Brett Nelson Press Conference Transcript
Marcus Blossom: Good morning again, thank you all for being here. I see some former Crusader greats here as well. Thank you all for joining us today. This is an exciting day for Holy Cross men’s basketball, Holy Cross Athletics, and the entire Holy Cross community. I’m very excited to introduce the 18th men’s head basketball coach in the history of this great program.
But before I do that, I want to thank several individuals for their contributions during this process. I’d first like to thank the young men on the basketball team sitting right here, for their patience and understanding. They were also very open in their communication in what they were looking for in their next head coach. They told me they wanted a great coach that can forge great relationships with their players and to also care about the student-athletes on and off the court. I told them those characteristics are a must and I would seek to find those qualities and also find someone that could help take their basketball games to the next level and this program to the next level. I’m very excited about their journey and their future with coach Nelson.
I’d also like to thank the advisory committee of senior associate AD Brendan Sullivan, vice president for university advancement Tracy Barlok, former Holy Cross men’s basketball player and member of the board of trustees Stan Grayson, and chair of the board of trustees Rick Paterson. Likewise, I’d like to thank Father Boroughs for his support during this process. I would also like to thank interim head coach Joe Kennedy and the rest of the assistant coaches for their tireless dedication during this transition. They kept the good of the team at the forefront during the last few weeks and the last four years. That was very important because it allowed us to focus on this very important search, knowing that the student-athletes were in good hands. Lastly, I’d like to thank Coach Carmody for not only leading this program with great character, integrity and class for the last four years, but for also being a great ambassador for college basketball for the last 40 years. We are forever grateful for the foundation he set, and we will never forget the memorable run through the 2016 Patriot League tournament, the 2016 NCAA tournament appearance, and the first NCAA tournament victory since 1953. Thank you, Coach Carmody.
Now, a little bit about the search. There was no shortage of qualified candidates for this position. The feedback I received from mostly all those that expressed interest was that they were attracted to this opportunity for several reasons. First, the rich history and tradition of success, the exceptional Jesuit educational experience that Holy Cross provides, the quality student-athletes that are not only on the roster, but will be attracted to Holy Cross in the future, our commitment to doing this the right way, and the passion of alumni and their exuberant desire for us to be champions again. I happened to experience some of that passion by all the numerous emails I received about this coaching search.
All of those inherent qualities of the college brought a talented group of candidates to the table, but there was one candidate that rose to the top of the list because he had all the characteristics that I was looking for in the next head coach. First and foremost, I sought someone with great character and integrity. Everyone I spoke with about Brett mentioned that he was a great person before they mentioned how good of a coach he was. I was looking for a tireless recruiter who could recruit not only in New England, but nationally. Brett helped assemble a couple of nationally ranked recruiting classes at Marquette, including the number one class in the BIG EAST and the 22nd ranked class nationally in 2016. I sought an energetic and enthusiastic teacher of the game who can make guys better. In my numerous conversations with Brett he spoke about specific ways to make his guys better shooters, better ball handlers, and better overall basketball players. I also wanted a coach that was still getting better every day, someone that had the willingness and ability to evolve. I asked Coach Nelson about the style of play and he certainly had a preference, but he stressed that at the end of the day, he wants to play winning basketball, meaning that he was ready to adjust to his personnel, the opponent, and specific game situations. That winning basketball helped propel Marquette to three straight postseason appearances, including two NCAA tournaments in 2016 to 2019. Finally, I wanted a coach that didn’t shy away from high expectations and shared my vision for this basketball program, which is to be the best in the Patriot League, one of the most respected in the country, and one that consistently competes for and wins championships. Brett certainly shares that vision.
There were also two words that were used to describe Brett mostly in all the people that I talked to during this research. They were relentless and winner. So, without further ado, the 18th head coach in the history of this basketball program, Brett Nelson.
Brett Nelson: Good morning, first off, what an honor it is to be standing up here. I want to thank everybody for being here today. I’m both honored and humbled for this opportunity to be the head coach at Holy Cross. For me, this past week has been a whirlwind. I couldn’t be more excited to lead this storied program. When you think about all the former great players, 13 NCAA tournament appearances, 24 draft picks, this place has amazingly rich history.
First, I would like to thank Father Boroughs, Marcus Blossom, and the entire search committee for the opportunity and how they handled this process. I was able to develop strong relationships in a short amount of time. For me, I truly feel that we share the same vision, the same beliefs, which will help us continue to take this program to new heights. I understand how important alignment is to be successful, but more importantly, to sustain success. I have no doubt that with the people in this room and the people in the program we can do that here at Holy Cross.
I would like to recognize my beautiful wife, Jamie, and my son, Eli, who are here today – he got really excited, I gave him a shoutout – for all of your love and support. Being a part of a coach’s family, being a coach’s wife, it takes a lot of sacrifice. For me, I am amazingly blessed to have such a strong family. I love you guys.
Thank you to my dad Jim, who taught me how to be a good man, how to treat people the right way, and the value of hard work. Thank you, Dad.
