Q & A with Men's Basketball Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk
Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk sat down with utrockets.com this week to talk about summer workouts, his team's upcoming trip to Greece and to look ahead to the 2013-14 campaign. Below is a Q & A with the Rockets' mentor.
You’re coming off a second-straight winning season and ended up tying for first place in the MAC’s West Division. Can you talk a little about the goals you have for the team as the 2013-14 season approaches?
Kowalczyk: I think we’ve come an awfully long way in three short years. We’re at the point that we feel our goal should be to strive to win a league championship. I like the direction we’re headed. I like the guys we have in the program. I think we certainly have some good young talent that can help us continue to build.
Last year was a different type of season to go through due to not being eligible for postseason play as a result of low Academic Progress Rate (APR) figures from previous coach regimes. You’re now on a level playing field in terms of scholarships, practice time and postseason play. Is there a sense of relief that it’s behind you?
Kowalczyk: I think the APR issue isn’t necessarily a sense of relief as much as it’s a sense of pride. I’m just very, very proud that our guys never made excuses; they never felt sorry for themselves. We’ve been severely penalized, had a lot of restraints and none of our guys made excuses about it. We’re very prideful that we handled it the right way. We’re proud that we have good guys that are doing things the right way academically.
Summer workouts are in full swing now. How important are these for the program considering that you will have seven new players on your 2013-14 roster?
Kowalczyk: Our workouts have been great. I like our new guys a lot. When I say new guys I’m including four who redshirted. All seven are getting acclimated and doing a great job. I’m also very pleased with our three freshmen. We also have two new coaches who are getting acclimated at the same time. I think everybody involved is moving forward in the right direction.
Another way to ease the transition for the newcomers will be the team’s trip to Greece scheduled for August 5-16. What do you want your players to take away from this tremendous opportunity?
Kowalczyk: This trip is designed to give our players a great team bonding, cultural and educational experience. I don’t want it to be all about X’s and O’s. I want it to be more about giving them an opportunity to see another part of the world that they will remember the rest of their lives.
Kowalczyk: Our expectations for both Rian and Matt are to be great leaders, great workers and to finish their career the right way. Rian is one of the most talented players in the MAC and continues to work hard on his game. Matt has also worked hard to become one of the top perimeter shooting forwards in our league. I’m extremely thankful to them that they were here to help us establish our program from the beginning.
Point-guard play is crucial to a team’s success and you have a veteran in junior Julius (Juice) Brown. He’s started every game of his collegiate career and ranked second in the MAC with six assists per contest last season. Talk about his value to the team.
Kowalczyk: Juice is playing really well and was a big reason why we were able to win a share of the West Division title last season. He’s playing with a good amount of confidence and toughness right now, and that’s really what we need.
Sophomore center Nathan Boothe enjoyed a solid rookie season last year, averaging 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. How is he progressing in his first full off-season as a collegian?
Kowalczyk: I was so impressed with Nate at this time last year and extremely confident he could come in and be a starter right away. He’s taken it up another whole level. He’s playing very confidently right now, and I’m excited about what the future holds for him.
Sophomore Josh Lemons provides you depth at the point guard position and is starting to earn a reputation as a defensive stopper.
Kowalczyk: I think Josh has made good strides as a player. He’s a tough-minded, defensive-oriented type of player. He adds so much value to our team because he’s a great screener, defender and does a lot of the little things real well.
Kowalczyk: I think Justin is as fine of a leader that I’ve been around. He adds so much value to our program in so many different ways. I also think J.D. is working hard and trying to get better. He should help us a lot on the boards and give us a lot of athleticism in the post.
Another newcomer for fans will be sophomore Angel Aparicio from Spain who joined the program last winter. How has his adjustment been to the United States?
Kowalczyk: Angel has become so much more comfortable with American basketball in the short time he’s been with us. He’d been playing well this summer until he tore his ACL last week. He will give us a shooter with size, which is a different dimension our program really needs. We’re hoping he can get back to playing for us sometime this season.
Another newcomer to the court will be Aubrey Williams, who redshirted last season. What improvements was he able to make since joining the program a year ago.
Kowalczyk: Aubrey’s a very versatile power forward, who can score in a variety of ways. He really understands the game. He’s really worked on his body during this time and it’s shown.
Kowalczyk: I think all three guys are doing a great job. Zach provides us a big, physical inside presence. It’s been fun watching him and Nate (Boothe) play against each other and with each other. Jordan is every bit the competitor and tough guy we thought he would be coming in. Jonathan is an extremely explosive, athletic scoring guard who’s just trying to find his niche right now.
The amount of depth on this year’s squad will be the most this program has had in recent memory. How is that going to change your approach this season?
Kowalczyk: We’ve had a short bench for quite a while, and we haven’t had a deep team since we’ve been here. We’re going to have a deep team this season, and that’s refreshing. It’s refreshing to have competition. It’s refreshing to have better practices. We’re going to have great versatility. We’re going to be able to play big, play small and play different styles. I think that’s important over the course of a season.
You hired Jason Kemp and Jordan Mincy as assistant coach in the spring to replace Angres Thorpe and Ryan Pedon who took positions at UMKC and Illinois, respectively. How is their transition into the program going?
Kowalczyk: I’ve been really happy with our staff changes and the transition they have made. Jason and Jordan have been doing a great job, and they both add different approaches that we didn’t have in the past. I’m looking forward to working with them and getting better with them.