TDD Conversation: Jeff Capel

In just his second season as Virginia Commonwealth's head coach that saw him lead the Rams to a 23-8 record, a conference championship, and a basket away from upsetting ACC power Wake Forest in the NCAA Tournament, former Blue Devil shooting guard Jeff Capel has quickly become one of the top young coaches in the game. Recently he sat down with <I></I> for an exclusive interview. Coming off a successful season, what is next season shaping up as?

Jeff Capel: Next year will be an interesting year and a very fun year, I hope. We will be talented and perhaps a have a little more depth. We return three starters and our sixth man, who was one of our best players last year. We will return a very good role player that will be a senior next year that I think will have a really good year.

Those guys, along with all of our returning players, will be very important because they will have championship experience. Its very important for those guys to work their butts off this summer and continue to be hungry for success.

What do you see as the teams' strengths and weaknesses?

I'm not really sure what our strengths will be right now. I know we will be very athletic, and I think we have a chance to be very good defensively. We have some guys that can score the basketball. I think we will have more depth, which could make us extend our defense to more pressure.

We only had nine scholarship players last season, and our starting point guard broke his foot in our seventh game and was lost, basically, for the rest of the season.

Our weakness will be how we adjust to losing Domonic Jones and Troy Godwin to graduation. Those two guys were our best players. More important, they were the hardest workers everyday in practice, conditioning, and lifting. They set a great example on how to lead. They were awfully good basketball players and will be missed! However, we must move on without them and hope that the guys we have returning will take ownership of the team like Dom and Troy did.

How did recruiting go? Can the new guys contribute?

We will have five new players next season. Three true freshmen, a junior college big guy, and a kid we had sitting out that will have three years of eligibility. I think all five will help and have a chance to be really good players.

Do you, as a coach, try to focus your offense around an interior or perimeter attack, or do you have to re-evaluate as situations arise?

What we try and do with our guys is teach them how to play offense. We want to share the basketball and get a good shot every possession. We stress the importance of not turning the ball over, moving without the ball, and screening. Those are basic fundamental things, but they are so important to execution. I want my guys to attack. I don't want them to be robots on the floor. We give our guys freedom, but that freedom is earned in practice. That freedom is based on trust and honesty, two words that are very important in our program. Our guys have to be honest with who they are as a player. They have to be honest with what they can and cannot do. They know I will be honest with what I think of their game and their strengths and weaknesses.

At the same time, I have to trust that they are not going to try and do things that they are not capable of doing. My players know if I cannot trust them, they will most likely be on the sidelines sitting with me.

Would you rather have a team of five really solid players or would you like to have an impact scorer and build around him?

Any coach will tell you that in order to be successful, you need good players. I'd rather have good players that buy into what we try and teach here. The most important thing is winning. I want players that are committed to winning. I want players that are willing to listen, to trust, to share, and to be committed to the team and program. I want a team full of those kinds of guys.

After last year you were being mentioned in connection to any number of "high major" jobs. What prompted you to not only stay at VCU, but also commit for another six years?

I decided to stay at VCU because I love my job, I love my players, and I love the city of Richmond. I thought it was the best situation my wife and I. We have a good thing going here at VCU.

Now, I was flattered to be mentioned for other jobs. But the bottom line is I have a great job here and this is the place I wanted to be.

What is your "dream job"?

As far as dream job is concerned, I'm not really sure. Perhaps when Grant [Hill] retires and buys a NBA franchise, he will hire me as GM.

As a soon to be third year head coach with a record of 41-18, what would you say has been the main factor behind your early success?

The main factor behind the success of our program has been two things: First of all, we've had really good players that have worked really hard, that have been unbelievably committed, and trusted our coaching staff. Players make coaches look good! The second reason is I have a great coaching staff. My assistants are the absolute best. They make me look good.

If you could, what rules would you change in the college game?

I'd love for the NCAA to move the 3-point line back. If you look at it, it's the same in high school, rec league, junior high, etc. Move the line to the international three.

As a coach who has to recruit, what do you see as a lost art in many kids coming out of high school?

Basic fundamentals are the main thing that has been lost in today's game. I include many things in fundamentals (i.e.: shooting, passing, ball handling, knowing how to play, etc...) The players today are so athletic that the basic fundamentals are not as strong as they once were.

