Compiled by Brian Haenchen
THOUGHTS FROM JIM CREWS
On being a part of undefeated team in 1975-76: “I think two things, I don’t know if we knew how special it was. We had two goals. We had wanted to win four Big Ten Championships in a row, because we had won three and so that was a big deal for us. The Big Ten Championship was always a huge deal for us. Then, obviously the year before, we really had a great team and didn’t win it because our best player, Scott May, broke his arm, so that is the only thing that was missing in the four years that we were there was a National Championship. We had already been to a Final Four and won Big Ten Championships and so forth and so on, so I don’t know if we thought how special it was, but we thought it’d be pretty neat to win four Big Ten Championships then the National Championship.
On playing for Bob Knight: “It was great. We enjoyed it. He was very demanding, obviously, but he was a great teacher and we saw probably a different personality at times than other people would see. We really had great guys. I think that’s what was neat about it is from the head coach to the assistant coaches to the players, there was good relationships that really continue today. A lot of people will ask about those teams, but the main thing is that we’ve been friends since we were 18 years old. So, that’s what’s pretty cool.”
Of two Indiana teams, which was better: “Everybody says the 74-75 one and—it certainly—it probably was better, because it had all of the guys from the 76 team plus it had great players on the 75 team. That’s how fragile it is. You gotta be really good, but you gotta be a little lucky too and we weren’t. We had some bad luck, but we weren’t quite lucky enough either.”
On this year’s SLU team:
Dealing with Majerus news: “I think the staff and the players went through the same thing. I think your emotions are over the place and they can be all over today or maybe it shows up four days later. Everyone just has a different clock in terms of their emotions and thoughts and confusion and all the things that go about it. However, I do think—surprise in terms of Rick’s health? Yeah, I think—well, the reality of it is you’re surprised, but I don’t think anyone was ‘shocked, shocked’ just because Coach had been struggling with his health and missed a game last year and he missed several the year before and, obviously, he had seven-bypasses 20 years ago. So, surprise? Yes. Shock? No. So, that’s kind of what it is. All of us on this staff, we all really get along and we’re just here to serve the players and put them in the best position we can to be successful on the court and off the court, in their future. That’s what we’re committed to and we’ll let it rip.”
Talking with players: “When it went down, unfortunately, we couldn’t talk to everybody we wanted to, because school was going to start on Monday and it was going to break on Friday. We had six guys here, so we talked to them. Then we got on the phone and talked to other guys with a couple of the players on the speakerphone also. Then Sunday night before school, we talked again.”
Style of play: “These kids have invested in each other and they’ve invested in this system of play and really, the defensive system of play is 98% the same as I’ve always done anyway and same with the scouting. Offensively, even though we have the same philosophy in terms of player movement, ball movement, spacing, timing, rhythm, maximize assets, minimize liabilities, but Coach’s system has more screens on the ball. My system had more screens away from the ball. So, we’re going to do Coach’s, because that’s what these kids have invested in.”
On scoring deficiency: “We were very good defensively last year, but I think we were good offensively too. Our turnover/assist ratio was good. 45 [shooting percentage] in this day in age is actually not—I prefer it to be higher—but, in reality that’s not bad, but I like it higher. Our free throw percentage, they did a good job getting to the line and that was better than it was a year before, so that was a good thing. I mean, you’re concerned about everything to tell you the truth. Just because we were good defensively last year, doesn’t mean we’ll be good defensively this year and so forth and so on. It’s a new year and even though you got quite a few guys back, it’s still a new team and guys are different. So, that’s what makes it interesting, makes it challenging. These guys did a good job last year of just kinda going day-by-day. They didn’t get ahead of themselves.”
Brian Conklin: “Well, we don’t really try to replace anyone because you’re not going to replace that one. Brian Conklin is Brian Conklin and boy that was a real blessing to have Brian Conklin and Kyle Cassity. However, we all have different personalities, we’re all different—which is a good thing—and so we need that leadership and we need that spirit of himself, but it doesn’t have to be the Brian Conklin way or Brian Conklin leadership, but we need leadership and we need that spirit of passionate play through guys. It’s not—as well as Brian did it, he didn’t do it by himself and he’d be the first to admit that, neither did Kyle. That’s what we need. We need good teammates depending on each other, trusting each other, helping each other, that’s what we need is good teammates.