The game of basketball has been amazingly good to me. It has taught me many life lessons and has allowed me to meet and be around some of the best mentors and friends that I could ever imagine. People like my high school coach Tex Williams, Billy Donovan, John Pelphrey, Anthony Grant, Donnie Jones. I can never repay these guys for what they have meant to me in my life, but what I can do is pay it forward to our players and to everybody that I encounter. I would like to sincerely thank each and every one of you guys for being a special part of my life. I want to give a special thanks to Steve Wojciechowski and Marquette University. These past five years for my family and I have been absolutely amazing. To all of our players at Marquette, staff members, administrators: you made me better each and every day. That’s a sign of a great teammate. We want to thank you from the bottom of our heart. Lastly, I know Marcus mentioned it, I’d like to thank Coach Carmody for all of his hard work, all of his dedication to Holy Cross during his time here, and I wish you nothing but the best, Coach, as you move into your retirement.
Today is not about me -- it’s about these current players, the former players, the fans, the alumni, this Holy Cross community. I promise that you’re going to get my absolute best each and every day. I hope to bring value to this team, to this school, and to this community in everything that I do.
This is a special place with a rich tradition, and I felt that from the first time I stepped foot here on campus. This campus is spectacular. This facility is top notch. Whether it be the practice gym, the arena, the strength and conditioning area -- this place is top notch. But what excites me more than anything are the people that are in the inside, and that’s how you can be successful. I have been so impressed with everybody that I have met. I plan to inspire and unite by winning the right way.
To our current players, I cannot wait to lock arms with you guys each day and chase greatness together. We will be relentless with our work. We will be relentless with our effort. And we will be relentless with our competitiveness while we attack and serve in everything that we do. I want to create an environment where our players and our staff can live in the present. Where they can be where their feet are. We will stack good day upon good day, and when the games come, we will be instinctive and our habits will take over.
To our student body, I cannot wait to meet you guys. I told Marcus that I want to have the best home court environment in the Patriot League. I want to go undefeated at home this year, and to do that, we’re going to need you to show up. We’re going to need you to be loud, we’re going to need you to be rowdy. I’m going to be out on campus. To the other student-athletes that are here at Holy Cross we are going to be at your games supporting you. I cannot wait to meet all of you students when school starts in the fall.
Lastly, I thank all you guys again for being here today. My family and I are so grateful for this next journey and I cannot wait to get started with everyone in this room. Go ‘Saders.
Jen Toland, Worcester Telegram: What offensive and defensive style will we see this season?
Nelson: Obviously, Marcus mentioned it. For us, it’s going to be an exciting style of play. Number one, I want to play a winning style of play. I’m humble enough to know that I’m going to have to adjust some things. But in a perfect world, offensively, we want to play with great pace, have great spacing, be very unselfish, have the ball find the best shot. And number one, be in attack mode with everything that we do. I’ve told our guys already, they’re over here smiling: strong and wrong is better than weak and right, every day of the week. So I don’t want them looking over their shoulder, I want them to be in attack mode offensively. Defensively, at my core, I’m a man-to-man guy. There are three things that are going to describe our defense: We’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to be disruptive, and we’re going to be disciplined. But more than anything, we’re going to play with great effort. We’re going to be the most connected team in college basketball, and it’s going to be a fun, exciting style of play for our fans.
Steve Hewitt, Boston Herald: I’m curious about the hiring process – how did you hear about the job, what attracted you to the job, and what did you know about Holy Cross before the last couple weeks?
Nelson: Obviously, from afar, I’ve heard of Holy Cross and knew about the history. I got a phone call from Marcus probably three or four days later as he was going through his search. I mentioned it earlier: I really appreciated how Marcus and the search committee went about building a relationship and really getting to know me, not just as a basketball coach but as a person. Because at the end of the day, everything we do is about relationships. And that was the number one thing. Obviously the relationship Marcus and I have been able to develop in a short amount of time. The second thing, I knew Holy Cross had unbelievable basketball history. And then I called my college coach, who’s the head coach of the Thunder now, Billy Donovan. And he was blown away – he just rattled off about 25 names, as fast as Coach talks, in about a minute span. Obviously him playing at Providence, him being from the Northeast, he just kept going on and on about the history. And then I really dove in – I was like, wow, this place has amazingly rich history. As I kept going through the process, I kept getting more excited, more excited, more excited, and then like I said, I’m blessed to be sitting here today.
Joe Paskalis, Unsupervised Sports: This is your first head coaching job at Division I – what makes you feel ready to take on this role?
