FI Exclusive: The Tim Welsh Interview

Friar Insider is pleased to present the Tim Welsh Interview, a conversation with the Friars' Head Men's Basketball Coach that is being made available to fans of Providence basketball subscribing to FI. This interview, which included over an hour of discussion, answered questions on a variety of topics, many which have been frequently asked again and again on the message boards of Friar Insider.

Some of these topics include insights and opinions on issues that Coach Welsh has never discussed at length before.

Due to the length of interview, the transcript has been broken up into segments. This is the first segment which focuses on the Coach's thoughts on his approach to the game, playing team defense, and developing physical and mental toughness.

This is a rare opportunity to get a glimpse at the coaching philosophy and decision-making process of Coach Welsh, and addresses issues of both the past and the future. Friar Insider is very appreciative of the time that Coach Welsh took to answer these questions for the fans of Providence College basketball. We hope you all enjoy this feature.

The Tim Welsh Interview - May 31, 2006

S.H.: You've now been at Providence since the 1999 season. Over the years coaching in the Big East, have you changed your approach to coaching and/or altered the sort of player you recruit that you think may best succeed in this program?

Coach Welsh: I think people who watch us know that we want to recruit athletic guys that can really run the floor and play different positions, and I like to have some interchangeable parts on the floor...we've always had a motion offense. I don't get locked into a 1,2,3,4,5 system. But, I think you have to adjust from year to year, I think every coach does. You have to adjust to your personnel, your league's style…and hopefully you can make people adjust to your style. Obviously, we'd like to recruit the Top 50 guys every year...Is that realistic? Probably not, but we will take our stabs at certain top guys if it fits, if we have an in, whether it be geographic or some other sort of relationship to our program. But you also have to understand who we can get.

If you look at the history of the program over the last 10 years or so, the better players who have come out of here are guys who have developed here. We're going to continue to try and find those kind of guys...I think we have a good young core of guys that fit everything were looking for...guys that are going to develop, guys that are talented, and guys that are highly skilled offensively. From that, you've got to teach them how play better defense, and hopefully that will happen with this year's team.

S.H.: So over the last 7-8 years, is there now a Tim Welsh brand of basketball? What is the defining characteristic of a Tim Welsh coached team?

Coach Welsh: I think it's a team that's going to play an up tempo offense. A team that is going to move the ball up the court...in recent years and with some of our better teams we've shown an ability to be a high scoring team. Really push the ball and have a fast, exciting tempo. I think we've been able to share the ball, been a team that's not going to get locked into coming down and running set plays every time down the court. I think that brand of basketball is exciting to recruits too. I think one thing players say when they see us play is that they'd like to play in that type of offensive system. I think our system helps to develop players.

Ryan Gomes is a very good example of that. He developed his game from not only his own personal work but I also think our system benefited him and I think it benefits all of our players in terms of developing because we don't lock them into just being screeners, or being guys who can just shoot from the elbow, or guys who can just come off screens and take shots...we want each player to develop a complete game. I think we've established ourselves as a fast breaking, open offense.

S.H.: Given all that, let me throw some things out there that a number of your Friar teams have demonstrated and you can tell me if any of them define your brand of basketball.

S.H.: A motion offense?

Coach Welsh: Yes.

S.H.: An emphasis on three point shooting?

Coach Welsh: At times.

S.H.: A zone defense?

Coach Welsh: Certainly the last few years. We'll also adjust to our personnel there.

S.H.: A shot blocking center that runs the floor?

Coach Welsh: Yeah. You go back to Marcus, Shabazz, and now Hanke and Hill. We're always trying to get one of those guys and hopefully you always have one so I guess that's accurate.

S.H.: Is there anything else that is a cornerstone of your teams?

Coach Welsh: I like forwards that can step out and handle the ball. I don't really like forwards that can't be versatile. Guys like Geoff McDermott, guys like Ryan Gomes... a guy like a Jamel Thomas, even though I didn't recruit him was an ideal player in our system because he could do a lot of things on the floor. It opens up the court. The more your fowards can step out, the more it can really open up things for your guards to slash and cut. We're not going to grind and run a smash mouth offense where we come down and have our power guys on the box and clogging things up... we like to open things up...but you can't open it up if you don't have fowards who can step out to the 3 point line and makes plays, whether it's off the dribble, or making passes, or shooting the ball. So we like to have guys in that spot who can do those things. But, on the other side, he's got to be able to come down on the other side of the court and bang against some bigger players he might have to face because of the mismatches.

S.H.: Do you see a distinction between the 2 guard and the small forward? Some coaches refer to them both as swing guys?

Coach Welsh: Yeah, they're really swing guys in our system; we don't even give them numbers. I liked how we had a guy like Donnie this year who could do a few different things for us including handling the ball in the transition game, which opened things up for other guys like Sharaud at times. I think Weyinme is a guy who can have a dual role next year. Hopefully, the freshmen can come in and help us there as well.

S.H.: How do you feel the incoming players and the off-season work of the team will address any of the problems that the team has had in the past with close games slipping away?

Coach Welsh: Some of it is just getting experience. But, did we lose the Louisville, Seton Hall, and Cincinnati games in the last 15 seconds of the games because of experience? I'm not sure we did. With one play, is that experience? I don't think so. I think when you lose by 9 points and let things get away over the last five, six minutes; I think that's a lack of experience. I don't think our guys lost focus of the game plan, or lost confidence in any of those games. So it's just a matter of becoming better, becoming a better team, and most of it is on the defensive end with getting stops at the end of the games.

