The RTC Interview Series: One on One with Elwyn McRoyPosted by WCarey on July 5th, 2013
Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at email@example.com.
Elwyn McRoy is what one would call a coaching nomad. Over the last 16 seasons, McRoy has held 12 different jobs at 12 different schools. After a playing career that saw him play at two different junior colleges before finishing his eligibility at Cleveland State, McRoy embarked on a coaching career that has taken him to stops at every different level of coaching. He has coached at the high school level, the junior college level, the Division-II level, and the Division-I level. During the 2012-13 season, McRoy served as an assistant at the D-II Stillman College in Alabama. In a recent profile for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Brad Wolverton described how McRoy spent his season at Stillman, earning $3,000 while living in a dorm, being away from his family (his wife and four kids stayed in Seattle), and eating off of a meal plan. Following his season at Stillman, McRoy was able to earn himself another crack at a D-I job when he was named to newly-hired UT-Pan American coach Dan Hipsher’s staff in Edinburg, Texas. RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking to McRoy about the trials and tribulations of his career and his new job at UT-Pan American. You can follow him on Twitter @CoachMcRoy.
Rush the Court: When did you decide you wanted to become a coach and why?
Elwyn McRoy: I always knew I wanted to become a coach at some point. Both my parents were coaches, as well as educators, and I always saw how much influence they had on their students. Also, once I had the unique opportunity to play for five coaches (ed. note: freshman season at Butler Community College – Randy Smithson, redshirt freshman season at Hutchinson Community College – Steve McClain, redshirt sophomore season at Hutchinson – Randy Stange, redshirt junior season at Cleveland State – Mike Boyd, and redshirt senior season at Cleveland State – Rollie Massimino) in five years of college basketball, I knew I had a ton of information I had learned and could pass along. Being a point guard, I learned a great deal from all these coaches! Also, it was easier to accept getting into coaching after I knew I would not be making a lot of money chasing the dream of playing professionally. My semi-pro career consisted of playing with the New York Nationals, which is another name for the Washington Generals, who play their games against the Harlem Globetrotters. I did that for five months in 1999.
RTC: You were the subject of a tremendous profile chronicling your nomadic career in The Chronicle of Higher Education at the beginning of June. Since that profile was published, what sort of response have you received from those in the basketball community, and also, from those outside of the basketball community?
EM: The amount of feedback has been tremendous from people in and out of the basketball community. I have received e-mails, Facebook messages, Twitter requests, and messages from people I do not even know. A lot of people have said they will definitely be following UTPA to see how we are doing and to follow my career. I made it a point to e-mail everyone back that has reached out to me. It has not been overwhelming, but it has been incredibly humbling to see and hear that there are so many people with stories that are very similar. I was blessed that the Chronicle gave me an opportunity to share my story and much love to Brad Wolverton for taking on a story that was a chance for him. From other coaches in the basketball community, I hear that they had no idea it was such a tough year for me. Coaches could not believe that a Division-II job was only paying $3,000 for the whole year. I heard from a lot of coaches that the RV thing sounds like a great idea for coaches to invest in since we move so much – most thought that was pretty neat. I told them it is a great idea as long as you don’t have to live in it! But it really has been amazing to know that the story reached so many different types of people. I heard from a mother whose son was let go from a BCS-level school, I heard from a person that said they were going to resign from their job until they read my story, and I even heard from a young man who decided to stay in school after reading the story. That’s what makes you feel good is when you can help others. That made me feel very good inside!
RTC: In your time at the junior college ranks, you helped in the development of future NBA players Stephen Jackson and Lee Nailon, as well as future Oklahoma standout Taj Gray. What was it about these three players that caused you to believe that they could succeed at a higher level and how strong was the sense of satisfaction that you felt when you saw them experience that success?
EM: I came in at the tail end of Stephen Jackson’s junior college career after he had redshirted at Butler Community College, so I never really worked directly with him. But Lee Nailon, I had the chance to work with him during the spring of his sophomore year before he headed to TCU. I am even the one that drove him to Fort Worth for school. Lee was a special player, he was very gifted, had great touch, and being a lefty – he kept people off balance. I loved his work ethic and always knew he would play for money. I was really happy to see Lee make it because I knew his family situation and how much that helped. Taj Gray was a pleasure recruiting and I had known his parents for a long time. My folks and his folks grew up together because they were all educators in Wichita. Taj was a super kid, which made it that much easier to coach him. He was a pleaser and wanted to do everything you asked. He was always very humble and good to talk to. He was of those kids that has a problem saying no, so that made his recruitment kind of harder than most. I wish he could have stuck in the NBA because I think he could have been a very good role player for an NBA team. He has done very well overseas and he and I still remain in touch via Facebook. The other young man who played with Gray at Redlands Community College was Brandon Polk. He went on to play at Butler where he won the Horizon League Player of the Year in 2006. He was also from Wichita and my roots ran deep with him from a family standpoint. He was a quick learner and did everything you asked. Like Gray, he has had a very successful career overseas and we still stay in touch. Those two kids were a special duo that you don’t get together very often.
