Coach Phelps checks in with Marquettehoops

Marquette held their annual awards banquet Monday night. The event honored the three graduating seniors, Steve Novak, Chris Grimm, and Joe Chapman, and featured a variety of speeches from coaches and players. Keynote speaker and former Notre Dame coach Richard "Digger" Phelps delivered a passionate speech to the listeners about his career, basketball, and having the passion to get ahead in life. Before hand, he caught up with Marquettehoops.com to share some more insight.

Marquette's basketball program held their annual awards banquet Monday night. The event honored the three graduating seniors, Steve Novak, Chris Grimm, and Joe Chapman, and featured a variety of speeches from coaches and players. But there was one person in attendance who was clearly not in the Marquette basketball program. Keynote speaker and former Notre Dame coach Richard "Digger" Phelps delivered a passionate speech to the listeners about his career, basketball, and having the passion to get ahead in life. Before hand, he caught up with Marquettehoops.com to share some more insight.

AS: To the surprise of many people, Marquette had a great season and got back to the NCAA tournament. Can you tell me when you and maybe some of your colleagues at ESPN started to take notice of this team?

DP: This year? (laughs) I've always kept an eye on Marquette. This season was nothing more than a continuation of what Tom Crean has done to make this one of the best programs in the country. I think the Connecticut game when Novak took over by scoring 41 points said to the Big East that these Conference USA teams were going to make an impact. I love James, I think he is going to be a great guard in the shadows of what Travis Diener did and also Dwayne Wade.

AS: This new Big East Conference, what do you think that means for Marquette?

DP: Well first of all, the experience of playing in the Big East Tournament this year for Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette was like, "Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the Big Show." The best electricity when it comes to any of the major conference tournaments is in New York. When you are in there for the first time, it's amazing. I think it's the best conference in the country. I think Marquette is always going to be in there, Tom Crean is one of the best coaches in the country—the fact that he got them to the Final Four as well as the enthusiasm he brings everyday to this city, who supports the team really well…Marquette is in real good shape. Tom Crean has carried on the torch from Al McGuire to now.

AS: Speaking of the Big East and some of its teams, Notre Dame and Marquette will now be playing twice a year. Will that help build on a rivalry that has always existed?

DP: Oh, we have always been rivals. I mean, that goes back to before I was at Notre Dame. In 1977, Al wins it and quits. In 1978 we get to the Final Four and in 1979 DePaul gets there. In 1980, the Big East is born. So we, the independents, were the powers in the 70's and those rivalries are still rivalries because we were the best the Midwest had in college basketball.

AS: How does television play into that now? Obviously, you work for ESPN, how do they dictate who gets the edge on exposure nowadays?

DP: Well, back then we were TV. That hasn't really changed at all because Marquette and Notre Dame still get their fair share of exposure. It was never an issue.

AS: Care to share your favorite Al McGuire story?

DP: Yea, probably when he called me up two days before the Notre Dame/Southern Cal football game and wanted four tickets to come to South Bend. Of course, Al calls on Thursday and the game is on Saturday. At the time, he was working for a company who designed uniforms and he was taking some people to the game. I said to him, "Al, this is going to be really hard, I'll see what I can do." I come up with four tickets finally and they fly down for the game. He stops by my office at the Joyce Center as everybody is getting ready to go over to the stadium. He comes in the office, thanks me, and asks me, "What do I owe you for tickets?" I told him that he didn't owe me anything…just to pay me back some other time in some other way. It was no big deal, you know? He stood up, told me that if his guests asked, the tickets were 150 bucks a piece. So, Al went and collected 600 bucks from his guests and pocketed the money.

AS: (Laughing) You are kidding me?

DP: He did. No joke. He was the absolute master of psychology in college basketball. I learned so much from him. He was like my big brother and Ray Meyer was my second father. We really had a great relationship, a great rivalry…we were what college basketball was all about thirty years ago. None of that has changed…DePaul, Marquette, Notre Dame, I think the fact that they are all in the Big-East now is pretty fitting.

AS: You have come to Milwaukee a lot as a coach. Now that you are here as our guest at Marquette, how has your day gone?

DP: I talked to the team this afternoon and spent some time watching them in their workout. These people are great. This town loves basketball; nothing has changed from the days of the Mecca to the Bradley Center. That spirit and that tradition has been carried on like I said, from Al McGuire until now.

AS: Forgive me for being too young or naïve, but what's with the matching highlighter and tie?

DP: Believe it or not Andrew, it started just last year (pulls out yellow highlighter matching yellow tie). I've always had a tie and highlighter on the set but I've never picked the highlighter up so it showed on camera. I started doing it. Can't change it now!

AS: And who pokes fun of you the most at ESPN for that practice?

DP: No question, its Tony Kornheiser from PTI.

AS: What a surprise.

DP: He got on me about a year ago. I had a big fat pink tie on and he didn't know that pink was a hot color for men to wear last winter when I was on the show. I raised the pink highlighter and he yelled to Mike Wilbon, "His highlighter is matching his tie I can't believe it!" That started the whole thing.

AS: Thank you for your time Digger. We are honored to have you here today.

DP: Your welcome, anytime.


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