bleedCrimson.net will be interviewing Aggie men's head basketball coach Marvin Menzies throughout the 2008/2009 season as the Aggies take aim at their third consecutive WAC championship. We talked with Coach Menzies about the semifinal loss to Utah State, the growth of the team over the season, what he's most proud of this season and his prediction for the NCAA Tournament winner.
bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Utah State game?
Marvin Menzies: Obviously that was a big time environment, a great effort by the young kids to jump out on Utah State like that and give us an early lead. We just couldn't hold on long enough, we had them all the way down to the last couple seconds there, one more stop and we'd have got it done. But they had a very good player make a big time shot under pressure. One of our guys lost him in a bit of confusion there but we had plenty of chances with Hernst going to the line, Gordo's missed three, we had plenty of chances in the last couple of minutes to secure it. It's one of those things, you wish you could have it back but at the same time I was really proud of the way the guys fought and played against a quality team.
bc.net: Going into the half, your team showed the upper end of what they're capable of doing. You hit 11 of the last 12 shots you took including eight consecutive made three point attempts and all the players that scored during that stretch are coming back.
MM: Right. And obviously you've got to look forward to the future at this point, there's no reason to dwell on the past, only to learn the lessons and we will. We will learn from the lessons that we had. Not just in that game but all year long. And we'll take the positives and build on that with these young kids. We've got a lot of excitement in the community. I'm pumped up, I was really down the first few days and still have nagging memories of not getting it done but everybody can't win it. We were one of eight teams that weren't the champs this year. We've gotta go back to the drawing board and we've got five teams in the conference that are returning all their players, so it's not going to be easy. The best team is going to be determined between April and October.
bc.net: The last three games of the season, you've got to be really really pleased with the way your team played defensively. You shut down Hawai'i, played great defense against Boise State and then against Utah State, a team that shot over 50% for the season, you held them to under 50% shooting on the night.
MM: Our defense was our achilles heel all year long so to finish the last three games playing phenomenal defense you feel really good about the young guys next year and the momentum at the end of the season is something that we're looking forward to being able to build on right away.
bc.net: Obviously you never want to lose but with the kind of loss that it was, a one point heartbreaker, does that help give the team a little extra motivation going into the offseason?
MM: It does. To lose by 10, 15, 20 points, you know, you really don't know if you had a chance to win. There's a lot of things you would have had to do differently to win but with this one, you know that with one possession, that if you clean it up in that game then you win by five or six. So yeah, it definitely gives you a little bit more of a spiritual lift to go into the next season.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about the growth of your team this season, you started out struggling on the boards but you really cleaned that up towards the end, your offense got better as the season went on. What are you the most proud of with this team?
MM: I'm the proud of the overall development. I think on and off the court you've got to try to get these young kid to turn into young men and then young men into men and that's a process and there's a lot of things to be proud of. I think the development of the kids on the floor is one thing but there's some other things as well that have nothing to do with basketball that I feel we had major development in them in terms of their character and there's things behind that scenes that I feel good about.
bc.net: Obviously you've got everybody coming back next year but one of the interesting stats that they talked about in the Boise State telecast was the fact that Hernst Laroche is in the top three among freshmen for assists to turnover ratio. You look out on the court and a lot of times you forget that Hernst is just a freshman.
MM: Right. Hernst is obviously a bright spot this year. A very pleasant surprise as I've said before. Not only was he solid, he grew. He grew as the year went on and for him to finish with the statistics that he did and the ranking that he did in the freshman class, you obviously feel good about that and very optimistic going forward because he's such a solid person and he's a hard worker and he has all the off court intangibles to do nothing but get better. It's a good deal.
bc.net: You've seen a lot of basketball in your coaching career, talk about how rare it is for a freshman to have not only a positive assist to turnover ratio but the kind of margin that he had.
MM: His deal is one where you're just so pleased that he wants to please you. That's all he does every game is want to make me happy. So that's obviously a key indication of a kid that is a joy to be around, a joy to coach, he has a lot of intangibles that I discussed earlier that I think him make him the person and player that he is. So going into next year we're going to even improve on what he did this year because of that work ethic and hopefully be even more special next year.
bc.net: Again next year you'll have a fairly young team, your only senior will be Jonathan Gibson. Five out of the last six game, if you throw out the La. Tech game on the road, he finished shooting 33-60 from the field, 20-35 from three and he really displayed the ability that got him picked preseason All-WAC.
MM: Yeah. Jonathan, he struggled for a major portion of the year but he was there when we needed him down the stretch and helped get a big time win over Hawai'i and Boise State and he found his niche and started to understand a little bit more the kind of play that I needed him to play in order for us to be successful. So I think being able to learn from that and being able to build on that will be a key factor going into next year.
bc.net: What types of things will you have your guys working on in the offseason?
MM: Each kid will have a very specific academic plan, strength and conditioning plan, nutrition plan as as well as skill development, offensive and defensive plan that they'll have to follow from beginning in April to when we start practice, to the day. So it's up to them, because we're limited to how much we can do, it's up to them to be committed and really keep the drive and the passion that's necessary for them to be successful down the road. So hopefully they'll feed off of that loss and turn that into energy.
bc.net: This week the NCAA tournament starts, your former team Louisville, the number one overall seed, two teams you faced this season, Kansas and USC also in the tournament. What are your predictions?
MM: Well I'm obviously going to predict Louisville to win it all. I do think that they'll definitely at least make it to the Final Four as long as they stay focused and keep the leadership moving in the right direction as they have as of recently. I think they're going to be the team to beat as do a lot of other people in the country. The overall tournament is going to be great, there's a great mix of talent, a great mix of parity and outside of the five or six teams. I think anybody can sneak in there.
bc.net: What do you think of Utah State's chances against Marquette, especially playing in Boise at Taco Bell Arena?
MM: I like them, I like them a lot. I think playing in Boise is a big plus and I think coming off a 30-4 they'll be successful and I'm picking Utah State to win the game.