Phil Seymore Interview, Part 2

Friar Insider recently had an opportunity to sit down with Phil Seymore, the women's basketball coach for the Friars. This coming fall, Phil Seymore will be entering his third year as the head coach of the Friars, and we took this opportunity to get a state of the program, take a look back at this past season, and to get a preview of what might be in store for the program in the coming year.

This is part two of a candid interview with Coach Seymore.

Part II

SH: Coach, do you feel that you put a high premium on bringing in players for your system that can really pass the ball in order offset some of the athletic match up problems your teams may encounter when you're up against a Rutgers or a Connecticut that may have a lot of elite athletes?

PS: You've got to be boxers when you take on some of these teams. We're boxers, not sluggers. We're going to box, we're going to pass, we're going have good motion…we're to play with a high basketball IQ. Those are the things that we have to do in order to win. We have to always play like a team because that's the only way we can do it. We know that we can't win trying to do things one on one out there. Now, our younger players are going to get better and that will upgrade our talent and flexibility but we've still got a ways to go. However, our players are going to know that when we go out there, if they play a certain way, they will always have a chance to come away with a victory.

SH: Do you think you're going to have the sort of size disadvantages this coming year that you've had the last two?

PS: Well, everybody gets stronger out there, but we'll be stronger too. I think Aga is going to help us next year. We're going to miss Aga when she leaves because she's a lefty and you can't teach 6'6. She's got one more year of eligibility left. She blocked a lot of shots this year but she just wasn't all that consistent. Now she didn't play within herself the way she needed to but that will improve. Now I think Emily Cournoyer really is going to be good for us. She's gotten bigger already through lifting weights and she's going to be in better condition as an athlete next season. She'll be able to get up and down the court better. Jessica continues to work hard as well. Everyone who's coming back is going to be better.

It is strength and toughness that makes the difference in this league. You've got to be both physically and mentally tough in the Big East and I thought we lacked some of that during the course of the year. I think we'll be a tougher team next year, and the players coming in are going to add to our toughness as well. We'll miss Kris and Shauna who we lose this spring but I think our level of toughness is definitely going to improve next season.

SH: In contrast to your first year as the head coach here, did you make any major adjustments this past season in terms of your style of play, or have you pretty much settled on the style that you want your team to play on the court?

PS: I like the way we play, I like the offense we run… No one plays like we play. We run the same basic offense that John Beilein has run for years, and I think it can be successful for us here with the right players. Defensively, I think we have to still fine tune things to make up for where we are lacking. I'm going to have to study our defense a little more in terms of how we should play with next year's team. We pressed this year, we didn't press last year. Actually, the press won us a number of games this past season that we might have lost my first year. It also got us back into a number of games that were getting away from us.

SH: Were you pressing with a zone or out of the man to man?

PS: Zone. We play mostly match up zone with some man to man. We'll make a few adjustments to keep people on guard but the system we have, that's the system we'll play. We'll obviously tweak it depending on our talent but it's going to stay the largely the same.

The thing is, with a young team, we couldn't throw too much stuff at them. Even this year offensively, we couldn't run some things this year that could do my first season. On the other hand, we did a lot more with ball screens this year because our guard play was better. When we had Kendria healthy, we could go 1-4 and she could break people down but without her on the floor, we couldn't do that much this year or last because other player like Chelsea are more catch and shoot players.

SH: Did you feel that you were overall closer to competing as a Big East team this season as opposed to last?

PS: Yes and no. I thought that this year's team was more talented than my first year roster. I felt that my first year team may have competed harder on the court. They might have been tougher. My first team wasn't as talented but they were tougher in my opinion.

SH: Was that because they were more experienced overall?

PS: They had more veterans, and they just worked a little harder every day. This year's team was a little softer, but with what they went through this year, I think that will prepare them for what it will take next season. There were games that we really competed in this year, and there were games that we didn't compete the way we are supposed to at all. Again, injuries and different things going on can affect that, but we just didn't compete enough, especially near the end of the year. At St. John's, we went down there and it was a big game for us and we got beat…St. John's up here we got beat…Depaul here, we got beat…When you do something like that you expect to build off that and bounce back but there was no building down the stretch and I hold myself responsible for that.

SH: You've talked about the role that injuries can play in how a season shapes up. You've had your share of injuries in each of your two years as head coach. Do you feel that injuries are a more of a common occurrence in the women's game as opposed to men's basketball?

