Keno Davis Interview – Part II

Keno Davis has a year of coaching in the Big East under his belt, but next season will be the first one in which he can coach players that he's brought in to play his preferred style of basketball. ScoutFriars.com sat down with the Friar head basketball coach for a Q and A that covers everything from the Friar recruits to Coach Davis' thoughts on installing his up tempo style at Providence.

Part II

SH: Let's revisit the red shirt players who will be back on the floor this coming season. Greedy Peterson…he took a red shirt year to work on developing his game. Can we get a progress report on him?

KD: I've been pleased with his progress. I think everyone is aware of his athleticism and explosiveness, and the goal was to make sure that wasn't just limited to one or two plays per game. You've got to make sure you are consistent as player with your defense and your rebounding, along your ability to shoot the ball. He's been working on getting that consistency and has been working on his outside shot. He's got an ability at his size to blow past people and drive to the basket offensively. If you are able to set that up with your jump shot or vice versa, now you're going to be tough to guard.

That's why Weyinmi was such a good player for us in my mind because they had to guard him at the three point line, and then he was able to learn to how get to the basket consistently and get fouled. So the same with Jamine, if he can get that shot that's consistent from the three point line…he doesn't have to shoot it a lot, but you need to be able to knock it down so they just can't play off of you. Now, I think he's going to be a nightmare match up if he can play the small forward position.

SH: Greedy Peterson was recruited here because he was such a great athlete. He is a Big East caliber athlete. The challenge was to turn him into a Big East player, and to coach him up and develop his skill set. Did the year off help him in that effort and did he also become more comfortable with the schemes, and did he become comfortable with the various sets you run on offense and defense?

KD: I think so. It's still early for our staff here in terms of the schemes we've put in, and you'll see that development over the next couple of years in all of our players. Once you are in a system for a few years, you get much more comfortable with the system and Greedy is showing more comfort with our approach.

One thing that both Jamine and Bilal have in common is that they both play at a very intense level. You always see the effort, even in practice. That is something you can't necessarily coach, you have to get those types of players. So I'm very pleased with having them in our program knowing that they will grow and develop their talent because of their work ethic. Now do they have to develop other parts of their game? Sure, and the parts that they are already good at have to improve as well. But what I've been most pleased with is the intensity I've seen in their first year with us.

SH: Bilal Dixon will be needed to contribute this fall. Has he polished his game in the red shirt year?

KD: Yes, Bilal has the Big East body to come in and play. Jamine has the athleticism and Bilal has the Big East body. He's able to score in the post, and may have been able to score in the post as well as anybody on our team by the end of the year. He was able to get a lot of reps in the post in practice, and he was able to go against our top group every day in practice. He really benefited from the extra year. Plus, he got a year more of maturity, and with the extra year academically, it really paid off. Maybe not so much his freshman season of play, but down the road, I think people will look back and say "boy, that year off really paid off."

Without it, you sometimes spend your first year in the program with a few minutes here and there and a little game experience, but really, you can spend a lot of your time frustrated and sitting on the bench wishing you got in the game, rather than using that year to concentrate fully on your development as a player.

SH: Given all the players you'll have available to you next year, how will the team play differently in the coming year versus your first season?

KD: I think we'll play more up tempo next season. We played more of a _ court, drop back defense for most games this year, back into kind of a hybrid, half court defense, trying to cover up some of the weaknesses we had, both in talent but also in depth on our team. Next year, we'll have a deeper team, our players will be more suited to play a full court game, and have a little different skill set than the departing players.

Of course next year's team will be younger. We'll have a lot of fresh faces so the non-conference portion of our schedule will be very important. The team will need to learn as quickly as they can, while hopefully getting some wins, because when the Big East comes, other teams aren't going give you any breaks because of your youth.

I see us trying to beat teams with our depth, shooting ability, and versatility of our team. When you think of losing Randall, Kale, McDermott, and Kellogg on the inside, you lose some good Big East bodies. They could bang inside but they weren't that versatile with their outside game. They could shoot some out there, but I think now you want to get the game in an up and down tempo so that you can beat the teams that want to slow it down and pound you inside. When you're playing the top teams, you have to make them play your game, much like Marquette did when they were healthy, or how Villanova did it with a smaller team. You can beat a lot of teams if your players have versatility.

SH: So would you say that next year, with the exception of Weyinmi no longer being here, that your team will be quicker and more athletic?

KD: We will definitely be quicker and more athletic, and we'll be better able to shoot the ball from the outside…we'll just be younger. That says a lot though, because your experience isn't where you'd like it to be. The thing that will be interesting to see is at the end of games, how will the team perform? With the games we won last year, we won a lot of games that came down to the wire, and the team really understood…mostly at the end of the game than during the game…where to go to, what to run, and how to execute a play. It was often Weyinmi coming off of a ball screen with shooters spread out and he often got to the line. Now with Weyinmi gone, who's going to step into that roll? You can't try to be Weyinmi, you've got to do what you do well.

SH: That will be a hole on next year's team, with Marshon Brooks maybe having the closest thing to that skill set. So is that the challenge offensively then?

KD: When you look at Weyinmi this past year, I think the Rutgers game at RU really showed what I look for in a player that is a scorer in my system. He shot 7 times and scored 28 points. That is exactly what I was trying to get him up to, and he averaged 25 or 26 points in the last 5 or 6 games of the year. Earlier in the year, Marshon out scored him, and Weyinmi was only averaging 12 points a game. So when you go from 12 to 26 per game, what did he learn? It wasn't just athleticism or a skill set, it was that Weyinmi learned how to consistently get to the basket and get fouled.

