The following is a conversation with the Women's Head Basketball Coach Mike Divilbiss. I gathered from my conversation with Coach Divilbiss that he is intent on taking the program to a new level.
Being a first year coach to a new program is tough. Some players left the program others suffered season ending injuries and at one point the team was down to only 6 players. Next season the depth of the team should be better. The new coaches brought along 3 players with them from their previous schools. All three of these players redshirted this year but they already know the schemes the coaches like to run. Along with the transfers the program signed 4 recruits and most of them should see playing time next year.
Coach Divilbiss puts an emphasis on fundamentals. The first part of each season is spent reviewing and relearning fundamentals. As well as fundamentals, Coach wants players who think while they play. Players are expected to know where the other players are on the court as well as where the players will be next.
Look for good things to come from this program in years to come. Coach Divilbiss has everything well under control.
VandalVenue.com: How short handed were you last year?
Coach Divilbiss: At one point we were at 6 players and we played most of the year with 7 plus Aloha Santiago from the track team. We played with 8 kids for much of the season. In basketball you are only going to play 7 or 8 players in a season anyways but it makes it tough for practice situations and it doesn't leave you any room for error or injuries. When Suzie Goss went down that got us awful thin. Whenever you come in and takeover a program that was like this one you change the expectations and not everyone is going to like it. You're going to lose some kids because of this and when Suzie went down that exasperated it even more.
VandalVenue.com: Will Suzie be back next year?
Coach Divilbiss: No, seven years is a long time. Suzie got an extra year as it was. That kid's been though so much. They gave her an extra year when she broke her neck then she tore her ACL. That's how she started her college career and when she tore her ACL in the San Jose game it about made me sick because she's been through so much. The kids all hung in there. I feel they grew a lot as players. I had several people comment to me, and I think they're right, that those kids did more than even they thought they could do as far as effort and passion for the game.
VandalVenue.com: That's one of the goals of coaching isn't it?
Coach Divilbiss: Yes it is. No question and I look back over a year and I measure success by did the team get everything from their ability regardless of wins and losses. I think this team got everything from its ability they could have. In this situation, new coach, one year, those kids got everything from their ability. They should be very proud of that. I am.
VandalVenue.com: When you first came in last year did you have a set game plan for them or did you have to evolve it.
Coach Divilbiss: No, I've been doing this so long I know exactly how I like to start the year. I want to teach offensive fundamentals first. It takes longer to teach offense than it does defense because the ball is involved, teaching them how to cut, run, catch the ball with their feet in the air, pivot, pass the ball with their feet on the floor. I'll be perfectly honest with you, when I walked into the gym last April I went "Oh my God", there's so much to do. This may sound silly but the kids didn't even know how to make a cut to get open or turn their shoulders and run to create a lead. They didn't know how to do it and it's the simplest thing. We started at square one but I do that every year, start there and work up. I think the best way to describe it, and some people say break them down and build them back up, but I don't like that terminology. What you're doing is taking a piece of clay with all these dents in it that came from other places and those dents are habits, either good or bad and what you have to do as a coach is take that clay and smooth it out and then put your dents in it. We spent last spring trying to smooth that clay out. The kids really kept an open mind and showed a willingness to learn. With all the seniors they could have said, "lets just play" but they were so hungry to learn.
VandalVenue.com: How many seniors did we lose?
Coach Divilbiss: We lost 6.
VandalVenue.com: So what kinds of recruiting needs do we have right now?
Coach Divilbiss: Well, the good things for us is we had 2 kids come with me from LC that are very talented and 1 young lady played for Debbie Roueche [Assistant] at Eastern Washington and she was their best player as a freshman. The 3 kids all transferred and redshirted this year. One will have 1 year left, one will have 2 and one will have 3. What that allowed us to do is not have to go recruit JC kids. In the women's game you cannot build a good program through the JC ranks because the really good players in high school have the academic background to go to a 4-year school. So the men's game is much different than women's. I have always believed you build a quality program with 4 year kids and having those kids redshirt, they're family, they played for me and one played for Debbie. They know my system so it's better than getting transfers and those 3 kids are very talented and those 3 kids when combined with the 2 returning players Keisha Moore and Taylor Benson give us 5 to start with. Now, we don't want to bring in 9 kids in one class because then you don't have any balance in your class. Four years from now you lose 9 kids. That's not healthy. So we're going to be a little light in numbers again next year. The other thing that allows for is open scholarships for the following year so now you bring in a class of 3 or 4 behind the kids you signed this year now you have 2 classes plus the transfers and that builds a solid base for a program.
VandalVenue.com: Do you have to follow the 8/5 rule like the men do?
Coach Divilbiss: : No. We're going to be a little light on the roster this year but not as bad a we were last year but that's on purpose because we don't want to burn all of those scholarships. We want to have 4 for the following year. So we brought 7 kids in and 1 is going to redshirt, she was the 4A player of the year in Washington the year before last and she played last year at Kennewick. She wanted to come here and they had her on campus but didn't offer her. She's a really good player. A lot of division 1 schools missed out on her. She's an undersized, hard nosed, big-hearted competitor. She's post player, a little undersized at 5'11" but she can really play.
VandalVenue.com: As far as women's basketball what is the toughest position to recruit?
Coach Divilbiss: : I've always felt you build your program around a point guard and 5. You've got to have a point guard and a post player. You start with a point guard and then find a 5, someone who can dominate in the box.
VandalVenue.com: Recruiting again. Do you research players through the media or does the player's high school coach contact you.
Coach Divilbiss: : No, we spend the month of July attending AAU games and club games. There all over the place and we go watch them play. One of the things that's really important when coaching women's basketball is developing a sense of family in your program. You have to be very guarded about who you let into the program. In any business or organization you have to have people you know you can build commitment and trust with. So we have to recruit kids that are very giving people. We're very demanding of players as far as relationships not only on the floor but off of the floor as well. So you have to recruit a certain kind of kid. We look hard at the type of kid we recruit. Not just their skills as a player but their character as well. That's real important to us and sometimes we miss. I still think that's the right way to do things; be demanding of what you ask of the kids. It's hard with all of the NCAA rules to build that relationship when recruiting.
VandalVenue.com: What areas to you expect your team to improve the most in next season?
Coach Divilbiss: :2 Letters. T.O. We will not turn the basketball over. Ain't going to happen. If we turn the ball over like we did last year I'll be very surprised. Our guard play will be much better this year. To be honest with you I felt the strength of our team this year was our inside play. Next year it will be our weakest but our guard play will be much better. The inside play will be our biggest question mark. In college, the women's game is dominated by guard play. You don't win if you don't have good guard play.
VandalVenue.com: Which of the recruits do you expect to make immediate impacts next year?
Coach Divilbiss: :We only have 5 returning players so some of those freshman better be ready to play. You just don't know. They surprise you both ways. The way we teach the game you have to be a thinking player. Some kids pick it up right away and it paralyzes others, it just takes them longer to get those instincts.
VandalVenue.com: Are there any of the Big West teams you enjoy playing from a rivalry standpoint?
Coach Divilbiss: :I don't know about the rivalry part because I'm new but Santa Barbara is the measuring stick.