studio at the piers.

Chris Mack of Xavier answers questions for a studio interview.

The Atlantic 10 has broken the media day down to sessions with three or four coaches at their own table at a time. Each coach gets interviewed in the CBS studio, then sits at his table to meet the print media. It calls for a much longer day, but seems to afford the opportunity to engage in more relaxed discussion and exchange than other conferences. For instance, Derek Kellogg of UMass told us how he plays in lunchtime pickup games to stay in shape “and take the shots Cal (Coach Calipari) wouldn’t let me take.”

After the morning session, we went to the Lighthouse restaurant at the Piers, where the A-10 held a luncheon. The program moved along. Commissioner Bernadette McGlade spoke, as did coaches Phil Martelli of St. Joe’s and Fordham’s Tom Pecora.  Martelli humorously noted that Temple coach Fran Dunphy thought the HBO show ‘Boardwalk Empire’ was about Temple basketball. The Owls won the last two conference postseason titles and are favored as preseason pick this go-round. At our table was Chris Mooney of Richmond and one of his assistants. The life of a D-I coach in a conference such as this is demanding, but Mooney told us he had the chance to get away for a vacation with family for about a week this summer. “And I promised no cell phone usage during the day,” he added in a lighter vein.

RTC Contributor Ray Floriani speaks with Rhode Island coach Jim Baron (courtesy - Melissa Kristofak, A-10 Associate Director for Communications)

Following lunch it was back to the general work area for another set of interviews. Some added notes….

  • Over six months later, Brian Gregory of Dayton still gushes with pride and excitement over the Flyers’ NIT title. He told in moving tone how former Dayton mentor Don Donoher visited his office and gave Gregory a clock with an engraving of UD’s three NIT-winning coaches: Don Blackburn (‘62), Donoher (‘68) and Gregory.
  • Mark Schmidt of St. Bonaventure spoke about how special a player his junior center is, Andrew Nicholson. In an added note, Schmidt tells how Nicholson’s dad calls to thank the Bonaventure coach for giving his son an opportunity to get a great education and play college ball. “Usually when a parent calls,” Schmidt says, “it is to discuss their son’s minutes or number of shots he gets.”
  • Derek Kellogg spoke about the nuances of the DDM (dribble drive motion) offense. Finally, Kellogg said with a laugh, “if a guy like Derrick Rose [as he did at Memphis with Calipari coaching and Kellogg assisting] is running it at the point, you as a coach look like a genius.”
  • Yours truly and Chris Mack of Xavier talked at length about tempo-free studies. Mack is a big tempo-free advocate who even gives his club halftime breakdowns. “We use (tempo-free) stats a lot,” Mack said. “We chart possessions rather than use the formula. If we see we are deficient in something like rebounding, then we look at film to see why.”
  • One growing concern is the possibility of eliminating the July recruiting period. In that area, Martelli noted “eliminating July evaluation could result in a rash of transfers down the road.”
  • Speaking of recruiting, Alan Major of Charlotte will battle ACC programs for talent, but did note getting in early with a kid and establishing relationships helps. Also identifying that ‘under-recruited’ player who can help you is vital and often a key.
  • John Giannini of LaSalle spoke about his sophomore star Aaric Murray. “He (Murray) is a special player,“ Giannini said of the 6’10 sophomore. “He played in a suburban league with 6’5 centers, did not play AAU nor go to a prep school power. He’s still learning and the sky is the absolute limit.”
  • Chris Mooney, who played for Pete Carril at Princeton told about taking his philosophy of simplifying things. “Coach Carril never spoke of a one or two or three in basketball terms,” Mooney said. “Everything was simple — you had guards, forwards and a center.”
  • Karl Hobbs of George Washington emphasized the comprehensiveness of his program. Hobbs brings in speakers to discuss issues facing student-athletes today. He even invited a media specialist to speak on the proper use of social media.
  • Jim Baron discussed the difficulty of playing road games in the A-10. The Rhode Island mentor knows the away games are arduous, but “you don’t want to make a big issue, make it bigger than it is to the players.”
  • St. Louis’ Rick Majerus was not present. Someone from the conference office mentioned health reasons. Possibly, though, sorting out the latest mess involving Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed was a major consideration.
  • Overall, the conference made for a very productive day. The A-10 plans on returning to the same locale next year. Obviously, they will probably tweak the format a bit. If you stayed from beginning-to-end, the media day lasted about seven hours, which I found a bit lengthy. If the conference continues its success in netting nationally-televised regular season games as well as putting multiple teams in the Big Dance, maybe they can throw us a bone on the parking, too.
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Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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