There's no reason why we can't have other players learn to do that too. Hopefully, they'll learn it earlier in the year too. Whether it's Sharaud or Marshon, or one of the new players inside or out, they can learn that too. It just so happened that Weyinmi was the guy that learned to do that last year.

SH: I'm assuming that in your recruiting efforts, you're looking for the next guy who can take body contact and get to the foul line. I assume that is a critical piece in your recruiting efforts?

KD: I think what I'm looking for in all our recruits is the ability to score both on the outside and the inside. Now Weyinmi wasn't a post up player, but he could both drive inside for a basket and also hit the outside shot. So when you're talking about guards, that is what I'm looking for. When I'm thinking about bigs, I'm thinking about guys that can score in the post, as well as shoot it from the outside. If they can drive as well, or you can develop that, then you've got the best you can get.

If you can have 5 players on the court that can both score on the inside and also make shots on the outside, you're going to be a nightmare to defend. You've also got to defend and you've got to be able to rebound, so there are a lot of things going into identifying a player for your system. But when I'm out looking at players, I don't look for guys who just want to shoot, or just want to play in the post. If they are really just fantastic at one aspect of the game like shooting or scoring inside, we'll still look at them if they are among the best at one thing, but if they aren't that, we will look for players instead that can do it all.

SH: It seems that some of these type players you've targeted have also been recruited by programs like Michigan. Are there other programs looking for the same players and installing the same style of play that you are aiming to achieve?

KD: I think when you look at what they are going to be doing up at Michigan with shooters, and programs like Tennessee or Missouri for that matter that like guys who can run the floor and push the pace…I think you are going to find us going up against those teams for players often; especially when they are players that are closer to those programs in proximity.

SH: What about Villanova? Are they a comparable style to what you're looking for?

KD: Villanova, a little bit, but we are going to be a little more up tempo team than they are, but yet they will push the pace at times and spread the floor because they tend to be smaller. We're going to try to push the pace and press even to a greater degree.

SH: So are the programs you are looking to play similar to Tennessee and Missouri?

KD: I don't know that there is one team out there you can point to as a comparison. We'll be a hybrid I guess. I like the way Tennessee plays up tempo, they press and push. Of course, Bruce Pearl coached under my dad for a lot of years. I also like the ability to have a lot of shooters out on the court, which is something that Michigan likes to do.

I think defensively, I don't know that there will be anybody quite like us. I think we'll want to full court press like Tennessee. We also want to be able to _ court press like Maryland did during their championship run, and we want to be flexible enough to be able to go back and forth in different defenses. In the half court, we've got to be able to be good enough to play man-to-man defense, but then we want to be able to play both M2M and zone, depending on the matchups.

We really just weren't good enough to play man-to-man defense this past year. Some would argue that we really couldn't play zone defense either, but I think in the games where we tried to play M2M, it was a walk to the basket for teams. At least when we played zone, there was a chance they would miss a shot.

SH: Was the Notre Dame game this year was a microcosm of being locked into really playing only one defense (zone) with any success?

KD: That for us was maybe the toughest matchup that we had all year so people looked at that game and asked, "What's going on here?" Pittsburgh was arguably the best team in the country last year, but maybe a better matchup for us than Notre Dame was. What you need to do is to develop your team where you can play different defenses; M2M or zone defense, defending on the team you are facing. We just weren't at that level this year.

SH: Is it easier to teach a bunch of freshman M2M or a zone that can be effective in the college game?

KD: It's a good question. I don't know. I think from a learning standpoint, the toughest thing in the M2M defense is learning your weak side help defense. You look at Villanova, and how they'd help on the weak side, and how they'd always be there, and how they would see the ball. You might see that and say "Well that's pretty easy, I learned that in YMCA as a kid", but it's just not a skill that every player has, even at the Big East level. You've got to be able to help on drives, to know when do you help, how do you recover, how you close out. Villanova has been working at that for years, and a number of their guys have been through the system now.

SH: And the zone?

The zone defense is different, and with our defense you've got to be able to match up, and you have to understand how to fight through screens and how to switch screens. It was something we were always fighting to try and get our players to understand, but I think in their defense this year, we had to make so many adjustments from game to game to try and make up for playing Pittsburgh, or Uconn, or Louisville, that we couldn't just stay with basic stuff. We had to throw a lot at our players. If we had just told our players to go out there and just play, they would've had no chance against those teams.

So when you look at going on the road and playing at Connecticut and Louisville, we played with them for a half. What we weren't able to do was to make enough adjustments in the second half to again cover up our deficiencies. They'd figure out what we were doing by the second half how they wanted to attack us. Could we go to something else when they'd figure it out? Not really. We didn't have anything else to go to, at least that was good enough. Our other defenses weren't good enough to play. Maybe they weren't good enough because Uconn and Louisville were that good, but I think you want to have more in your arsenal both defensively and offensively to be able to beat the best.

SH: So you anticipate that there will be more switching up of defenses this coming season?

KD: I see more defenses, hopefully three defensive looks next season, and we would tweak them going into each game, and use them as necessary throughout each game. If we have a team in the future that is so good at one particular defense, we might stick with that defense for the majority of games, but you still need to have other options to go for those times when your primary defense isn't effective.

End of Part II

Watch for Part III, coming soon.

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