The Keno Davis Interview

Last week WDOM, the Providence College radio station, had the chance to sit down with the new Friars head coach for a short time in between flights to get his initial thoughts on the team. Here is the first in-depth interview that's been done with Keno Davis, courtesy of WDOM and presented exclusively on Friar Insider.

Q: First off let us start with your initial thoughts about being the new coach here at Providence.

Keno: Well thanks. You know, I said during the press conference how thrilled I am to be here and it's just such an exciting time to be here. I think as a coach you're always looking forward to a new challenge and a new year but when you take over a new position there is a lot to be done and I know that I am looking forward to it, and we will see what we can accomplish here.

Q: Coach, not many Friar fans are necessarily familiar with Drake University and what you were able to accomplish there. The casual fan might hear the name Keno Davis and say, "who is that?" So tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to this point.

Keno: Well Keno Davis is a coach's son and when people ask me where I am from, I always say I am from all over. I am from out East and that's where I was born and where I spent my formative years. Moved from Pennsylvania to just outside Boston, to California and then to Iowa, to Indiana, to Missouri and then back to Iowa and now out to Rhode Island. So I have really seen a lot of this country and a lot of the world both in my coaching career and growing up. Basketball coaching has been a part of my life since I was born and it's exciting for me to be back in the Big East, where it kind of all started for my father and I am looking forward to continuing it.

Q: Coach, it's been really a whirlwind for you this past year. Doing what you did at Drake and now taking the reigns of a Big East program. How do you feel about the challenge of competing in the toughest conference in the country?

Keno: Well, of course I have been asked that a lot this past week and a half, and I keep saying that being competitive in the Big East is not something I am worried about. Obviously the Big East is one of, if not the premier conference in the country, but where I come from, The Missouri Valley is really the premier mid-major conference and Drake had been notably in the bottom of that conference for the past 30 years. So really, we had a tougher job in trying to get that position to move up the ladder than we do here. I think with the parity in college basketball, the great thing is that you're just a small step away from being right up at the top. You're competing with the top teams, not just on a one game basis but for the entire season, and hopefully for seasons to come.

Q: Keno, how would you describe your coaching style?

Keno: Ideally, I'd like to play a 90 to 100 point game. I would like to be using pressure defense and fast break, get up and down the court and use a deep bench. That tenacious fast pace sort of game fits my personality and I think its what fans want to see and how players want to play, and I think its something we can sell recruits on. We can tell recruits, "Look this is going to be your best chance to not only have a lot of fun but if you want to try to make the next level and make some money in this game, this is going to be the best place for you." And then with all that being said, I have to make sure that we play the style that will give us the best chance to win on a given night. If we don't have the horses against a certain team then we will slow it down a little bit and beat them with a half court game. I am never going to be stubborn and say "No this is how we play everyday," if there is a better way to win then I am going to do it. I am just going to do my best to put our guys in the best position to succeed every night and hope it works out for us.

Q: You talk about having the horses and recruiting. Coming up next year, you will have probably five scholarships to fill; so many people will wonder how this team is going to look under your control. What is the prototypical Keno Davis player?

Keno: I think the Keno Davis type of player, and I might patent that, I kind of like it, and the Providence type of player is going to be the type of player that just stands out for his work ethic, some one you can just see playing at a higher speed and that will really stand out. Whether it's your most talented player or not, there are some guys that can just kick it up to the next notch and those are the types of guys that I and my staff will be out there looking for. The kind of guy who is just getting everything he's got out of himself and I really believe that those type of players can really succeed a lot more. They can make up for whatever lack of talent or athletic ability in comparison to their opponents and come out on top because of their work ethic. Hopefully we can get those guys to come to PC.

Q: Coach, you just mentioned your staff and that is something everyone who follows this team closely has been wondering about since you were hired. How much time have you had to work on that staff and what will it look like? Do you plan to just transplant your Drake staff here or are you looking to add a veteran coach who has deep roots here on the East Coast in the New England and New York area?

Keno: I think one thing I have been doing since I took the job here is see what happened at Drake with the assistants that I had there and what opportunities they were going to have in the coaching profession. Ideally, I would like to have a couple of them, if not more, here with me at Providence because they worked incredibly hard. If you see a head coach have success, and I certainly got a lot of awards last year, it wouldn't have happened if my staff hadn't been in there late nights and early mornings working hard, not just for one year but for five years. So I would like them to join the staff, but I will also be looking at guys who have more recent time spent in the East and recruiting in the area. A combination of the two would the best for me, in my opinion.

Q: What is your familiarity with the Providence, Rhode Island area and the situation we have here right now as you begin your career here?

Keno: Well it has helped that the Big East is on TV every day, which is something that will be nice to have. I have followed Providence and all the teams in the Big East since I have moved away from the area. I have seen the kind of success all the teams in the conference have had and can have. I think what we want to look at is that we can have a certain level of success every year and add to that every once in a while a special year that will stand out like PC has had in the past. So we have to get to work and make sure that we are able to bring in the right type of student athlete. One that can have success in our style but one that we are going to be able to do all the things we will ask them to do.

Q: You have talked a lot how competitive a conference the Big East is. And it's certainly a daunting challenge for a coach to have success in conference that has five potential or current Hall of Fame coaches in it. Some may shy away from that challenge and others, like yourself, embrace it and see it as something to take on rather than run away from. Talk a little bit about what it is going to be like for you to establish yourself in a league with so many legendary names.

