In part two of our interview with Tim Welsh, the new Flying Dutchmen basketball coach discusses how Charles Jenkins is similar to Jamel Thomas, a superstar who was entering his senior year at Providence when Welsh took over that program in 1998, as well as Halil Kanacevic’s choice to transfer and how an off-campus fight involving several Providence players in 2000 continues to influence Welsh’s coaching philosophies today.
How does Charles Jenkins compare to Jamel Thomas, who, like Jenkins here, was a high-scoring senior who was on your first team at Providence? (Editor's note: The link is a Providence game notes package from early in the 1998-99 season, scroll down about halfway for information on Thomas)
Very similar. Very similar. Guys that can dominate games single-handedly. I think Charles probably emerged earlier in his career than Jamel did. Jamel came on later as a dominant player. [Both are] powerful scorer[s] that can do a lot of different things, can beat you in a lot of different ways, can go get 30-plus any given night. That’s the way Jamel was. Charles is highly respected among his teammates. That’s a very good comparison, I did think about that a little bit because Jamel, his senior year when we came in, he led the Big East in scoring, He had some unbelievable [games]—he had 38 at Villanova one night—and just kind of put the team on his back in certain situations. But he was also unselfish to the point where he understood some nights, his teammates were going to have to help. And I think we’re going to try to do that with Charles—give him some more help this year. And I think with Brad Kelleher and Mike Moore, that’s a couple guys that we’ll have in the mix that weren’t here last year that will definitely be beneficial to Charles.
As a program’s new coach, do you go about getting to know your seniors any differently than you do the upperclassmen?
I think the way you talk to your seniors [is different]. They have a better feel for where the program is and where the team is. I think you confide in them a little bit more about what has gone on here, if those seniors are credible. And they are here. Very impressed with all four seniors and their caring of the program. It’s not about them, it’s about the team concept. So they’re the first guys you want to lean on, because they can give you a good feel—they’re not trying to judge you about what questions [are asked], they’re sincere in their answers and they can help you not only with the program but also with the younger players as well.
Upon arriving at Providence, did you have any situation with a player wanting to transfer, like Halil Kanacevic here? And how does a coach go about talking to a player when he says he wants to transfer?
No, we didn’t have anybody there leave the program. We did have one guy leave the program, but he was already leaving. He had already announced he was leaving before we got there. It was T.J. McKenzie.
How do you go about it? Well, he didn’t say ‘I’m thinking about it.’ He said ‘I am going somewhere else.’ So when somebody says that, you just wish them good luck.
Obviously, you want to sell the program, and we have a track record as coaches, I think, [of] developing players and winning. So if someone, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to be a part of that, then you try to tell him what you’re going to do for them and what they can do for us. But I don’t know him that well, or any player. I don’t know them well enough. If someone doesn’t want to be a part of your program, then it’s going to be hard for them to be successful. And that’s not a knock, that’s just [a fact].
Transfers happen everyday. You open up the transfer wire, it’s there. Nothing wrong with that. IF someone wants to transfer, that’s a part of life. People switch jobs. Coaches switch jobs. Players can switch schools. Certainly, we want all the players that want to be here to stay. And if Halil comes back, says ‘I changed my mind,’ the door is still open. He hasn’t done anything negatively here at all, to my knowledge. He’s been fine. I think he’s just exploring his options right now, which he has a right to do.
How did the incident at the Prime Time Café in Providence 10 years ago—in which several of your players were involved in an altercation and eventually dismissed from the team—change you and your approach to coaching?
It was an argument on the street between the rugby players and the basketball players. It was very, very unfortunate. It was a learning experience for all involved. It’s something you don’t want to ever face, and it was unfortunate for all the players, the school, the people that were involved, the families. I think, fortunately, there weren’t any long-term injuries. No one was for the worse for it, except for the guys that really got in trouble. And that changed their lives forever. Certainly, we have always reached out to those guys.
Basically, what I told our guys is it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. Do you learn from it? As a coach, you’re responsible for all parts of your program. Doesn’t mean you’re directly at fault, and that’s what I used to say—we’re responsible, it’s not my fault that it happened. But you want to make sure your players understand, on a daily basis, that they have a bigger job than just a normal student, because they’re representing the college, they’re representing the basketball program, they’re representing their family. The media scrutiny now, with the Internet and everything else out there, is tenfold beyond what it used to be. You just look at the Ben Roethlisberger situation.
Five years later, I showed the videotape of that to a team, I think, of how it was exposed locally on the news. We took all the articles that came out from it and handed them out to our team. Basically put it on them that you’ve got a lot to be responsible for, but the main thing is how embarrassing it is to your family. You get your players [to think about] your mother and father—what would they think if they picked up the paper and saw you in handcuffs? How devastating would that be?
That’s what you are as a coach: You’re a teacher too, and you’re kind of a father to these guys, because you’re with them everyday. So you’ve got to continually try to teach life lessons. You see the police blotter now, it’s worse than ever. Look at BC [Boston College] hockey, what happened to them. [At Providence recently], two guys jumped a guy, kind of a random jumping, and they beat the heck out of him.
Hey, it’s every coach’s worst nightmare in college. Jeff Van Gundy once told me, he said ‘Man, I would never be a college coach, because you guys are responsible for every little bit of their life. In the pros, yeah, those guys do stuff like that, we just put them on waivers the next day. ‘It’s not my fault.’ But in college, that’s part of the responsibility [of a head coach] is their behavior. You’ve got to be constantly talking to them about it, and that’s why we try to build a family environment with our players and try to have them take ownership of the team, where even if one guy is misbehaving [and] I don’t see it—I can’t babysit them 24-7, one of their teammates has to take ownership of the team and say ‘Hey, you’ve got to get in line’ or come in and shut the door and talk to me about it: ‘Hey, one of these guys is getting out of line, they’re going sideways.’
(Part three of our interview with Welsh will appear Monday)