Interview With Tim Welsh, Part 4

This interview with Tim Welsh allows fans to get detailed information and opinions from Coach Welsh that time normally does not permit during the season. In our last segment, Coach Welsh discusses the progress on the program's facility upgrades, the schedule, and how the Big East coaches feel they need to promote the league more in order to get the proper consideration at tournament time.

Part 4

SH: Turning to the facilities Coach, I understand that the strength and training center is nearly done, and the Dunk renovation is in full gear now, but I assume that's not coming without some inconvenience?

TW: The training center is on schedule and is going to be great for everyone, and as far as the Dunk goes, we're going to be starting the season on the road in Puerto Rico but then we'll be right back home with a game so we'll only miss one home game, really. We wanted to play a preseason tournament, and we could have played that weekend here in Providence but instead we're going to Puerto Rico, which I think will help the team tremendously. So no, I have no complaints about the Dunk construction, that's the price of progress. We're excited about the Dunk, we're going to get a locker room down there that is twice the size of our current locker room. We're also going to have a training room at the Dunk which we've never had so it's going to be a lot better for us. That all will be ready for opening night…that's what they're telling me.

SH: So it really sounds like there is not going to be that much of a disruption this fall in terms of being able to do what you need to do for games in the arena. Do you expect practice time at the Dunk to be curtailed significantly?

TW: I don't know about the practice time down there. That hasn't really been discussed yet. Sometimes we don't really know the practice availability at the Dunk up until a week before but what we really will place importance on there is getting more flexibility in terms of scheduling dates for games at the Dunk. Certainly, starting every year on the road in the Big East, with the exception of last year, has always been a negative.

SH: It's possible that PC doesn't go 8-8 in the conference if they don't start out with 2 at home this past season.

TW: Exactly. It's always good to start out well. Not to say you can't start out well on the road and that's never an excuse but we'd like to have an even playing field with other teams in the conference and get the same opportunities to start the conference season at home with the same frequency. So, I really hope we can work it out with the Dunk as we move forward to get dates that can help us with our schedule. That's really a big issue right now.

SH: You've got your schedule all set, right?

TW: The schedule is done but still, this year we are blocked again the first week of January where we will not be in the building. So most definitely, we will start the conference season on the road with the first two games being away, unless one of those is a bye. In the future, next year there will be a Big East game played in the week between Christmas and New Years. They have to start the league earlier because we're going to 18 conference games. But this year, they are still squeezing it in all between January 1st and the Big East Tournament. We know the ‘who' and the ‘where' with the schedule, but we won't have the ‘when' with every date settled until some time in September, which is pretty late.

SH: With regard to conference matchups, is there any formula as to who your double opponents are each year?

TW: Nope. It's up to television and Mike Tranghese. They do have a straw poll with the coaches now where we send in how we think people will finish and they wait until the NBA draft comings and going shake out. I never know how they'll match it up, no one does. I think things will be a bit more even with the 18 game schedule. There will still be some imbalance, but at least everyone will play each other at least once now.

SH: One would think you'll get some favorable TV matchups this season with a lot of upperclassmen on the roster.

TW: I certainly hope so. I think the league contract is better so there are more nights for Big East games now. I think they've added a Thursday night Big East game this year. The new contract is going into place this year so things should only be better in that regard.

SH: That BC game at the TD BankNorth Garden will be a nice opportunity for fans to see the Friars on the road.

TW: I really hope our fans come out in force for that game and I have confidence that they will. I agreed to that game, knowing that it's a stopgap in our series that doesn't count for us going to BC.

SH: BC was going to drop our game at Conte otherwise, correct?

TW: BC was dropping the game, yes. Which is fine, we dropped George Washington this year because we were overscheduled. We will pick up that game next year with GW.

SH: The first year that BC played in the ACC was there ever a game in the works between the two teams to play?

TW: No, their administration really wanted to play a Big East team, and I wanted to start playing them again, but I felt it would be best if there was a cooling off period after their departure from the conference. There was never anything planned that first year they were in the ACC. I think we have a great core of fans here who always go up to Conte forum for games against them, but playing in the Garden, all the tickets will be distributed evenly so that will be great for PC fans.

