If you’re among the handful of Loyal Readers at Defiantly Dutch (the check is in the mail!), you know by now that Tom Pecora is in a class by himself when it comes to filling up a notebook and a digital recorder—even on nights like Tuesday, when he was the headline attraction at a Hofstra basketball meet-and-greet at a Westbury steakhouse.
Pecora, as always, was kind enough to break away from the crowd for a few minutes and discuss the upcoming season, which, as you may have heard by now, begins tomorrow night when the Flying Dutchmen visit some Podunk school in Kansas. Hope you enjoy the Q&A and thanks as always to Pecora for his time. And make sure to stop back tomorrow for more stories previewing the upset victory over Kansas as well as the 2009-10 campaign.
What are your thoughts on the team after almost a month of practice?
I think with the new guys, they’re really working hard, which I’m impressed with. They’re still making mistakes, because they’re freshmen, but they’re not making the same mistakes over and over again. And that’s important to me. The other thing I’ve been impressed with is their ability to make a mistake and just shake it off and keep playing. I think a couple of them have no idea how good they can really be, and that’s typical of young players. Their talent level is very high, and each day in practice, different ones have really been able to step up. So I’m encouraged by that. Our veterans have been great. They’ve been great leaders. We basically have them mentoring the younger guys.
But we have to have the personality of our veterans, not of our young guys, every game. Because if we have that personality of the young kids, it’s going to get us in trouble.
Having a core of three underclassmen is obviously reminiscent of the Loren Stokes-Carlos Rivera-Antoine Agudio days, but Nathaniel Lester and Greg Washington are a lot less experienced at this point than Rivera and Agudio were. Do you think it’s advantageous that they were able to serve an apprenticeship of sorts the last two years?
I think that’s a question you can’t answer until the season is over and you see what kind of year they have. The pressure is on them to step up. And that’s the same with our seniors. I say you can only be as good as your seniors, and it’s been nice, the last few practices—Mikey Szabo and Corny Vines have been really good. And when they play at a high level, we’re a really good basketball team. So I don’t want them to be saying ‘Oh, don’t worry, the juniors are going to handle it.’ They’re seniors. It’s their team. We need them to do what they do best and play within themselves and make us a good team.
Adrian Uter had a pretty quiet season as a junior transfer before emerging as a star in the front court his senior year. Do you think Miklos Szabo can experience a similar transformation?
He’s been great and was very good in a scrimmage versus Columbia. We did a rebounding drill the other day and he got 15 of 45 rebounds [in] a 10-minute drill. And that’s what we need him to do. If he can rebound the ball like that, he’ll be a double-double guy because his ability to score on offensive rebounds and score in transition—and all the other things—will play off of him rebounding the ball.
How deep a rotation do you think you’ll have this year?
I think we’re probably going to be deeper. I think last year, we were more experienced. This year, we’re more skilled, but we’re younger. We have very skilled freshmen. In the past, we had solid veterans who were limited but they knew what they could do and couldn’t do, which was good coming off the bench. You look at the five veterans and then eventually Brad Kelleher—he might get hacked with a couple games—but once we get him back and then you look at our freshman class: Chaz Williams, Halil Kanacevic. Yves Jules was great in practice last week and the scrimmages. And David Imes played very well Saturday. I’m going to expect those guys to step up some. That will give us a solid 10 and you just never know when people are going to go down. God forbid one—even worse, God forbid, you get two down.
You guys had a pretty up and down season last year. With such a young team, do you think you’ll be prone to such peaks and valleys again?
Generally, with young guys, when that happens, it’s late because they hit the wall. I think last year it was directly correlated to Charles. When Charles was struggling to score the ball, we struggled as a team. But he was able to right himself and get back and still have a great year. Hopefully, as a junior, he’s not as inconsistent. And by him being more consistent, I think everyone else will follow suit.
What do you think Charles learned from struggling last year?
He was working too hard. At night, he was coming in shooting. I want them to come in at night and shoot free throws. He’s coming in at night and shooting two, three hundred jumpers. So he was just exhausting himself. I actually had to kind of throw him out of the gym for a while and say ‘You’re not allowed in here at night, rest your body.’ He’s just so big and strong, you don’t think a body like that needs it, but it does. We all do.
Would you like to have him play the point less often than he did last year?
The way we play, once we’re into the offense, everyone’s a point, because everyone comes off ball screens. But there’s times he’ll be bringing the ball up the court. There’s times Chaz and Brad [wlll]. There will be times Corn [does]. A lot of that will be dictated by the matchups of our opponent and who we think has the best matchup that’s going to allow them to get the ball up the floor and get us into offense.
I think getting [Jenkins] off the ball a little bit freed him up more to score late in the year, when we played Greg Johnson more at the point. And that was a good thing for Charles. But what makes him a great player is he can score with the ball and he can score without the ball. He can hurt you on the glass. He does what the great ones do—he throws up a box score.
Charles has more starts (61) than the rest of your roster combined (58), yet almost all the preseason projections have you finishing in the top half of the league. What does that say for the program?
I think our program is respected within the league, and that’s nice. I think that when you have a player of Charles’ caliber, people are aware that he can one-handedly win some games for you, too. And I think, like myself, there’s a lot of people who believes that it’s time for Szabo and Vines, coming from junior college to have that year, that big senior year after a transition year. And also for Washington and Lester—they’re big boys now. They’re juniors. It’s time to step up and take care of business.
Going back to the influx of newcomers: Most of your teams peak in February and March. With such an inexperienced team, do you expect to be better after the New Year than before it?
Well, I hope so. The problem is you’ve got to have a good non-conference record if you have any chance of getting an [at-large] bid. So we’ve got to get them old quick. We’ve got to find ways to eke some games out. But I always say we play well in February and March because by then they don’t have to listen to me anymore. They’re tired of hearing my voice and they just nod their head ‘yeah’ and do what they have to do to win games.
Outside of Charles, who is the most pivotal returnee? And who is the most pivotal newcomer?
I think Mike Szabo is probably the most pivotal. If we can get Mikey to play at the level I think he’s capable of and you have him on the inside and Charles on the outside, everything else will fall into place. And of the newcomers, it’s going to be interesting. A lot of people would say Chaz Williams, but I think Halil Kanacevic could be it, because we need that baseline support. When we go to the bench on the baseline, I think he’s going to be a big factor for us.
Last year marked the second straight season Hofstra averaged less than 70 points a game. Is it fair to say this team has more firepower than the last couple squads?
The problem is we turned the ball over last year 15 times a game and our goal is 12 times a game. So that’s one of the issues. The other thing is we shot the ball poorly. You look at our field goal shooting percentage (39.4 percent, ahead of only Drexel in the CAA), we weren’t a great shooting team. But I think that our goal is to push the ball a little bit more. I think style of play could dictate how many points you [score]. Again, [what] you really look at is what your field goal percentage is and how many turnovers you have. But our goal is to get back into the high 70s.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on the CAA and your expectations for the season?
I think it’s so hard to predict in any good conference, because there are so many things that could happen between now and then. I think late in the year, as it’s always been, it’s very difficult to knock off those southern teams out of their tournament in Richmond. And eventually, it’s going to happen, and this year, I want it to be Hofstra that does it. But we need to go down and play our best basketball late in the year in Richmond.