Recently, I sat down and discussed basketball with UH Assistant Coach Brian Hecker. A 1990 Indiana graduate, Brian will be starting his third season here at Houston on Head Coach Ray McCallum's staff.
DD – Brian, tell us about how a Wisconsin guy ends up at Indiana University.
BH – I grew up in Milwaukee and from about the seventh grade on I thought that I would play basketball for Bobby Knight. Indiana was the program when I was growing up, well, it turned out I wasn't quite good enough to make his team there. I played soccer and basketball in high school and Indiana was a top soccer school, I wanted to study accounting as well and Indiana was the only school that I applied to. I had some offers from some very strong Division III schools in Wisconsin, but I wanted to go to Indiana.
DD – After your days at IU, how did you get into coaching ?
BH – It's a funny story, the epitome of right place, right time. I wanted to be a sports agent and worked for one for two years while I was in school. I decided to go to Marquette's Sports Law program, but soon decided that I didn't care for continuing the school route. I went to my alma mater high school as a physical fitness instructor and coached girl's soccer when I decided that I really liked coaching and started looking into getting a teaching certificate. The high school was a nice suburban school with generally, lower level players. I traveled Wisconsin visiting with coaches to try to send some of my players on to Division III schools. Stu Jackson had just taken the Wisconsin basketball head coaching job and they called and said that there was an opening at the last minute and I accepted the job of administrative assistant at the University of Wisconsin. I worked on Stu's staff for two years then Stan Van Gundy took over for a year and then Dick Bennett was the coach the last five years that I was there.
DD – I'm not really up on Wisconsin basketball history, what's the story there ?
BH – None, to be fair, Steve Yoder was there for 10 years, Coach McCallum worked for him when Stu took over and we worked together for one year. In Stu's second year we went to the NCAA tournament, this was the first time that Wisconsin had gone to the NCAA's in 47 years. Since then the program has turned the corner. In 11 years they have been to six NCAA tournaments, that all started with Stu Jackson.
DD – Are they still a fairly good team ?
BH – Yeah, they are good and they have a nice young nucleus.
DD – What was it that made those teams great ?
BH – It takes five years to build a program and that was our fifth year. We brought in a class of six freshmen, the rules have changed since then unfortunately and you can't do that now. Those six freshmen were all juniors when we went to the Final Four and two of them had started as freshmen. We equate the class that we have coming in here at Houston to this group. We had a player at every position as we do in this class as well. With the group of players that we now have in place, maybe we have the pieces when they are sophomores or juniors to have some real success. When you have a group that stays together and it is not a revolving door, well, now you are truly establishing a program.
These kids at Wisconsin were not afraid of hard work, they were not recruited, for the most part, at the highest level, but they were kids that wanted to be at Wisconsin and be part of building something to be proud of. These guys were playing for the name on the front of their jerseys not the one on the back of their jerseys.
DD – Tell us what you can about recruiting ?
BH – It is all about identifying the right type of people. We are really excited about the guys we have in now and all of our new recruits. We are identifying a certain type of individual, guys who you do not have to worry if they are going to class or not, you know that they are. These guys are all great athletes and the difference between the top 100 and 200 players is just the day that you saw them and who you talked to that day about them anyway, that all that it really is. It is a matter of finding good student-athletes with high ceilings. There is also something to be said from a coaches point of view about knowing early that they are all going to qualify academically, will be here when they are supposed to be and that they all want to be here as well. Knowing that at 6:50 am if the guys are not in our lifting sessions that something is really wrong and that they just didn't want to get up that morning.
DD – Is basketball as big in the Midwest as football is here in Texas?
BH – Absolutely, Texas is a football state, but since I've been here, I've found that Houston is a baseball town. The kids all grow up playing baseball here, on the radio it is all Astros talk, maybe that will change some with the Texans in town, but that is the way I see it. Houston is a great sports town if you are winning. Houston has a lot of people from other parts of the country, therefore they are generally fans of other teams first. Being a very large city in the South has a lot to do with that.
DD – I'm wondering if competitive basketball being played primarily indoors and the fact that the weather here permits most sports to be played outdoors year around here has anything to do with its popularity in the Midwest ?
BH – I guess it could, I've never thought of it in those terms, but it could be part of it. You are right though, in that, the weather is more hospitable hear than in some parts of the Midwest. In Indiana and Kentucky it is an amazing thing, the way you have football games with full stadiums here on Friday nights, the gyms are all very large and packed during the week for basketball games there.
DD – How has your role on this staff changed here recently ?
BH – I've been in basketball operations and was brought up knowing the business end of basketball so that is what I've been doing up until recently. I let Ray know that I wanted to be able to recruit and thankfully there has been the recent rule change that allowed for more assistant coaches to travel and recruit, so I have been able to change my role a bit. A lot of the daily business things are going to be dealt with by Sean McDonough, our new Coordinator of Basketball Operations.
DD – How does this staff divide up the recruiting territory ?
BH – We start with our campus and draw concentric circles going outward. The fans want to see Houston area kids and we are going to start here and work outward. Coach Fitzpatrick has good relationships in the Northeast and other areas and I have relationships in the Midwest and we all have relationship here in this area. We all crossover, it all comes down to relationships with high school and AAU coaches.
DD – Is AAU basketball a good thing for college basketball ?
BH – It is a necessity, it is very necessary the way the NCAA rules are structured. You can only have five contacts with a player during the year, but during the summer with the AAU teams you can see the players more. During the AAU season you can go to an events and literally, see hundreds of kids in a day, whereas during the Fall you can't do any where near that. Without the AAU it would not be a level playing field for the smaller schools that can't afford to do all the scouting and travel necessary, but during one of these AAU events you can get a lot done.
DD – Let's talk about the coming season a bit.
BH – We are very, very young. We are coming off a fairly nice year last season. Out of our top six players we should have only lost two, but we lost five, Patrick Okafor and Dominic Smith were seniors, Kevin Gaines at the point, Marcus Oliver with his injury is a wait and see situation, George Williams decided to go try his skills elsewhere. We have Louis Truscott and Jeremee McGuire back, Anwar is going to have to develop, Cedric Fears had his knee worked on, Andre Owens has his finger injury, so we have basically ten guys who can practice right now. If someone has a class conflict, a couple of us coaches might have to get in there to keep practice going. Dwight Jones and Cedric Hensley are coming along real well. Cedric is very strong and adjusting very well and Ramon Dyer has been a very pleasant surprise as well. We recently had walk-on trials with 26 guys and we brought in 5 to practice. We are going to have to bring all our energy on every play every game this season because of our youth.
DD – How are you and your family adjusting to living in Houston ?
BH – My wife and I love it here, she has developed a lot of good friends. We've met a lot of good people from all over the country while here, the boosters and fans have been very good to us as well.
Brian thanks for spending some time with me and today, I'm sure that our readers at CoogFans will find this quite interesting. Good luck to you and our entire basketball staff and team on what should be a very exciting season.
Eat ‘Em Up!