Friday, October 15, 2010

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Mo Cassara

Sing it with me, kids! "Too hot to handle, too cold to hold, they're the Flying Dutchmen and they're in control..."

Mo Cassara is so excited about his new home, he can’t even wait for it to be fully constructed before he moves in. The rookie Flying Dutchmen basketball coach, striking a youthful look in a blue Hofstra polo shirt with a white sweatshirt underneath it, is working in chaos as the men’s basketball offices undergo a top-to-bottom renovation but seems perfectly content to occupy a room that has just two banquet tables, two chairs and a whole lot of sawdust in it—and, occasionally, a computer covered by plastic.

And why wouldn’t he be happy? Tonight, a little more than five months after his unprecedented ascension to the top job, Cassara finally gets to take the court with the Dutchmen and preside over his first practice as a Division I head coach.

We caught up with Cassara Wednesday, and after he gave a quick tour of the construction, he sat down and discussed his preparations for the first practice, his whirlwind spring and summer, the enthusiasm he’s brought to the job—both on and offline—and, of course, late ‘80s/early ‘90s dance pop. Thanks as always to Cassara for his time.

So how are you feeling, two days before your first practice?

We’re all excited. Our players are excited, our staff is excited, we’re excited to officially get on the court and be able to work together on a daily basis now. During the fall, we’ve only been able to work together short amounts of time, and moving forward here, when we get out on the court Friday, we’re going to be able to work together for longer periods of time and as a group. We’re really excited about that.

What were you able to take from what you saw of the guys in the fall?

I think our staff has worked pretty hard and we’ve really tried to get a good feel for some of our guys and some of the talents that they have. Certainly, we’ve seen them on film and got to know them as people. But during the course of the late spring and summer, we weren’t able to work with them at all. But now we’re able to get a feel for some of the things they may not do well, some of the strengths and weaknesses of the team and really the whole makeup of the team…what we need to work on and address and more importantly how are we going to be able to play? What are we going to be able to do to make us successful?

I think my biggest job, our biggest job as a staff, is to put our kids in position to be successful. And you may want to play one way or you may want to do one thing, but you may not be able to do that because of the talents that you have. So I think right now we’re still determining some of the things that we do well and trying to put our kids into the best position to be successful.

How do you go about planning your practices?

Lots of time and lots of thought. We’re still tinkering with some things that we want to do and how quickly we can implement some things. I think this year, more than ever, [with] everybody being new—from the staff down to all the players, there’s no returning guys here that have been through our practices and even our whole staff has never all worked together—we’re even working on things like terminology and sayings and how we’re going to phrase things, because we’ve all come from different places. So the practices are very thorough and very thought out right now, because I think the quicker we can all get on the same page, the better.

Are there any coaches on whom you’ve relied upon as you’ve adjusted to the job in the last few months and what kind of advice have they given you?

Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to talk to different coaches, ask different people certain things. As a matter of fact, I talked to Josh Pastner last night at Memphis, [a] guy who took over kind of suddenly and got thrust into something after never being a head coach before. And he really gave me some good advice, to make sure you take some time for yourself everyday and make sure you spend some time working on basketball and things that are really important to you, as opposed to getting pulled in a lot of different directions. It’s easy to do that. And I think he was a great resource for me, just because he’s been in a similar situation.

But I’ve talked to a lot of coaches throughout the country—people that I’ve worked for, people that I know and [about] everything from planning practice to things that work to things that don’t work and how to deal with certain situations. I’m very fortunate I’ve got a lot of good people in my corner.

Have you been able to catch your breath at all the last few months or have you been running 24/7?

It’s pretty much 24/7. I do catch myself in the mornings, when I’m going for a run or having a little bit of time to myself, and sometimes I reflect and say ‘Geez, how did I get here?’ And I’m certainly very glad to be here. It’s really worked out well.

What do the members of your first recruiting class all have in common?

I think they’re all young [grins]. I think that they’re all terrific kids, they’re all willing to learn. I think that they’re really good pieces to our program. They’re really great representatives for our university and our program. And they have big upside—they all have a lot of talent, and I think that will certainly show over the course of time.

When did you know you wanted to make basketball your life?

I think as a kid. It was something that was in my blood. It was something that I always wanted to do. I caught myself, as a young kid, not just watching games. I would write things down when I saw a play I liked, or I would talk about it with my father—the way somebody played defense or the way a certain coach coached. I was always fascinated and intrigued by coaching and the business side of this whole thing.

You’ve made dozens of speeches to every type of group since you got this job. Is there a common theme to what you say?

I think excitement and enthusiasm. I have spoken at country clubs and church gatherings and Boy Scouts and boys clubs and different groups and alumni and dinner and lunches—all over the place—and I think the one thing that I’ve preached and talked a lot about is myself and our staff’s excitement and enthusiasm to be here and what a terrific program this already is. And we’re going to work really hard to build upon what’s already been a very, very successful program, but we’re going to continue to bring a new excitement, a new enthusiasm to Hofstra basketball.

You’ve quickly established yourself as someone who is comfortable with social media. How has Twitter helped you introduce to that whole new audience?

I think it’s huge. I think what it’s really become for me is a huge resource for information. I think now, the way technology is and the way that I’m involved in it, it’s a great resource for information from recruiting to alumni. I have so many different people get back to me and [who] like the updates and the different things, and it’s a great way to interact when you know you don’t have time to pick up the phone everyday and talk to everybody. Certainly my time is challenging at times, but I have one phone that I use just for Twitter and Facebook.

How many more followers do you have than a few months ago?

Quite a few [laughs]. Nobody cared about me in March, when I was an assistant. I have a lot more now, and there’s a lot of great Hofstra fans out there. We’re actually going to spend some time here pretty soon linking my networks up to our webpage and making sure that anybody that wants to follow and get involved can do that.

This is an era in which coaches seem to want to reveal less about themselves and their teams. Why are you so open with information?

There’s people that really care about the program and want to know about the program. And I don’t think there’s any big secrets here, you know? I think that my enthusiasm and my excitement is because I really am excited about what I do everyday and I’m excited about being here and I want to share that with as many people that are interested in it. And I think the more people are interested, the more people that we have following our program and [will] hopefully be as excited about it as I am.

Last question: Everyone knows your fondness for music. What would a Mo Cassara mix tape in 1991, your senior year in high school, sound like?

Whew. [Laughs] Probably some Bobby Brown. Let’s see, my senior year in high school. Definitely Bobby Brown, I’m trying to think what else would have definitely been on there. Probably some old school rap music. I was going to say New Edition—I couldn’t remember [if] Bell Biv Devoe was [1991]? Yeah? So definitely Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe and some old school rap music. That was pretty much what I was listening to. Stevie B, Johnny Gill—definitely, no doubt.

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