Interview: Coach Matt McMahon
The Racers finished the 2017 season with a 16-17 record, 8-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference. As we head into the offseason we sat down with head coach Matt McMahon for another of our regular conversations.
Racer Insider: How would you assess this season? Was it a disappointment for you?
Matt McMahon: It was definitely a disappointing season. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to build the chemistry of the team and the defensive culture of the team to the level it needed to be at to perform consistently. And I think that’s why we had such an up and down, roller coaster season.
RI: Why do you think you were so inconsistent on defense?
MM: I think it was a combination of a lot of different things. I think part of it was that we had a lot of first year guys. I think the learning curve took longer than anticipated there. I think individually we were deficient at times, just one-on-one defending the basketball. And then collectively, we’re all responsible for getting the job done. And we didn’t do it consistently enough.
At times we were really good. We got off to a 5-1 start in conference play and really defended well. We won three games on the road in that stretch. But we weren’t able to extend that consistently throughout the season.
RI: How much did it hurt you defensively when Damarcus Croaker got hurt?
MM: That certainly hurt us because we lost his athleticism and his ability to defend the other team’s best player. We also missed his ability to get to the glass.
RI: Two of your first year players, Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller, both had great years. Were you surprised by how good they were?
MM: No. We knew we were going to be counting on both of them to come in and make a huge impact. And I thought they both came in and played like all-league type players from the very beginning.
RI: How would you like to see Stark improve his game during the offseason?
MM: My challenge to Jonathan is to take a lot of pride in taking on a leadership role within the team. And then I want him to become a dominant on-ball defender. He’s an elite-level athlete. And I think he’ll be a very good defensive player next year.
RI: What about Miller?
MM: I think Terrell needs to be more consistent at the defensive end. We threw a lot at him this year, it’s a lot to learn from different ball-screen coverages to rotations. I think the year of experience will really help him in those areas. And he needs to continue to find the right balance on offense, inside/outside. He’s a very versatile player. I don’t want him relying too much on the 3-point shot. He’s a very good 3-point shooter and I want him to use that as a weapon. But I want to see him become a dominant scorer down on the block and I want him to get to the free throw line more often.
RI: At the beginning of the year, it seemed like there were two questions that had to be answered. One one was, who was going to be your catch-and-shoot two-guard? Bryce Jones wound up filling that role for you. If you look at his numbers at the end of the year they’re okay. But he was really streaky. Do you have any idea what caused that? Was it just luck?
MM: He had a great offseason. He put in a lot of time in the gym and spent a lot of time shooting. And then he got off to a really slow start in November and December. The shots just weren’t falling.
Then I thought he did a really nice job of coming back from Christmas and hitting the reset button. He got off to a great start in league play. And at one point, he was in the top-5 in 3-point shooting and leading the league in assists-to-turnover ratio. Then unfortunately, he just didn’t shoot the ball well down the stretch.
RI: The other question was who was going to give you a presence in the low post. And that went unanswered for much of the year. But, Jalen Dupree came on strong at the end of the year, didn’t he?
MM: I thought his development was outstanding. He was going from high school to playing high level Division I basketball. I thought it took him a while gain some confidence. Early in the season he didn’t finish well around the basket and he struggled at the free throw line. But after Christmas he started to improve and late in the season he even started to score with his back to the basket. He also showed a lot of growth on the defensive end and he had some incredible blocked shots late in the year. He can protect the basket for us.
RI: When the season ended there was speculation about whether you would get an opportunity to play in either the CIT or CBI tournament. How did that all play out?
MM: The opportunities just didn’t present themselves. Not getting to the .500 mark and then with where we finished in the league, we just didn’t get the opportunity to keep playing.
RI: You had the transfer for Towson State, Byron Hawkins, sitting out this year. How is he coming along?
MM: I’m really excited about what he’ll bring to the team. He has a high basketball IQ and he’ll bring toughness to our backcourt. He averaged right at 14 points a game on a 20 win team. He’s a proven scorer and I think he’ll really help us next season.
RI: You signed three players last fall. How have they been doing?
MM: Our JUCO kid, Shaq Buchanan, had a great year at Northeast Mississippi. They just lost in the regional championship game last week. He had 34 points in that game. He averaged about 19 points and seven rebounds. He really had a terrific sophomore season.
Ja Morant led his team deep in the state playoffs in South Carolina. He put up triple-double type numbers all season. He’s very athletic and I’m excited about his skill level and Basketball IQ.
And then Tevin Brown scored more than 2,000 points in his high school career. He really shot the ball extremely well from behind the arc. He needs to get stronger, but he has good size at the wing at 6-4 ½.
I’m really excited about all three of those guys.
RI: Do you hope to sign more players this spring?
MM: Our hope is to sign an additional front court player to increase our skill level and athleticism. That’s what we’ve really focused on.
RI: Are you looking at JUCO guys or a high school kid?
MM: We’re looking at both options. But we want someone who can make an immediate impact, someone who can help us right away.
RI: Do you have a plan for the offseason?
MM: We will spend a lot of time in the weight room, in our strength and conditioning program so that we can build some toughness back into the program. And we’ll spend a lot of time on the court, just one-on-one with our players working on player development.
RI: You’ve also got Hoopalooza again this year, right?
MM: Yes, on August 4th and 5th we’ll celebrate the career of Popeye Jones. I’m really excited about it. I’ve been talking to a lot of the former players and they’re excited about it too.