There are two more guys I would like to discuss: (1) Al Fisher, who I signed at Redlands, went on to play at Kent State and ended up being MAC Player of the Year in 2008. He had another gear, was very talented with the ball, and possessed unreal quickness. He was definitely more of a gamer than a practice player, but he did have a good work ethic. He has done well for himself playing overseas. (2) DeForrest Riley-Smith – who is a guy I signed at Southern University. He was SWAC Player of the Year in 2006 when Southern made the NCAA Tournament and lost to Duke in first round. He was a hard worker who was always in the gym and really followed directions on how to improve his game. He was also very unselfish – almost to a fault. He has gone on to do well for himself.
RTC: From a national standpoint, not much attention is paid to the junior college level. There have been countless instances of junior college players moving on to the Division-I level and in some cases, the NBA. If you could tell an outsider a few things about the junior college level, what would they be?
EM: The main thing I want people to know about junior colleges is that they are not just for student-athletes who do not qualify academically. Junior colleges have gotten the short end of the stick because people have these stigmas on a lot of players that go that route. It is a shame because, in a lot of cases, junior college helps young men get ready for a bigger university setting. I think it is a tragedy and a sham that the NCAA has risen the requirements for a junior college player to move on to the Division-I level. We are penalizing these students instead of helping them to succeed. It is really too bad because junior colleges used to be a very viable option and the talent was really good, it was a great “Plan B.” Junior colleges used to be feeders for Division-I schools, but now a lot of Division-I schools look at junior college players like they are cancers. I have always believed you can be successful with junior college players, as long as you recruit the right ones from the right programs. The transfer list is so deep every year and I do not remember it being that lengthy when the junior college route was a legitimate “Plan B.”
RTC: At the Division-I level, you have been a member of the coaching staffs at Iowa State, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, and Southern. What did you learn from each job and how have you applied that to your career and your coaching style?
EM: Each stop along the way I have gained valuable experience as to how I would run my own program. At Southern under Michael Grant, I learned a lot about the four-out, one-in offense and the movement involved in it. I also learned it is okay to let it fly from behind the arc, as his teams were always at the top of three-pointers attempted. At Georgia Southern under Jeff Price, I learned a lot about different presses. At Arkansas State under John Brady, he had a lot of great zone offenses and a ton of press breakers. At Iowa State under Fred Hoiberg, he had a lot of the NBA sets to isolate guys. Then now at UTPA under Dan Hipsher, I will learn about the five-man motion offense and how to move without the ball. All of these things I have picked up are helping me to form my own style to go with what I learned as a player. Now I am just waiting and hoping for some athletic director to give me a shot as a head coach to utilize what I have learned.
RTC: What has your relationship with Rollie Massimino – from being your coach at Cleveland State to being your boss at Northwood University – meant to you as a person and to your career as a coach?
EM: From the moment I sat in on his interview at Cleveland State, Coach Massimino had a good influence on my career and on me as a person. As a player, I had the opportunity to learn all of his zone presses, which I like. With Coach Massimino as my boss, I learned a couple of things that have really stuck with me, such as always getting in the office early and always keeping a cleanly-shaved face. I used to hate when he would get on me for having a scruffy look, but as I have been in the business, I understand the importance of being clean-shaven. It is the perception that comes along with it and that means a lot. Coach Massimino also gave me a Nike sports coat that he had gotten during his time at Villanova. To this day, I still wear it a few times a year. I like to think that he wore it during the championship run in 1985. That is what I like to tell people!
RTC: You have been on the job on Dan Hipsher’s staff at UT-Pan American for a little less than two months. What has the new staff been able to accomplish during that time?
EM: Since the joining the staff here at UTPA, we have been able to accomplish quite a bit. Coach Hipsher has done a great job of getting out into the community to meet with business people and donors. We have signed two transfers in Sean Noriega from South Florida and Javorn Farrell from UMass. This has been a great staff to be a part of and I am enjoying to get to know these guys. (Fellow assistants) Andy Hipsher and Cody Hopkins have been great. We definitely have some excitement aroused in the valley!
RTC: Lastly, if you could give a bit of advice to a young coach just beginning his career, what would it be?
EM: Coaching is definitely a grind with good and bad times involved. Be sure you are in this profession for the right reasons and be ready to deal with the lows because there are more of them than the highs – but that is what makes the highs so good when you achieve them. Try to get with good people. Sometimes when you just chase money, you end up in bad situations.