bleedCrimson.net: What attracted you to New Mexico State?
Mark Trakh: When I went down there, it was a couple weeks ago, number one I really felt confident about Dr. Boston and Maria Roth. I felt that the administrative support was really really good and I liked what they had to say and I like the fact that they want a strong women's basketball program. The more I thought about it, there's community support there. You can win in a lot of places but you have to have two things. You've gotta have administrative support and community support because if you don't have any support it doesn't matter where you are. I felt like there was administrative support and community support
The facilities are excellent, the Pan American Center, the weight room, the practice facility. This is a place where we can really build something. I think you've gotta sell what you have there. The climate, they kept telling me when I was there that there are 365 days of sun. I just think you've gotta find all the positives of the university and really stress that. I think we're going to do that and we're going to hit the recruiting trail really hard and see if we can bring some quality student athletes to the university.
bc.net: You spent some time at the Pepperdine, another mid-major, as the head coach. What are some of the similarities between Pepperdine and New Mexico State in terms of facilities, support and the existing program when you arrived?
MT: Well the similarities are they both have a lot of sand and the difference is that Pepperdine has an ocean and Las Cruces doesn't!
Pepperdine, our facilities were very limited, they're going to build a new arena there but I think their facility seats 3,000. There are limitations, it's not really a college town, even when we were winning we couldn't get a large attendance. But we sold the academics real hard, the location, Southern California, the fact that we were right on the beach, right on the sand almost. We really sold what the school had to offer not what it didn't have to offer. At first we got some bouncebacks, some really good bouncebacks from the major schools and then we started out-recruiting some Pac 10 schools for players that they really wanted. We had a kid named McDonald that was recruited by UCLA and some others, Jennifer Lacey that was recruited heavily by Cal and Arizona, they picked Pepperdine. Now I don't know if you could actually do that at New Mexico State and out recruit a Big 12 school for a kid. You might be able to but I just think you've gotta bring in solid kids. These BCS schools, you go head to head against them and you've just really gotta work hard. One thing that was really good at Pepperdine is I had great assistant coaches that if they were on a kid for a really long time, say they were on a really solid mid-major kid and they're on them for a long time and then some major school didn't get a kid they wanted and they turn around and offer the kid we've been working on a scholarship, invariably the kid would say, "no, we know these people, they've worked really hard to build a relationship." My assistants developed such good relationships that they [kids] weren't going to change their commitment just because a major school came calling at the last minute.
I think it's important that you have assistants that can develop relationships. At Pepperdine I had assistants that can do that, I had people that could really really recruit. I'm going to have to have people that can really really recruit at New Mexico State.
We sold the positives and then we got competitive and got to the top of our conference every year and our recruiting, it opened up doors and more people were interested in going to Pepperdine. I think that's what we need to do. Winning will attract more recruits than anything else. Recruits didn't care we played in a small gym or that we didn't have a crowd. They just wanted to go to Pepperdine because we were winning. Then we started getting a lot of L.A. area kids. We signed a kid named Camille Lenore to Pepperdine who was going to play four years. We took the SC job and we took Camille with us and Camille wound up being the second best point guard in the Pac 10 by her senior year. That's a kid that was going to play in the West Coast Conference. Those are the type of kids that we got and hopefully we can continue.
bc.net: You'll be hiring assistants soon, what are the type of things you're looking for in an assistant?
MT: I coached a kid from the time she was in fourth grade all the way up through elementary school, junior high, she played for me in high school and won three state championships and went to USC and started on the Tina Thompson, Lisa Leslie teams and by the end of my third year at Pepperdine she had graduated. She was 21 years old, just out of college, had never coached and I hired her as my number one assistant. Her name is Jody Wynn, she's the head coach at Long Beach State now. She had to learn, she didn't have any contacts at the time but she was the one that got those recruits in. I just knew that she was going to be able to recruit. I don't know how, just knowing her for so long, I just knew that she was going to be able to recruit. She was recruiting kids to Pepperdine. It's a great school and we could get good mid-major kids but she was bringing in Pac 10 kids.