SH: It won't hurt that Providence is getting a little preseason attention from Joe Lunardi's preseason Bracketology, which has Providence among 9 Big East teams in the NCAA field.

TW: That would be nice because the overriding concern at our league meetings was that we didn't get enough teams in the field. Speaking for myself, if we're in position and doing well, you're going to hear more self-promoting of our program because I think all the coaches have to do more to promote the Big East and our own schools. You really have to now, when you have things like these league RPI's that often make no sense. We were told the ACC was supposedly better because they had a higher league RPI and the Big East had a winning record against the ACC last year. I watch the games, and I can see for myself who's good and who isn't. I watch ACC games and I say, ‘yeah, it's a good league but it's not better than ours.' Then you look at these teams like a Georgia Tech or a Duke, very good teams, who with three weeks to go, have everyone putting them in the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, in the Big East we had the same record at 8-8, and Providence wasn't even in the discussion. Neither was West Virginia, neither was Depaul. I stay up and watch a number of the west coast teams like Stanford and ask, why were they in the tournament? They were 18-13, the exact same record as Providence. It's not like we're in some mid-level league, we're in the Big East and are not getting the same consideration.

Now I'm not saying we should have been in the NCAA tournament by any stretch of imagination, but I'm saying each coach has to promote the league better. I think we all try to take the high road politically and not criticize other leagues but that's over. I'm going to talk about whatever we do and I intend to speak up about it. The size of the Big East should not be any sort of factor. We used to get 6-7 teams in the NCAA when we had 12 teams in the league. I think the overriding theory is that ‘oh, they should only get 6 or 7 teams' but it's the percentage of the league that's important. Jim Boeheim is right when he says that we should regularly be getting half of our teams in the tournament.

SH: Just like Syracuse was on the short end of the stick last year, we don't know where Providence will be come March. PC should be in the NCAA mix but the margin can be thin for many teams.

TW: I went to dinner with Jim Boeheim after their Notre Dame loss at the Big East Tournament. He was nervous but thought his team had to be in with 22 wins, 10 in the league, and one in the Big East Tournament. I told him there is no way he should be excluded from the field but yet it happened. So, we have to keep promoting the league collectively so that worthy teams with resumes like Syracuse and West Virginia last year don't get excluded going forward.

SH: You've said in the past that you thought the facility upgrades would really help with recruiting. How is that playing out so far?

TW: I think it is helping. People want to come and play in nice facilities. I think it will help a lot more though when people can actually put their feet in there and sit in the chairs, and go into the fitness center, etc…But it's a tough world out there and we need to continue to move forward and upgrade things because other programs are building new practice facilities and a doing a host of other things. The great thing that I have here are people with vision like Fr. Shanley and Bob Driscoll who understand the climate. They don't say "well basketball has gotten enough already". Bob knows, and Father has gone on the road and talked to other people. I think Fr. Shanley's time with Billy Donovan recently helped our program because Billy has echoed what we need here and what is required to consistently recruit top talent to Providence.

SH: It's good to see that Billy Donovan still supports the program here.

TW: Oh yeah, he's great. He's such a good guy. He just wrote me a nice note saying he had a great time up in Providence and how here's here to help out PC in any way he can. Having a guy like that out there that really helps your program is great. He hasn't forgotten that he's an alumnus here. Obviously we've faced each other each of the last three years but he cares about the program because he loves this place. Both he and his wife went here and they are examples of people in the PC community who care.

You need people who care to make a program successful. If it wasn't for Fr. Shanley and Bob Driscoll we wouldn't have this fitness center. Politically, they both had to have a lot of discussions behind the scenes that people don't know about to make the Dunk renovation a reality. The Governor and Legislature, to their credit, they got it done and I think that it's going to be a big plus for our program when it is completed. When you can walk recruits into a game and show them that atmosphere it's going to make a great difference.

SH: If you can manage to put those facility upgrades together with a strong season to back it up, then you're talking about taking things to the next level with the program. Of course, the key is to finish well at the end of the season. That didn't happen this past year, but it wasn't unforeseen with the key injuries you had to Geoff McDermott and Sharaud Curry.