How does this affect your coaching and recruiting philosophies?

On our level, it's very tough to get a finished product. If a guy can do it all, most likely he is in the ACC or a major conference. We get guys that are talented but not as ready as the elite players. Maybe they can shoot and jump, but can't dribble. Maybe they are big and can run and catch, but can't score yet. The great thing is we keep these guys for four years and if they work, by the time they are juniors and seniors, they are as good as anyone.

As a mid-major program, how hard is it for you to schedule games against the ‘elite' programs of the world?

It is very hard for us to schedule games, ESPECIALLY HOME GAMES!!! There are some teams that want to buy us to come to their place. I would love to be able to bring teams from the 'elite' conferences in our place for our fans to see. It will not happen though, and that is very frustrating.

What challenges do you face on the recruiting trail that some others may not? For instance do you shoot for the top 100 or do you go for a different range?

We try and recruit the best players that we feel can fit into our system. Our philosophy is we are going to recruit a kid until he tells us he's not interested. Its important for me to see how a kid will fit in to what we have. Character is really important to me.

On our level, its difficult at times because the majority of high school kids think they can play in the ACC or the other major conferences. As a competitor, it baffles me why a kid will go to one of those schools and not play rather than some to a school like VCU or another mid major and have a chance to develop as a player. I haven't seen too many players get better on the bench.

As a fan, how do you see Duke fairing this year?

I think Duke will be good. They return really good players, and have talented guys coming in. Plus, Coach K is on the sidelines, and I will always have faith in him. People think it's the end of the world because of Luol leaving, and Livingston possibly not coming to Duke. I love those guys, they are and always will be family, but they are not bigger than the program. Therefore, I firmly believe Duke will be good.

Look, we won the ACC regular season my senior year with a starting lineup of me, Wojo, Trajan, C-Well, and Roshown. When I think back to it, its hard to believe that we did that, especially with Duncan at Wake, and Jamison and Vince Carter at UNC. There were teams that were more talented than us, but I believe we played harder, more together, and we understood how much we needed each other. Also, we had the best coach in college basketball on our sideline.

The Duke team this coming season will have more talent than we did. As good as the ACC will be next season, there is still no Duncan, Antwan Jamison, or Vince Carter in it. If those guys believe in each other, and listen and trust their coaches, I believe they will be really good.

What do you think is the biggest concern for them?

It looks like the biggest concern will be frontcourt depth. Shelden Williams is as good as any post player in the ACC. Shavlik Randolph came on really strong towards the end of last year. But that's it right now. It's going to be important for those two to be in really good shape, and play without fouling.

The guy Duke will miss the most is Duhon. He had an amazing senior season and career at Duke. But I'm excited for Dockery. It's a tremendous opportunity for him, and I think he will be more than ready for the challenge.

Anyone you expect to have a breakout season next year?

I think Daniel Ewing will have a great senior season for Duke. I love Daniel, and I think he is extremely talented. This is a great opportunity for him to step and play like I know he capable of playing.

Also, I really think Sean Dockery will have a good season replacing Duhon. I'm sure he's working his butt off this summer. Watch out for DeMarcus Nelson also. That kid can really play!

Sounds like you keep up with Duke a lot despite your schedule.

I keep up with Duke all the time. I talk to Chris Collins and Wojo all the time. With Duke being on TV so much, it's pretty easy to catch the games. I don't get to attend the games that much because of our season, but I got to catch them at UVA last year, and that was great. It was my first game in a few years.

How often do you get a chance to catch up with old teammates?

I keep up with many of my former teammates. I talk to Tony Lang all the time -- his two sons are my Godsons! I talk to Grant all the time, Trajan Langdon, Carmen Wallace, Stan Brunson, C-Well, Nate James, and Justin Caldbeck.

Obviously, I speak to Chris Collins and Wojo often. Kenny Blakeny is an assistant at Delaware with David Henderson -- they are a conference opponent. Also, Robert Brickey joined the staff at James Madison, so he will be in our conference as well. Tony Lang, and Trajan were in my wedding last August. Those guys are my family, as well as all my former teammates.

Speaking of Grant, how is his rehab coming?