I just saw that ability to relate to kids, her personality, the fact that I knew she was hard working and sincere but I just knew she could connect to kids. She did a great job, she was with me 11 or 12 years as an assistant coach and then she got the job at Long Beach State. I want to look for people who can really really relate, are personable and can connect with kids and develop relationships.
I gotta give my assistants a lot of credit for what happened at Pepperdine because they really did a great job recruiting and that's what I want to look for in assistants here. Assistants are really important, how hard they work and how organized they are. That's what I want to do at New Mexico State, bring in a quality staff. That's really important especially in the recruiting aspect of the game.
bc.net: What type of players are you looking to bring in, not just in terms of your style of play but
MT: I'm going to go out and get the best players that I can possibly get and fit the system around them. That's more or less what we did at Pepperdine. We got real athletic at Pepperdine. I think that was why we got to the top of the conference, at the time we were just more athletic than everybody else. We had a lot of kids that could shoot the ball. I think it's real important that you have at least two kids that can shoot the ball so you can spread the court. We want shooters and we want everybody to be able to defend of course. Eventually I'd like to be able to get up and down the court, run the controlled break, spread the court. We run the motion offense but again we'll design the offense around the talent.
My last year at SC we played multiple defenses, before that we were a straight person to person team. It denuded on what I inherited but eventually you'd like to go out and run and play a person to person defense and play up and down the court in a controlled manner.
bc.net: How much time have you had to talk to the current players on the team?
MT: I spent about a half hour with them after the press conference and I was just really impressed by their enthusiasm. I was impressed with the fact that they wanted to work hard and they're ready to go and they're excited. I told them, I want them excited five months from now when we're having our two and a half hour practices and everybody's pushing and life happens and our season is going to have peaks and valleys. I could understand everybody being excited that day [of the announcement] but it's going to be a day to day process and starting in the beginning of May when we run individual sessions with the kids and try to evaluate their abilities.
Based on what I saw the first day they were eager, they were excited and hopefully that will continue for 12 months and we can get some things done in the first year. I liked what I saw, I really think they were excited. I don't know them that well right now but they all seemed like really nice young ladies who are ready to really work hard. I just liked the body language in the room, I liked the vibe in the room but I've been coaching long enough that it's always a grind. You have peaks and valleys in the season and you've just gotta work hard. That's what we hope to do. But overall I got a real good vibe and I was really impressed with them.
bc.net: Obviously you probably won't know until you start doing individual evaluations of the players but what are some of the things you anticipate wanting them to work on as you get ready to head into the fall practices?
MT: I can't say since I don't know what they're good and what they're deficient in. After the workouts in the first week of May I'll get a better idea but I told them everybody's gotta be better on September 1st than they are right now. Working hard during the summer, I told them during the summer I don't want them training for the Olympics but I do expect them to get in the gym and work on their skills and stay in shape and hit the weight room. You don't have to do it four to six hours a day but you do have an obligation to come back a better player. I think all of them are going to be in the second summer session. We'll probably have them all at the second summer session where they can get out and work with our strength and conditioning coach and get in the gym and work out on their skills. I just think its so important that you work on your skills. It's such a high skill game, shooting is a skill, dribbling is a skill, passing is a skill and you're not going to get better unless you work at it.
bc.net: What's your philosophy on building a schedule?
MT: I think you've gotta have a couple challenging games against a couple BCS schools but I don't think you should have six or eight BCS schools and I don't think you should have Division II schools. I think you should have solid mid-major schools that you're playing against. Maybe a couple BCS schools and the rest solid mid-majors but I don't want six or eight BCS schools on the schedule where it's just game after game after game. I think you can test yourself but I think you should go out and get as many solid mid-majors as you can.
bc.net: Over the course of your career starting in 1993 at Pepperdine and up until now, what changes have you seen in the women's game?
MT: I started in 1980 at Brea High School and I can throw that in because a lot of my players were recruited and so you could see the changes since 1980. The thing that's constant, Notre Dame and Texas A&M were in the national championship game this year, a few years ago we had two different teams playing in the national championship and then people get excited and say "Is parity finally coming?" and then boom, Tennessee rolls off three straight and UConn rolls of two straight and then you get this again. I don't know if this is a trend that we're going to see different teams or an anomaly that we're going to see Tennessee and UConn are back?