I bring up those 3 games because I thought those were three games that got away from us that if they turned the other way, our season turns pretty quick. From not even getting to New York, to a team that would have had a better record than the team that ended up winning the Big East Tournament. But it starts with getting stops at the end of those games. I think of Copeland scoring on us a couple of times at the end of the Seton Hall game, or McGhee going by us at the end of the Louisville game a couple of times. Getting a key stop at the end of the game...and that's a mentality we've tried to instill in the off season. But it's not easy to do that in the spring and we've had a flurry of injuries with Herb out, Weyinme out, Geoff out pretty much all spring. However, I think they've learned a lot from the season and the work ethic is there. We'll certainly create that mentality when they're all back.

S.H.: Do you think that having more depth next year is going make a big difference with the results on the floor?

Coach Welsh: Depth can only help. But I think having depth almost helps more in practice. You have to simulate game speed and game situations in practice, and that was difficult to do this year with our numbers. Once the games started, I was comfortable, I never looked down and said I wished I had another guy...I mean I wish I did have another guy and you can always use more guys, every coach always says that, but I was pleased with the guys we had and I said we'll go to war with these guys and I felt good that when we stepped on the court that we were always going to challenge and play at a high level, and I thought we did....But I think to go on to the next step now, the depth is definitely going to help us.

S.H.: While PC was 6th in the league scoring offense this past season, they were 14th in scoring defense. Is good defensive play something that can be significantly improved on at this level of play or is it more of a skill that a player has had to have developed earlier on in their career and one which you instead have to recruit and then refine?

Coach Welsh: I think it's all of it. I hate to be kind of a Switzerland on that...you have to try and find guys who can play defense but....Defense in high school, nobody plays great defense in high school. I never really come out of an AAU game and say that, hey... he was a heck of a defensive player. That's few and far between. The John Linehan's of the world or an Erron Maxey; maybe you would say now that guy's a heck of a defender. But we've had some guys that could defend here. They learned the trade. Guys have got the physical abilities, but have to develop that mentality, not only individually but team wise. I've seen a lot of guys who could guard the heck out of their man but they're horrible in the team concept...they don't get the team concept...and that's equally important if not more.

You can't just guard your guy and then your supposed to be in help position and somebody else gets beat and you're supposed to be there as the next stopper and you're not there, you're nowhere to be found. Well usually the guy who gets blamed is the initial guy but as a coach you need to instill a team concept. I think we got the team concept better in the zone as time went on. It takes time to understand that. I think the young guys, they struggled with it at first which they all do... They knew how to stop their guy, but they didn't know where they were supposed to be positioning wise, where there hands were supposed be, the footwork involved, and that's a long process and tough for a young team.

If you go back to some of ours guys that we had years ago, when Sheiku Kabba came here, he was a horrible defensive player for us. Marcus blocked some shots, but he was not very good defensively either. Anytime anybody with any meat would lean on him he just collapsed, but they both ended up good defensive players for us. Ryan was horrible defensively when he was young, and he became a guy who could get us a stop when we needed one and good defensive player. They all grew into it. Even Donnie McGrath became a guy we could put on another team's top scorer and he proved it over the last couple of years here - not good when he first got here though. So I feel that we've got the athletes and the mental ability to do it. Now some guys will have to step up this year and get tougher to be able to bang in the league and we've talked about that and I think they went through some ups and downs with that this year. I think going to into practice with a Randall and a Herb going up against a big, strong Ray Hall every day in practice is going to help them. It's going to help their development defensively especially.

S.H.: Is the toughness question as much an issue of weight training and bulk much as it is actual grit?

Coach Welsh: No, I like to think it's more grit. I think it's more that fighter mentality. That's what it is. One of the toughest guys we have is Sharaud Curry. He's also strong in the weight room but he's not as strong as our big guys are. He can't lift as much as Jon Kale, or Randall, or Herb in the weight room...he can't lift as much but he's tough. He'll stick his nose into plays. You've got to be able to stick your face in plays. Hey, I go back to Sheiku Kabba...After his freshman year, I said to myself, I don't know if he's going to be good enough. He had the ability, but I didn't like that he didn't stick his nose into plays he didn't get charges, he didn't get steals, he didn't make those toughness plays. I talked long and hard to him over the summer and he got beat up a lot in the off season by John Linehan...it was almost like the big kid stealing the little kid's lunch money every day and finally he got sick of it, and he got sick of me hammering him and finally I told him he wasn't going to play unless he got tougher and started making plays so it took some time before it happened.

Some of guys this season, I had to tell them that, privately, and I think they improved during the season...they got tougher. Even going down to the last few games of the seasons, I saw improvement in guys' mental toughness and physical toughness and that part was encouraging because if you don't have that, it's very, very hard to win. Guys that are soft...sometimes you take guys that you don't know how tough they are but hopefully you can make them tougher and put them in an environment where it smells like if you don't do what it takes you're going to get beat up.

S.H.: Do some programs recruit defense first at the expense of offense? St. John's plays tough defense but they often struggle to score...Pittsburgh has had some success and they play tough defense, but they sometimes struggle to score...the old Georgetown teams...

Coach Welsh: Yeah, I think so.

S.H.: Is it one or the other?

Coach Welsh: Well, I think sometimes it just works out that way...But I like to recruit skill guys first because I think that's harder to teach. I think you can teach team defense. It takes a little longer to build that, but I don't know if guys ever become good collectively on offense unless they have skills. I think you can be good at both. Some of those teams that you mentioned...some teams that struggle to shoot... If they don't have good shooters as a whole I know it makes the game really, really hard and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. That has always been my way of thinking...you recruit skilled players and teach them how to play defense.

End of Segment #1 - Look for the next installment of this interview on Friar Insider in the coming days where the coach discusses the issues of transfers, recruiting practices, job security, and more...

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