Keno: From a coach's perspective, you're really not worried about who is on the other sideline. It's not like during the game, I am going to be looking down there and go "Oh no, look who's down there, oh my God, it's a Hall of Fame coach." I think what I need to do is use my strengths to lure recruits away from some of those guys and get them to come here. I think you're right on when you talk about this league as the best and the most competitive. It's a great advantage for us when we are recruiting, all the teams in the league, when we can say, hey all we need to do is be in the top half and we are going to make the tournament, and from there anything can happen. The more times you're able to be in post season play, the more good things that will happen for you. We are going to look for success right away but obviously we have the long term in mind.

Q: How will you sell Providence on the recruiting trail?

Keno: What I think I will tell the young men we are trying to convince to come here is talk about all the positives that Providence has, from the surrounding area to the great city to the great facilities and campus. Our number one concern is going to be getting young men to just take a look and give us a chance. I am going to say, "You are going to hear from a lot of people, but just commit to us to just take a look." I think all we need to do is get people to come to this campus and see what it's all about, to see what's going on here, and then our retention rate of those young men will be very high. Start when they are juniors, hell, when they are growing up. This campus is not far from a lot of great basketball areas, we need to get people to come here when they are growing up and start getting Providence into their heads then as a great place to be. We want people to want to come here, and get to the point where we are turning down talented young men because we just have no place to put them.

Q: Coach, so many of us thought people were going to jump at this job when it opened up. But it seems that the opinion of PC, in terms of facilities, is still so low. There seems to be a lack of knowledge in the media of the renovations and the modernization of this program and the school's facilities. We are curious as to what you thought you were coming to see when you were contacted and on the plane here to Providence to visit the campus.

Keno: You know, I came here with an open mind. On the plane, I hadn't decided whether or not this was going to be the right job for me and my family. Or maybe it would be vice versa; maybe Providence wouldn't be impressed with me and what I had to say. I just didn't want this opportunity to go by without giving it a fair look. When I got here, I wanted to just see what it was about and see what they were doing to make this program over and put it back on an elite level. I knew the history of PC and I knew all about the conference, but I think when you get to be around the people here you know that they are focused on becoming a basketball program. That made it an easy sell for me and hopefully it will as easy a sell to the young men we are looking at.

Q: Have you had chance to look over your new team and see how well they will match up with the style of play you outlined with us at the beginning of the interview?

Keno: Yes, I have looked at as much tape as I have had the time to do given all that is going on. Any free minute I have, which really hasn't been a whole lot of time. But the thing I have been impressed with, in terms of their talent level, is that the cupboard is not bare. A lot of times, when a coach takes a new job he comes into it and there is nothing left and right away you need to bring in 5 or 6 players right off the bat. I really don't see that rebuilding process here. I think there are areas that we have to improve and continue to address and step it up a notch. I think Coach Welsh certainly did an admirable job in building up this program and definitely left it in good shape for someone else to be able to come in and hopefully have success. I am going to make some changes but the job the previous staff did certainly shows that they were really working hard with these guys and these guys are certainly willing to work to get better.

Q: Are there any players that excite you more than others? Guys who you think have the potential to be better or more consistent than they have been so far?

Keno: There definitely are, but I am hesitant to go public with them. I want them all to have the opportunity to prove what they are going to do from now until school starts up again. I have seen guys in the past, guys who you wouldn't think would have a chance to play become your best player. Last year at Drake, we had a career 1.5 points a game scorer become the best player in the conference and a national story. So I want them to all have that idea, that they can do it individually, knowing full well that probably only 2 or 3 of them actually will put in the effort to elevate their games. I want them all thinking that way. I want them to think about how memorable this senior year can be for me. Or for an underclassman to step it up and pass these veterans. I don't have a set rotation in my head going in, I am going in with an open mind.

Q: You certainly have learned from some of the best minds in the game of basketball, beginning with your father and even learning under Bruce Pearl who has really become one of the top coaches in the game today. What did you take from your experience as a son and an assistant under your dad and Coach Pearl?

Keno: I think you see that there are different ways to coach. Both my dad and Bruce were similar in style but they were able to get the most out of their guys in different ways. You have seen Coach Pearl with a player that is quite a talent but just isn't fitting in, so you move him into a new position or run different plays for him or find new ways to motivate him to have the success he can achieve. The coaches I have worked for have not just motivated their talent to have success but have put their players in the position to be successful and that is the most important thing for a coach.

Q: Where does the non-conference schedule stand?

Keno: Non-conference scheduling is not set in stone and we are behind and that is one of the unfortunate things about taking over a job late in the process. Just like recruiting is done years in advance and you're behind in that, the schedule is another thing you fall behind in initially when you take over. We are going to blister the phones and work as hard as we can to try to set up a schedule that is going to help us prepare for the season and set us up to make the tournament because the teams you play have become just as important as your record for the committee. Hopefully in years to come we will have a schedule that will be set up the way I like it to be. This year will be a challenging schedule but it won't be the ideal schedule that I would like to play. It might take a year or two to get in order.

Q: Last question Coach, because we know you have to fly back to Iowa shortly. As a follow up to that, is it going to be a situation where you will approach scheduling with the idea that you will take on anyone, anywhere, anytime? Or more conservative?

Keno: Well I don't think it will be anywhere and anytime. I think when you play in the Big East, you are already getting as much competition as you need. But you do want to challenge yourself in the non-conference, but you don't want to do it six straight games. Your team can lack confidence and your building and motivation can take a hit if you over extend yourself too early. I think it's a combination of how you build your home schedule, getting some challenging games that will get you exposure on national television, but it has to be a mix. It takes a lot of strategy and a lot of time to put together a good schedule.

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