I think that hasn't changed for a long time. Those are great programs with outstanding coaches and I can't tell you how much I respect those coaches but it's nice to see Texas A&M there for the first time, Notre Dame there for second time. It would be really nice to see different teams in there for the national championship game and hopefully that trend will start. It would be great I think for the women's game to have a Butler like story. They're a mid-major and they get to the national championship game two years in a row. I think that would be outstanding. I guess the last one [mid-major] was Southwest Missouri State, but for the longest time whoever got to the Final Four was a high seed in women's basketball. I just think we need that, the Gonzaga story was just such feel good story. It was new, it was fresh. We learned about Courtney Vandersloot, we learned about Kelly Graves. It was just a new story in women's basketball instead of just the same old. I think if Gonzaga could have made the Final Four, how big a story would that have been for women's basketball? How great would that have been?
I don't know how feasible it would be or how realistic that would be but it would be nice. I think what you see is Butler can make the finals two years in a row because the talent pool of men, prospective male college players, the talent pool is much deeper than that of the women. Maybe Butler didn't have one McDonald's All-American but they made the championship game twice. I think it's harder for a women's team because the talent pool is not as deep and the top percent of teams get most of the great players. The top five or six teams get the really really great program changing players. There's just not enough to go around. I think there's a few reasons why Butler can make the finals or VCU or George Mason can make the finals is the men have 13 scholarships so each team has fewer scholarships to give so they can't sign 15 people. The talent pool is deeper and then kids jumping to the NBA early, I think that's part of the reason there's parity in the men's game.
You don't have those three factors on the women's side of the game. I've seen the talent pool for the women get bigger as we've gone along and hopefully we'll continue in that trend.
We'd all like to see a trend where there's different teams playing in the national championship game. It's good for the sport and would help the attendance base. You have schools that have great attendance but hopefully other schools can start building their attendance and fanbase and I think that would be good for the game overall.
bc.net: When you look at the WAC, obviously you've got a couple established programs in Louisiana Tech and Fresno State and then you've got a bunch of programs in the middle of the pack with New Mexico State, Nevada, Utah State all fighting to work their way up to that same level as Fresno State and Louisiana Tech. What are some of the challenges of trying to accomplish that when you're playing in a conference that has a couple of established programs?
MT: I've kind of been there because when I got to Pepperdine the established programs in the conference were Santa Clara, San Francisco and Portland and those were established programs that were really good. Santa Clara had won the conference four years in a row when I got there and then when I got there USF went to the Sweet 16 in '95 and dominated the conference for three years. So we kind of had that where we were more a middle of the pack West Coast Conference team that had to catch those teams and it took us into our fifth year, we went 15-13 for four years and in our fifth year we went 21-10 I think and that got us rolling to those six or seven straight 20-win seasons and we got to the top of the conference. I think that's the same thing. I don't want it to take five years to get in the upper half like it did at Pepperdine. I think you've just gotta go out and recruit. That's how you challenge LA Tech and Fresno. You just recruit really really hard. It's a daily process. Work hard, recruit hard and have a goal and a timeframe where you'd really like to challenge those guys.
I think LA Tech is gonna be tough, Fresno State is leaving the conference next year so that problem takes care of itself. Reno leaves, Hawai'i leaves. Believe it or not they're going to be really good next year. They have two of the most highly recruited athletes in the conference, they're both Pac 10 bouncebacks, Shawna Lei-Kuehu who had signed Cal and Vicky Tagilacod who signed with me at USC and then they've got a freshman who was one of the top rebounders in the country. They've got talent so they could be one that makes a big jump next year. But that's how you make the jump, you get two Pac 10 transfers and you did a good job recruiting the leading freshman rebounder in the country. If they make a jump it's because they got those two kids that came back and they got this freshman kid.
That's what you've gotta do. That's what we hope to do. I don't think the cupboard is bare at New Mexico State, I think we inherited some solid kids. Recruiting is going to be the big thing. I think the coaches do a great job in the conference from top to bottom so I think the key is going to be recruiting and working hard in that aspect.