Q & A with Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk
Toledo, OH - Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk sat down with utrockets.com this week to look back at the 2012-13 campaign and look ahead toward 2013-14. Below is a Q & A with the Rockets' mentor.
Talk about the progress the team made throughout the past season.
Kowalczyk: One of the most difficult things in college coaching is to have your team consistently improve during the course of a season, and I think our team did that this year. That’s a credit to the character of the group we had. That’s also a credit to our leader Dominique Buckley and a credit to our all-league caliber players obviously. Juice Brown is really a guy who raised his level during conference play, and I thought Rian Pearson had another great year as well. Nathan Boothe is somebody we threw into the fire, but he was more than capable and did a tremendous job. I also thought Matt Smith also had moments where he played outstanding basketball for us.
After opening the season with eight of nine games on the road, you were able to register a winning road record in the MAC. Talk about winning away from home in league play and how important that is.
Kowalczyk: We were 5-3 in conference road games, and anytime you are over .500 on the road in league play that’s a heckuva feat. It’s critical to having a successful season, and that played a key part in us tying for first place in the West Division. But we’re not satisfied with that. We want to build upon it.
Limiting turnovers was an area that improved quite a bit from a year ago and you averaged a MAC-low 12.0 turnovers per game and just 10.8 in league play. Talk about the importance you place on valuing the basketball.
Kowalczyk: Turnover margin is probably the most important stat there is for the way we play. I thought we learned to take care of the ball, and with that we learned to take quality shots. I don’t look at us as a great shooting team, but we shot a respectable percentage because we took good shots. Juice (Brown) did a great job of taking care of the ball, not turning it over and getting assists. He put the ball into guys’ hands when they were in a good position to shoot.
One big change for the program this past season was freshman Nathan Boothe providing a post presence. Talk about his development and your expectations for him next year.
Kowalczyk: Not many guys get to start their very first college practice. Nathan did and rightfully so. He is talented, tough and very skilled. We’re really excited about his future, and he is just scratching the surface. He ended up being a really good low-post defender, and he did a good job scoring for us during certain stretches of the season. We’d like to have him become a better low-post threat, get to the free-throw line more and improve his rebounding.
Is rebounding something the entire team needs to focus on after ranking 10th in the MAC in that department?
Kowalczyk: We weren’t a very good rebounding team. Part of it was our personnel we had in, part of it was a lack of strength and part of it is I have to do a better job as a head coach demanding it. That’s certainly an area we have to focus on in the off-season.
Another freshman who contributed a great deal was Josh Lemons. Talk about his role as your defensive stopper.
Kowalczyk: Josh was clearly our best defensive player. He did an outstanding job with on-the-ball defense. He really grew into that role and took it personal. He’s someone who has a great deal of pride in how he guards and has a lot of toughness.
Looking ahead to next year, what will be the biggest change for you?
Kowalczyk: First of all, I think we’re going to be a deeper team, and we’re going to have a lot of versatility. Those are the areas that we haven’t had in our first three years with this program. This year we had no versatility playing with just seven scholarship players for most of the season. We’re going to be able to play small lineups, big lineups and traditional lineups. I think it’s going to be a fun way to play, and a fun way to coach. I know our players are looking forward to it.
Talk about the four players – juniors Justin Drummond and J.D. Weatherspoon, sophomore Angel Aparicio and freshman Aubrey Williams - that sat out this season and the progress they made with their games.
Kowalczyk: I think our four redshirts did a good job collectively taking this year personal. I think Aubrey clearly got a lot better. He changed his body, he became more athletic and skilled and his toughness has taken a step in the right direction. Nobody has taken a larger step in the last three months than Angel. We are really excited about working with him. He is somebody that we feel his skill level and feel for the game can really help us. J.D. showed moments this year where he can be a major force in the MAC. He still needs to work on his skill level and consistency. Justin has really developed into our leader of the future. He is tough, talented and he knows what it takes to be successful. He’s also 100 percent team first, and we think he has a chance to be an impact player for us right away.
What are your general expectations for your incoming recruiting class of Zach Garber, Jordan Lauf and Jonathan Williams?
Kowalczyk: I think our three incoming freshmen are guys we are looking at to compete for major playing time right away. They wanted to go to a successful program, and when you go to a successful program there is going to be competition. They are looking forward to that competition. We clearly think the world of all three guys, and we know that they are going to help grow this program and really be the future for many years to come.