Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coach Cliff Warren: Five questions with...

In five seasons, Coach Cliff Warren has taken the JU men’s basketball program from a one-win team to a perennial league champion, directing the Dolphins to consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference regular season titles and two straight invitations to the postseason.

With more than 15 years of coaching experience at all levels of college basketball, Coach Warren brings a unique level of knowledge and success that has rejuvenated the JU program. His genuine love for the game, as well as his enthusiasm for teaching student-athletes and his ability to recruit talent that fit in with his vision for the program and the University has been widely recognized. Because of his commitment to excellence, the future of JU basketball looks bright.

With the 2009-2010 season still going strong, Coach Warren took some time to discuss the team’s season and keys to success this time of year:

1. With a 19-12 regular season and an invitation to the NIT, overall, how will you remember this season?

In a single word: Progress. Our program is clearly moving in the right direction, and with a second consecutive Atlantic Sun league title and two straight NIT bids, we have put together a body of work over the short-term which demonstrates that our efforts are generating positive results.

Moving forward, I believe we are in a position to continue to improve. We are creating an atmosphere of success here at JU. However, that doesn’t mean we are about to become complacent. We know we still have work to do to reach and surpass our goals.

2. Unlike games during the regular season, an invitation to a postseason tournament means you only have two or three days to plan for a first-round opponent that is unknown to you until Sunday night. As a coach, what needs to be done differently to prepare and how do you keep your players focused?

Facing an unknown opponent on just a couple days notice is unique. The first step is to make sure the players are getting rest, both mentally and physically. To get to this point in the season is grueling, so any opportunity we get to allow them to recharge their batteries is beneficial.

Next, we have to be sure we are playing our game to the best of our ability because that is what got us here. Once we know who we are facing, we will study their plays and tendencies, but until then, the key is to emphasize that no matter who the opponent is, we have to play our game.

As for how to keep our players focused, our team is led by players that understand that playing at this point in the season is a privilege and that they owe it to themselves and their teammates to play to the best of their ability.

3. As someone that has been to the Final Four as an assistant coach with Georgia Tech, you have a unique insight into what it takes for a team to be successful this time of year. What are some of those characteristics?
The key is to play and perform as a team. Everyone – players and coaches – has a role in preparing and executing a successful game plan. The team that understands that every single person contributing is necessary will have a leg-up in the postseason.

Also, you have to play with toughness. Every team that is competing at the end of the year has proven that they are both talented and hungry. Being both mentally and physically tough against this type of opponent can be the difference between winning and losing.

Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to have a little luck on your side. Preparation has its place, but sometimes it comes down to the ball bouncing off the rim just the right way.

4. Which coach – past or present – would you like to face in a tournament game?
I would truly love and enjoy facing my former college coach at Mount St. Mary’s, Jim Phelan (and if I did, I would be sure to be wearing a bow tie).

5. There have been arguments made on both sides of the NCAA tournament expansion issue. Some say that it is once again time to increase the number of teams invited. Others say that if it is only being done to earn more money or to help more coaches keep their jobs, it shouldn’t be done. How do you feel about the issue?
Having coached at mid-major schools and large schools, I have heard both sides of the issue and understand the arguments. I think the idea of expansion has merit. The Atlantic Sun, for example, is traditionally a one-bid league, which goes to our tournament champion. However, there are a number of teams in this conference that can (and have) competed favorably against the larger programs.

Additionally, playing in the NCAA Tournament is an unforgettable experience, and if we can provide that experience to a broader range of deserving student-athletes – many of whom won’t play at this level again – then perhaps expansion is worth the effort.

The Dolphins play the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the second round of the NIT on Saturday, March 20th @ 3:00 p.m. Check your local listings.

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