Leadership: “It’s interesting. If—and I could be dead wrong, I really could—I don’t even know if Brian was our—everyone kinda thought he was and maybe he was, but I’m not—I wouldn’t bet the house on it that he was last year. I think they lead by committee it seems like. That’s what my experience was last year and a little bit this year. I think we have a lot of guys that kinda at certain times or certain subjects or certain points, do some leading, which is good.” (Have you had that with teams you’ve coached in the past?): Some, not quite as much, some, but not as much.
Rotation: “Jordair was very good. I think our guys were very comfortable last year, in terms of, we played who we played, nine guys, and I don’t think—again you can talk to them about it, maybe I’m wrong—I don’t think anybody thought there was a difference between a starter [and a bench player]. They knew that we had some guys off the bench that could start and vice versa. We just thought we had a good blend and a good combination and a good rhythm to it. The only change we made to it was Mike [McCall] was on the bench for X-number of games and Kyle was starting, then we flip-flopped it. Our rotation changed a little bit, which we thought we needed, and it ended up being very good, but it’s still nine guys playing. I don’t think it made much difference in terms of who starts and who doesn’t. We want our guys to not hold the fort coming off the bench, but we want them to increase the play. So, really, we’re kind of expecting them to play better than the starters.”
Different practice schedule/preseason games: “It’s interesting. In two weeks you play an exhibition game, we have a scrimmage I should say, then in three weeks you’re there. So, we’re there. It’s on top of us. It’s interesting how they’ve set up the landscape of how they’ve set up college basketball in terms of now in the summer you can work out with them and this two hour-a-week situation. So, I know there’s an excitement, but it’s probably a little bit different than in year’s past because they’ve been going at it.”
This year’s team: “I’m the keeper of the candy store. We got really good kids, they’re working hard and they’re good players. Each season brings new challenges and that doesn’t mean we’re going to be good this year, but we certainly have high expectations to be good. It’s always fun because each season—even though you have a lot of guys back and there’s some new guys—but even if you have all your guys back, which is rare, very rare in college, but if you had everyone back, there’s a process and there’s a growth from freshman-sophomore, sophomore-junior, junior-senior. The seniors are just like ‘oh my goodness, this is my last go-around’ and they look at freshmen and, boy, it seems like two weeks ago for them, but they can see how they were struggling 3 or 4 years ago. It’s always fun to watch kids in how they react, how they respond and how they mature.”
On reflecting on how Majerus brought him into program and how it’s evolved: “My parents taught me long time ago, ‘You gotta learn from your past, live in the present and just kinda peek in the future.’ ”
On using experience from last year moving forward: “I think it gives the guys the knowledge that they are capable of really doing well. Hopefully, they’ll also understand the slim margin of error that you have to get to that point and you’re coming from a different place. Last year, we were basically stealth for most of the year, in terms of no one was paying a whole lot of attention and you just kinda doing your business—and they did a great job of doing their business—then all of a sudden, ‘oh, you guys are good,’ but that didn’t happen until maybe January, even February. This year everyone thinks we’re good. We’re not any good today, but hopefully we get a little bit better today, a little bit better tomorrow and get to be good, but that’s part of the process. You don’t start off with 25 wins. You start off with zero.”
Dealing with Expectations: “The more you ignore the noise—those teams do the best. There’s always noise. Positive, negative or in-between there’s always noise in sports. I guess that’s a good thing because I guess that means people are interested, but you gotta really concentrate on what’s at hand and a lot of times you can get away from the core things of what makes you good because of the noise.”
On team captains: (After looking over and joking around with Kunderman)—“I know we got other guys that are leaders on the team. So I think the title of captain, they think that’s where everybody rallies around, I think there’s a lot more guys that we have…to get the knowledge from. So, I guess we’ll have to give titles, but we’re not real hung up on that I guess.”
A FEW MINUTES WITH CODY ELLIS:
Kwamain’s leadership role:
Kwam, he’s been a leader since the first day he got here. Over the years, he’s matured a lot. He’s become more of an on-court leader, vocally, and obviously, he leads with his game. So, I think that’s going to help us a lot this year.