TW: That's the thing, the disappointment last year was with how things ended. We were 12-3 when Geoff McDermott got hurt and he was averaging a double-double and leading the league in both assists and rebounds. His production went to half of that after his injury. He was averaging 12 and 11 and went to 6 and 7 after the injury. He was shooting 55% from the field before getting hurt, and then 38% after the injury. But as a team, last year's disappointment should help us this year to get more focused and achieve more. Not to say that they lost focus, but hopefully they'll be hungrier and strive for more in the coming season. I also think guys may have been a little worn out from playing too many minutes during the season and that can catch up with you. This year should be better in that respect.

SH: In conversations with observers of the program, some feel that when Geoff McDermott is playing hurt or not on the floor at all, the team can lose it's identity a little bit. Both this past year and his freshman year, Geoff developed problems with his knees by mid January. Some speculate that because he has a lot of size with athleticism, he could be doing himself harm at times by dunking the basketball too much when healthy, putting undue stress on his knees. The thought is that he might do well to lay the ball up more and save his knees for the Big East schedule and the stretch run. Do you think there is anything to that?

TW: I don't know, I think it's hard to say what exactly contributes to injury and what doesn't. However, one thing that he and I have talked about is weight. I think he's got to keep his weight down and at a manageable level. Obviously, he's always going to be a big, strong kid so you don't want him to be playing at 210 pounds. Part of this is about maturity too. We had this with Ryan, I saw this happen with Herb. Diet, off the court, what you're doing when you're not with me…You go back to your room late night, you're with your friends, staying up, ordering late night pizza, etc… It is part of college and everyone's done it. I did it. You tell them about the problems associated with that, but it's a common problem for kids who are living away from home for the first time at college. I think he did a little bit of that but I think that's over with now. He and I had a long talk about weight after the season, and he's smart and a competitor. He knows he got hurt the last two years and he doesn't like losing. I think like anything else, if you're carrying 10 fewer pounds, you're probably going to help yourself to avoid injury. He understands that. So I see him now with his water bottle all time, he's doing the protein shakes, he's much better now with those types of things.

The good part is that he can lose some weight and still keep all that muscle. He's our strongest player and probably the strongest guy we've ever had here. He's NFL strong. Our strength coach Kenny White just shakes his head with what he can do in the weight room. You watch the game tapes and you just see guys bouncing off of him out there like they're hitting a truck. If you watch that BC game from last year, he also completely outplayed Jared Dudley in that game. At the Uconn game, a Sixers scout was in attendance and I asked him who he was up to see. He told me he was watching Herb but that Larry Brown also sent him to see Geoff. Larry Brown's favorite player here is Geoff McDermott. He just loves the way he plays. We want him healthy and the entire team on the court all year and it starts with conducting yourself with a purpose both on the court and on your own time.

SH: While the entire team will be a year older and more mature, it will ultimately be about your core of Geoff, Sharaud, Weyinme, and Randall…these guys are the ones who will have to carry the team.

TW: I think that any good team has to have a core, and then you build around it with support players and guys who can help. The nice thing is that I don't have to say, ‘Greedy's really got to come in and average 12 points a game and play 30 minutes as a freshman.' I think he's going to help us for sure, and I think all the freshman can help in some way. How much, it will be determined in time but while they're talented, they don't have to be our prime players as freshman. Two years ago, Geoff and Sharaud had to be really good as freshmen and that puts a strain on your team and program but we lived through that pain and took a step this year. Now, I talk to them every day about taking the next step.

SH: Now hopefully Dwain Williams will become part of this core? He's here for summer session and he's shown the potential for great things, it appears like he needs to just grab the brass ring.

TW: I hope he's figured that out. He seems to have at this point. There will be little setbacks on our team here and there but I like this group. I really like coaching them, being around them, and I think they have a high basketball IQ as a group. We are going to need everyone giving their best to succeed against this bear of a schedule. Right out of the gate, we have that Puerto Rican tournament where there are no softies at all. After that, we have four games in one week with BC, URI, South Carolina, and Brown all in the span of eight days. So you have to look at it all as an opportunity.

SH: Coach, thanks for the time and good luck reaching all your goals in the coming season.

End of Interview

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