Nelson: Marcus asked me this about 10 days ago. For me, I’ve been preparing for this for 20 years. When I look back to my playing career, I always knew I wanted to coach. I was blessed to be around great teammates as a player. For me, to be able to connect with these guys – I’ve been through everything that they’re going through. I know what it feels like to come off the bench. I know what it feels like to play in a Final Four. I know what it feels like to be a starter. I know the things they have to deal with off the court as well. So I think having that experience is going to help me, sitting in this position, have grace for those guys and be able to put myself in those shoes. And then I’ve been at all different levels of college basketball. I haven’t been at just the high major level at Marquette, I’ve been at the mid-major level. I’ve been at different levels and around a lot of different head coaches. I’m going to be who I am, but I’ve been able to pick and choose from each guy, and it’s kind of helped mold who I am. And then I have a passion to serve, to lead, to help people – not just our players, but help my staff grow and help this university grow, because that’s why we do what we do – to make an impact.
Andy Lacombe, Charter TV3: From the time that you’ve had, what’s your sense of the talent already on this roster and the talent coming in – a lot of which you’re inheriting – how do you build relationships with those guys to get them into your system as quickly as you can coming in?
Nelson: First of all, that’s the number one thing that I’ve been trying to do – these are my guys. This is our team. I’m just the caretaker right now. The biggest thing I try to do is build relationships with all of our current players. Honestly, it’s been a little difficult because half the team’s in summer school, and half the team is at home, so a lot of it has been over the phone. But to give you an example, my wife and I, and my son, we got to campus about noon yesterday for the actual first time since my interview, and I was on the court with these guys at 3 o’clock. We were in workouts. It’s going to be hard to put our system in right now, because it’s the last week of summer school, but once August, early September hits, we’ll really be able to do that. But more importantly, I want these guys to get to know who I am as a man. I want to get to know them as people. I’ve been able to study our team a little bit, and obviously I’m going to dive into that between now and when our first practice is. But it’s an ongoing process. All relationships are always developing and growing. They never end, so you’re always trying to do that. I feel like in a short amount of time with these guys, I’ve been able to do that.
Toland: What will it take to get the program back to the top of the Patriot League?
Nelson: I think we have good talent in the program right now. I believe in the guys that are on the team. But there are two things, and I’ve talked to Marcus about this throughout the interview process, that we have to do each and every day. Number one, we have to evaluate, whether it be in recruiting, what our needs are. You have to be able to assemble a team from an evaluation standpoint – do they fit our school, do they fit our program? Self-evaluate – we have to look in the mirror every day as a coaching staff. We have to continue to grow and get better. What are we doing well, can we do it better? Or we’re not doing this well enough – I’m humble enough that I don’t have all the answers. We’re going to need help, and we’re going to need to continue to grow. So we have to evaluate every day where we’re at as a program. The second thing we have to develop our players, I have to develop my staff. And that’s an ongoing process. Not only on the court, from a basketball standpoint, which, I’m a basketball junkie, I’m a gym rat, I’m obsessed with it. I love being in the gym. But also as people – helping these young men grow and develop so when they graduate Holy Cross they’re obviously going to have an unbelievable degree, but they’re also going to be successful men.
Hewitt: How did the five years at Marquette, specifically, prepare you for this, working with Steve [Wojciechowski] and the responsibilities he gave you, and what you learned from him?
Nelson: Coach Wojo has been very impactful in my life. In a short five years, he’s really helped me grow as a person, and obviously as a coach, but one thing he’s allowed me to do, he’s allowed me to think like a head coach for the last five years. He’s really given me freedom to grow in all areas as a coach, as a person – on the court, he’s given me great freedom at practice, during games to make an impact on our team. Off the court, whether it be dealing with media, or going to donor events, doing the radio show – he’s allowed me to grow and develop in those areas. I’ll never be able to repay him, but I’m so grateful. And it’s not just Coach, but the other assistants that I work with. The people within the athletic administration – it’s top-notch. And I mentioned it earlier: They made me better each day, and that’s the sign of a great team.
Paskalis: Marcus, this one’s for you. Being your first hire as an AD – you were just officially introduced on July 1. How is it to get thrown into the fire and get a new basketball coach as your first hire?
Blossom: That’s a good question. Kind of along the same lines that Brett talked about, I’ve been around college basketball for 22 years, so I felt that I’ve been looking for the type of coach that I want to hire for a long time. So although it’s only been a couple weeks, I’ve probably had my eyes on someone like Brett for longer than that. So it was a quick process, but I’m excited about who we landed.
Toland: Did Brett emerge as a frontrunner early in the process?
Blossom: Yes, it was interesting, I didn’t actually tell Brett this until he accepted the job – it sounds kind of cliché, but Brett was my number one candidate. He was the top choice that I went after from the beginning, my wife probably got tired of me bringing up his name every night. But he was exactly who I was looking for – someone that can connect with the players from a coaching and a player standpoint, and someone that was getting better. I wanted someone that was on the rise, but also, from several of our conversations, he was humble enough to understand what he didn’t know, and to understand what he had to get better at. So that was a quality that really attracted me to him, and after the first conversation, I really honed in on him, called everybody – I’m surprised his name didn’t leak out because I called everyone I could to get more information on him because he’s not in the Northeast. And everything I heard about him was exactly what I was hoping for.