Imprint of Majerus still being on the program; his legacy staying with the program; Will he be in his mind at all as you play?
Absolutely, absolutely. We got a fairly old team now. There are a lot of us who have been in his system for a couple of years and know it like the back of our hands now. So, even with him not being here I think he’s still going to make a huge impact on this team.
Do you hear his voice during practice still?
Oh, absolutely. It haunts me.
Filling leadership void left by Conklin:
Look, it’s a lot different, obviously. I mean I like being a leader. It’s awesome. I was captain of the Australian team, which was a lot of fun, so being a co-captain with Kwam this year has been a lot of fun. Obviously, none of us are like Conklin. None of us are as vocal as he was, but it’s totally different this year. I think everyone’s holding each other accountable from the freshmen even through the seniors. I mean, it’s completely different without Coach here as well. Like I said, it’s another part of holding each other accountable and just doing what we gotta get done.
It’s not exactly a shock to the system this year. We’ve been working out since the start of summer, so it’s good. I think it’s gotten the younger guys more prepared. I think we can get in and focus on what we need to work on instead of a lot of teaching stuff.
KWAMAIN MITCHELL QUOTATIONS:
First real practice:
The last couple weeks we had team individuals, kinda like practice, but not really because it’s only an hour, but I’m just excited for the season. I’m excited for the new guys Keith [Carter], Jared [Drew] and Cody. Me, Cody and Dwayne being captains, we’re so excited for our last year.
Keeping expectations in check:
The thing just from last year is that people didn’t know that Saint Louis was going to be good. So now, everybody thinks this year, Saint Louis is going to be good. So, we just gotta keep our same aggressiveness, same mentality we had last year and hope for the best.
Buzz on campus:
Just the fact we got everybody back. We lost Brian Conklin, which is a big part of the team. Also, Coach not being here—Coach always told me, ‘coaches don’t win games, players do.’ So everyday, me, Cody and Dwayne stress to these guys, take it a day at a time.
We had a group meeting about Coach’s absence. Everybody knows it’s going to be hard at times, but last year, there were some games where Coach wasn’t there and we put it away with Brian, Kyle and everyone being there as a unit. Personally, for me Coach was basically like a personal friend. He recruited me when I was in high school. We’re going to miss him, but we still gotta move on.
Change of his role heading into this season:
From last year, I was kind of trying to get my way back into the team chemistry wise, shape wise and playing wise, but now, I had a great summer. Coach has talked to me about being a scorer, a captain on the team and for us to be good, I have to go further and they follow.
Differences with Crews:
Crews’ terminology is different than Coach’s terminology. When Coach was here, things were slowed down. He had an emphasis on the little things and right now coach Crews always tells us that the one thing we have over the other team is detail. For us, me, Cody and Dwayne, we have to spread our knowledge that Coach gave us to everybody else. Right now, we’re still working as a team, coaches wise with communication.
He always says spreading the knowledge.
What’s it like without Conklin:
It’s a big change. We still communicate off the court, but on the court I’m going to miss his aggressiveness, his demeanor, every possession he goes hard, even at practice. I’m trying to get Rob and Grady and Cory to go like that for us to be good.
Trying to replace Conklin’s energy:
Hopefully, they try to follow his lead and try to be like him, but for us to be good, we need that presence down low.
Greatest gift from Majerus:
I think it was just becoming a man. Coming in as a freshman, there were some things I didn’t know about life and Coach, he was there to teach me and to lead me down the right path on and off the court. One thing people always tell me was that he’ll make you into a good basketball player, but also a young man.
How good is this team?
We’re good; we’re good. Right now, we still have some areas to fill, but by the time season conference play comes, we’ll be good.
Biggest Challenge for this team:
Adversity and just staying humble, people will talk about this team. All the rankings and all that stuff, we’re not into that. We don’t talk, we do.
Shutting external noise:
Since we have experience, we kinda know how it goes. Me, Mike, Jordair, all those guys, juniors and seniors, keep the team stable and humble because last year, we were picked seventh and we ended up second in the conference. So, we just have to stay humble and keep working hard.