Grant's rehab seems to be going well. He looks really good. He and I were together a few weeks ago along with Stan Brunson at Tony Lang's charity golf event in Mobile, AL. He is excited about playing again this season, and he feels great. I'm sure I will see Grant in July when I'm in Orlando recruiting. He usually comes and watches games with me when I'm down there.

Do you think he may look to coaching if he can't comeback?

I think Grant would make a great coach. He has an incredible basketball mind. However, I don't think he will ever coach. I see him, when his playing days are over years from now, being in the front office of a NBA franchise. I could see him eventually owning a team. Grant Hill will be successful at whatever he chooses to do.

What's Jason up to these days?

My brother completed his second season in the NBDL last year. Once again, he played for my father in our hometown (Fayetteville, NC). He had a really good year, and his team made the playoffs. He's in great shape, and in a really good place mentally and spiritually. If nothing happens with the NBA opportunities he has this summer, he will go to Japan and play. He's excited about that.

Do you guys still have a rivalry going over ACC loyalties?

We most certainly have a 'friendly' rivalry with the Duke-UNC thing, although he hasn't had much to brag about lately.

We both were very lucky to have had an opportunity to play at two of the best programs in the history of college basketball. We both played in a Final Four, we both started most of our career, and we both won an ACC regular season championship. Also, we both have tremendous love and pride for our respective universities.

What do you think of the recent trend of high school kids going straight to the pros?

I do not think its good for the NBA or college basketball with the kids skipping college and going directly to the NBA. First of all, I don't blame the kids. It happens all the time in tennis, baseball, and entertainment, and nothing is said about that. I do think the quality of basketball in the NBA has gone down big time though. I think the quality of basketball in college has gone down as well. College basketball is still great, and in some ways, it's helped with parity between the high major programs and mid-major programs. But the game has suffered, and that bothers me because I love the game. I'm not sure what the best philosophy is, but I do think something needs to be done.

What's the funniest thing you saw a fan do at Cameron or otherwise during your career?

Funniest thing I saw a fan do at Cameron?

We were playing some exhibition team -- I can't remember what year it was, or who the team was for that matter -- but they had a cat on their team that had really long dreads. He went to the free throw line, and the crowd started chanting: "You shot the sheriff, you shot the sheriff." It was hilarious! The dude couldn't shoot the free throw because he started laughing. That was pretty funny.

Also, during the 1995 UNC game at home, when we scored to send the game to double OT, there was a guy that ran on the court and was celebrating with us. He thought we had won the game. He didn't realize the shot just tied the game. It wasn't that funny then because we eventually lost. But thinking about it now, its hilarious. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

Most motivational speech you ever heard Coach K give during halftime?

Not sure about the halftime speeches, but coach had some great pre-game speeches. He's the best motivator I've ever been around.

One time my freshman year; we had just lost two out of three games (to UNC and Wake). After the wake game, coach talked about us regaining our hunger. He told us we were playing like fat cats, like we had a million dollars in our pocket. He wanted us to play like we were broke. Well, our next game was UVA. We're sitting in the locker room waiting on coach to come in and talk to us. All of a sudden, all the lights go off. Now, I'm a freshman, so I have no idea what's going on. I'm thinking maybe there is a storm or something. Next thing I know, I see a little glimmer of light. Coach walks in, and he has a candle in one hand, and a statue of a fist in the other. He say's to us, 'I'm just a poor polish coach, looking for a bunch of hungry I in the right locker room?' I don't know about the rest of the guys, but it was awesome to me. We went out and beat UVA by like 30, and I had my highest scoring game as a freshman (20pts).

Coach has a way of making you believe in him and trust everything he says. That is why Duke has been, is, and always will be good.

Last question. Dispel a rumor for me. Did Tony Lang trim his finger nails the night of the Arkansas game? Another inch and you guys had it.

I'm not sure if Lang cut his nails. If he did, I'm going to hurt him. Tony and Grant are the two best defensive players I ever played with. Those guys were awesome and were so important to me. I love those two guys. They taught me how to succeed at Duke, and in life. Scotty hit an amazing shot over a great defensive player. To this day, I still have not watched the last minute of that game. I will watch up to the point that Grant hits the three to tie it. Then, I usually leave the room or turn the channel.

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