Q&A With Basketball Coach Ralph Willard
March 1, 2006
Q: Everyone knows about the play of Kevin Hamilton, Keith Simmons and even Torey Thomas. Can you talk about the play of the rest of the group, and how they have come to support those three?
A: We knew going into this year that we would need some of our younger guys to step up and it has been an up and down process, mainly because of injuries. Right now Colin Cunningham is playing well. Tim Clifford has progressed and is doing a good job for us in the low post area. Alex Vander Baan has been steady throughout the whole course of the year. Having to play starter minutes as a freshman is very difficult at this level, especially in our league, because most of the freshmen are not ready to do that. I think the supporting cast has a done good job and I was pleased with how we played during the last two to three weeks of the season with the exception of turnovers. I have been very pleased with how the younger guys have stepped up and supported Torey, Kevin and Keith.
Q: How important was it to get the win over Lehigh so you would not have to travel to Lehigh for the tournament, and how important is it to have home court advantage?
A: Not having to travel is a big thing for us because we are tired of traveling at this point of the year. Also we are still in classes this week, so to not have to miss any classes and not have to travel is a big benefit for us.
Q: Depth has been a question for you all season. What is the difference between this year and last year in playing two games in three days if you win the quarterfinals compared to the last couple of years, regarding your depth or lack there of?
A: This year we are stretched really thin, especially with Pat Doherty's injury, which I think really determined how good our basketball team was going to be this year. Having the day in between is a big plus. It is good to have a day of preparation, but more importantly with Keith's cramping situation and the fact that Torey and Kevin have had to play 40 minutes in just about every game in the last two months, the day off is certainly a help for this year's team. In years past it would not have made much of a difference because we were much deeper.
Q: What have you seen from Torey Thomas in regards to leadership and taking big shots at the end of games?
A: I have confidence in him in taking the shot at the end of the game like he did against Lehigh. I think in the Lehigh game he was more rested because we had to take him out when he got three fouls. In the Bucknell game he was tired at the end of the game. But I have no problem with him taking big shots and the end of the game and I think he has great confidence in himself.
Q: Would you use Kevin Hamilton at the point to give Torey Thomas a few minutes more of rest?
A: It's a double edged sword. I don't know if I will be able to do that, when I am asking him to play 40 minutes as well. I think when you have someone that leads the league in scoring, rebounds and steals, you want to have that guy fresh at the end of the game too. We are really in a Catch 22 with both of those guys. They both have had to scale back in how many risks they take on the court, because we can't afford either of them getting into foul trouble. The games we have lost in the conference I think have had a lot to do with one or two of those two getting into foul trouble or Keith cramping. I would love to get Torey some rest, but right now we don't have that luxury.
Q: Can you talk about Keith Simmons and his progression throughout the season?
A: When I look at stats, I look at league stats, because that is what we are comparing. He leads the league in field goal percentage, and to do that as a guard is incredible. He has done a great job of improving his defense. He does a lot of things that don't show up on the box score. He has improved year to year, and I have not had a player work any harder than Keith Simmons in all my years of coaching. He stays on campus all summer, and works on weights and conditioning. The cramping issue changes from game to game. He loses a lot of sodium, and there is nothing you can do about it except change your diet and hydrate. He is getting better with it. He has to ride a bike at half time because we can't let him cool down too much, but at the same time we don't want him to perspire too much. He has done an outstanding job.
Q: What concerns you about Navy, and what do you have to do to beat them?
A: They play really hard. They really get after you and play a lot of people, which concerns me especially in our situation. When Navy shoots the ball well they are a good basketball team. We have to guard them and take away their three point shooting.
Q: Given all of your injuries, how happy are you that you guys finished second in the league?
A: I've never seen a team exhibit overall mental toughness as well as we have. Torey Thomas is playing at half speed because of what I told him he can't do on the floor defensively. I think we have adjusted all season. I was concerned that we didn't have an identity going into the league season, and I think we established an identity during league play. We are playing good defense and sharing the basketball better than we did in the beginning of the year. People started to fit into their roles.