PS: No doubt. There is no doubt that it that it's more of an issue in the women's game. Back in the 80's and 90's the ACL injury was very prevalent. You still have those, but now we're seeing a lot more in the way of stress fractures. Stress reactions in shins…I think it's across the board not just here. Rutgers, Depaul, they also suffered similar types of injuries this year. I don't know for sure what the cause of it is, but it's a big problem. I'm actually scared at times to run my players too much, and it got to the point where I had them in the pool most of the preseason this year to cut back on the pounding from running.

Lots of times it can be a matter of freshmen coming in, and not really being prepared for the level of fitness that will be required at this level of competition. Sometimes, the coaching and training isn't what we would ideally like to see at the high school level. They get to college and we put them through conditioning drills that they're not used to, where it results in their bodies not reacting the right way and it leads to stress fractures.

SH: Do you think that more is expected from athletes today from a conditioning standpoint than say maybe it was 15 years ago?

PS: No, I think the same is expected from them and now we actually have better knowledge and more trainers that monitor the players more. It's hard to say what the difference is but there is no question about it that there are more stress fractures happening in the women's game today.

SH: I imagine that makes quality depth that much more important because you can't count on having healthy players?

PS: You need to recruit the full 15. I can't count on them all this year because we still have some injury issues right now. Shantee Darrian is going to be better but she's going to have her moments when her injuries start to flare up. Danielle Howard, now I just don't know if she'll make it though the year healthy. Right now, Ashley has foot problem and she missed about six games this year. You almost have to look at kids who ran some track and whose bodies are used to the pounding. This is a whole other level and it's a physical challenge for a lot of players. Jessica, who was a freshman, was having knee problems because she didn't have any quad strength in her legs. I think she felt like she was hit with a sledge hammer when she started working out here. It all depends on the preparation before the player reaches college.

SH: Let's talk a little about the Big East overall. How would you rank the Big East as a conference right now?

PS: I think the Big East is probably the best from top to bottom. You've got 16 teams and we were in the last quarter but we were still able to beat a top team like Louisville. The league is very good top to bottom. I think the league got eight teams into the tournament this year and four more that made the NIT. I think the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 are all great leagues but the depth of this league says a lot. I think the Big East programs are taking women's basketball very seriously these days. It's not just Uconn and Rutgers that have quality. It a great league up and down for the fans but a tough league obviously for the coaches.

SH: Things were so bad for the program in the recent past, I think people see the gradual movement toward solid, competitive play that is starting to show some results under your watch. Do you feel the progress happening or are you just caught up in the game to game preparation?

PS: I thought that this year, especially with the Louisville game, I saw some people responding to our play and saying things like, "wow, they've got it going already?" Then you had the game at Marquette where we almost had that one too. I kind of started to get excited and maybe there was a little too much too soon for our players. The guy's team was playing against Marquette I think and the crowd gave our team a standing ovation when they announced us. I said to my team that you have to learn how to handle this stuff. If want more people coming to your games, you have to keep up the strong performances. Support doesn't come overnight and one big win doesn't make a season. You've got to give people a reason to believe and to come out to see you.

SH: Do you feel you can go out on the recruiting trail now without the same raised eyebrows you might had seen a couple of years ago when you went into homes recruiting? Is it getting easier?

PS: When you get recruits like Mikida Hankins and Megan Jackson who are right on the cusp, I'd definitely say we're getting players now where we couldn't before. Good programs were recruiting them, but they weren't going hard after them. We were able to beat out a top twenty team like George Washington for Mikida and Megan liked the league and liked Providence because some other programs had overlooked her after she was hurt. But the more wins you get, that makes a big difference in who you can get on the recruiting trail. The recruits I talk to want to hear about the school and the coaching staff, but they also want to know who else you have coming in, who you've beaten, what kind of shoes your team is wearing, you name it. Female athletes really do their homework on programs and evaluate things a little more thoroughly than a male athlete might.

If we continue to work on recruiting and can fill our last scholarship this year with another point guard, I'll feel pretty good going into the season. Our backcourt is thin right now with just Chelsea, Kendria, and Catherine Bove. That's really it. Again, you've got to have depth in case you have injuries. We need another player who can come in and handle the ball. We've got a few players we're looking at right now, and were hopeful that we can add one that can help us take the next step in improving the program this coming year.

SH: Best of luck Phil with recruiting and with the coming season, and thanks again for taking the time to discuss the program for the fans.

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