Q&A: USD Assistant Coach Rodney Tention

Kevin Danna offers to the readers of The Bootleg this Q&A session with former Stanford and current USD assistant Rodney Tention before the Toreros and Cardinal tangle on Saturday Night at Maples Pavilion.

The Bootleg's Kevin Danna:  What's it going to be like for you to return to Maples Pavilion - this time on the opposing bench? I guess not all that strange of a feeling since you were a frequent visitor to Maples on the Arizona staff.
USD Assistant Coach Rodney Tention:  It's going to be a little different, but you know, the goals are the same having been over there for Arizona and now for San Diego. Our goal is to go out and compete - get our guys ready, talk to ‘em, and get ‘em prepared to be in a battle on Saturday.

Danna:  What's a favorite memory or two from your time as a Stanford assistant?
Tention:  Ooh, that's a tough one. I think I have a few…(thinking)…Beating Cal, our first year there and the way those guys competed in that game, getting down a little bit, and Mitch, Anthony and Lawrence and those guys making some plays down the stretch to pull that one out. Just probably all the wins he had there against some good quality opponents - some tough losses - but the atmosphere there is always top notch.

Danna:  Do you still keep in touch with any former Stanford players that you coached, like a Landry or a Mitch or an Anthony?
Tention:  Occasionally, I'll hit them up to see how they're doing and they'll reply and do the same. I know Mitch is in the business now, up at Seattle U and doing fairly well, and Anthony I think is still doing some D-League stuff, I saw him a while back. I haven't had a chance to talk to Landry but I know he's doing well, but I try to stay in touch with those guys to see how they're doing.

Danna:  How did the San Diego job offer come about?
Tention: Coach Grier and I have known each other for a long time. He gave me a call, we sat down and talked, and it's an opportunity he has given me and I have enjoyed it and I'm very fortunate that he reached out to me.

Danna:  How much did your familiarity with the west coast and WCC in particular help you decide to head to Toreroville?
Tention:  I'm not so sure if it's the WCC as it is just the people that I know; having known him, having known his assistant Mike Burns from when he was at Eastern Washington and I was at Arizona…Knowing Coach Bankhead when he was a player at Gonzaga and I was at LMU and Arizona. He was in that classic game [against Arizona in the 2003 NCAA Tournament (Arizona won 96-95 in double overtime)].  Kyle says he was open, and Blake Stepp didn't make the pass to him, because he knows he could have made that shot. Obviously, staying on the West was nice, but it was an opportunity with somebody I knew and it was going to give me a chance to go out and coach and help his team.

Danna:  You guys just played UCSB down to the wire, and they're considered one of the best mid-major programs along the west coast. What did you learn from your team in that game?
Tention:  Well I think the biggest thing is we're getting better. Obviously we would have loved to pull that one out last night, but our young kids are coming along, our older guys are getting better. I think as a team we've gotten better from where we were two weeks ago over these last three games. So, that's the thing that we've gotten better but we know that we still have a lot of room to grow but there are signs that we are going in the right the direction. That's been the biggest thing that we learned from last night's game against like you said, Kevin, a really good team. They've been to the tournament the last two years, they've got a great player and a couple really good players in Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally, and Jaimé Serna stepped up for them last night and made some plays for them, but it was good that our guys were able to compete at that level. But we can't be satisfied with just being close; we need to make that next step, which is winning some of those games. So we look forward to every chance we get to get on the court, go against ourselves, go against our next opponent, so that's a good thing.

Danna:  Last year, USD had 6 wins all of 2010-2011. Your first year there, already five wins. What do you think has been the difference that has led to more success?
Tention:  I think Coach Grier and the staff before I got here did a great job in getting those guys to believe and that they gotta move on from last year…We've stayed on the positive with them - we haven't talked an awful lot about last year at all, and we've just talked about the future and what we have an opportunity to do. I think our young guys have really come in and brought an infectious attitude and along with the returning guys and getting them to understand what it's going to take for us to win and how much harder we are going to have to do things than we did in the past. So like I said, we've got five wins…I think if we keep progressing like we have the past couple of weeks, I think we can absolutely have a successful season. And what that is, we don't know, we can't say - we might win 20, but that's our goal - our kids have mentioned that.  We just want to go out and give ourselves the best opportunity by going hard every day and put ourselves in that position.

Danna:  So there's no set goal that the staff has for X amount of wins this year and you're satisfied?
Tention:  No, our goal is to make sure we get them in a position that they can be successful. We had a get together…let them set key goals for themselves. And we are going after those goals. Those guys want to win 20 games this year - it's a realistic goal, so that's what we're doing. Would we like to win more? Absolutely, but we are not going to sit here and say if we don't get 20 it's going to be an unsuccessful season. We are trying to go about it one game at a time, and right now it's baby steps. We're just learning how to win, how to close out some games. These last three that games that we've had, we've shown that if we could have closed out a little bit against San Diego State and Santa Barbara, we probably would have won three in a row, but we've won one of the last three, and we've been in all three of them. So that's our goal right now if I can say it - the kids said they wanted to win 20. That's our goal, but we're not going to say "hey, we gotta get this one, we gotta get that one, we gotta get this one". We're trying to get the next one. Every time we step out on the court, we are stepping out there to win, and give it our best effort.

Danna:  How much do you think being unable to pull it out at the end against SDSU and UCSB is attributed to the youth of this team? Six true freshmen and three redshirt freshmen on this team - how are those kids adjusting to the speed of the college game?
Tention:  That has something to do with it. It's not an excuse, it's reality. Young guys just haven't been in as many games and understand the intensity level and the focus that's needed for every possession. I think that as more games and more situations that they get in, they will get more comfortable and go back and think about what they have to do to get themselves in that position. But none of our opponents are going to say "hey, take it easy on ‘em because they have a bunch of young guys".  So we just have to go out and compete and play to our abilities, play within ourselves, guys know their roles, they have to do certain things, and just keep preaching to them this is what it takes to win these close games.

Danna:  A lot of these guys have seen significant minutes, and it looks like you guys as a staff are seeing what he has with this bunch, using a lot of different lineups.  How close do you guys as a staff feel to solidifying your starting lineup come WCC play?
Tention:  We're not sure, because we've got some guys - all teams go through some injuries and sicknesses and things like that - we think we have a group right now that could possibly be the starting group throughout, but we also have some guys coming in off the bench that could also be starters. So we have a really good nine-man rotation, and any of those nine could start. And it just depends on how things go in practice. If you're practicing well, then we are going to give you a chance to start. But we really don't worry about who's starting - that's something coach has been talking to the kids a lot about. We've got to get past who starts and we got to get to the point of who is going to help us win, and that's what we need to do right now.

Danna:  Two starters from last year - Chris Gabriel and Jordan Mackie - were dismissed from the team four days before the season opener. How much of a tone do you think that set for this team that has so many young guys to give them the message that "Hey, it doesn't matter how well you play. If you don't hold yourself to a certain standard, you're not going to be suiting up as a Torero"?
Tention:  That's exactly right. Everybody's gotta be in this together, and it's unfortunate, but the guys have moved on and they've had to grow up a little bit faster probably, especially missing a couple of older guys, but those things happen…Their approach has been great, and we just gotta work with the guys we have, and we really enjoy every one of them, we enjoy every time we get on the court, and that's what we gotta do. And that's the way our program's gotta be - we gotta be all in together. We gotta win together, gotta lose together, we gotta hold each other accountable, you gotta take care of each other. You do that, good things will happen, so that's what we're trying to do.

Danna:  Piggybacking off that, obviously last year, a lot of talk about the Brandon Johnson scandal, you weren't around for that. But has that been much of a distraction for the team this year?
Tention:  Not at all, absolutely not at all. Nothing's been talked about it, the guys have moved on. It never comes up, they did all their investigating and everything and obviously I had to ask about things, but nothing has come up.  These guys have been really resilient in wanting to get last year behind them and move forward in a more positive direction and that's what they've done.

Danna:  Now looking forward with WCC play beginning in a couple weeks, how much tougher do you expect conference play to be this year with BYU added into the mix? Some way for the Toreros to start WCC play - having to be the Cougars' first WCC conference opponent in Provo.
Tention:  The league is extremely difficult, even without BYU. Now you've got them, you've got to deal with the regular big dogs in Gonzaga and St. Mary's. Santa Clara had a great run last season, USF had a great run last season.  Portland has been pretty consistent. Loyola has had some injury issues, and when they're healthy they are as good as anybody - they can beat anybody at any time. And Pepperdine and ourselves. I mean it's a tough league - there are no nights off for anybody, on the road or at home. The schedule is the way it is, and we're looking forward to it. Our preseason is going to get us ready for the conference season, and the conference season is going to get us ready for the postseason, and that's the way we're approaching it.

Danna:  How many bids do you think, looking forward, the WCC could possibly get to the Big Dance?
Tention:  Ooh boy, that's a great question, Kev. Just keep winning, who knows, maybe three? It's always tough to go on an opponent's court and win on the road, so I would think that there is a chance the league could get three bids this year, I would think. I just hope one of those bids is us!
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