RHODY TAKES ON ST. BONAVENTURE WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11, AT 7PM LIVE ON YURVIEW – COX CHANNEL 4.
In his fifth season at Rhode Island, Austin Carroll plays a critical role on the coaching staff, blending his affable personality with a strong growth mindset. Carroll worked with head coach Archie Miller eight years ago coaching U19 Team USA at the FIBA World Championships in Greece and was a member of Sean Miller’s staff at Arizona for several years, establishing solid relationships along the way. We had an opportunity to catch up and take stock of this season at its halfway point.
Chris DiSano: The team is off to a 1-2 start in Atlantic 10 play with St. Bonaventure coming into town. Early in the year, the team wasn’t closing any games. Now it is closing some (i.e. UMass-Lowell, Fordham) while still continuing to suffer some heartbreakers (La Salle). What’s your read on the team’s growth?
Austin Carroll: Once we turned the page into conference play, we’re happy with the approach our guys have had since we returned from Christmas break in terms of practice on a daily basis. They are starting to believe and starting to understand a little bit more. But I also think they’re learning that what it takes to win high-level, Atlantic 10, Division I games is hard. There’s been a couple of layers to their understanding: they are appreciating what it takes, but also appreciating that it’s hard.
So as we fight through the lack of maturity and overall skill right now with this group, the consistency doesn’t always equal a win. That is frustrating, obviously, because you feel like you’re doing everything you can – both from their perspective and our perspective as coaches – but we have to catch ourselves and say “We’re building, we’re growing.” If we look at it through a lens of whether we’re better than we were last week, we’ve pretty much checked that box off every single week this year. That’s the quest. Keep us all in the present. Right now, we’ve got St. Bonaventure at home. Yesterday we had a great day – shots, film, practice… and the guys checked off all three. We’re learning, understanding… and appreciating that changing habits is challenging.
CDD: You’ve known Archie for a while and are an important figure in this transition given the bridge you provide, from former to current staff, for many of these players in the program. What’s a ‘peel back the curtain’ aspect of Archie that most wouldn’t know?
AC: Something that sets Archie apart a bit is how much he uses film. I think he has an unbelievable way to teach with film. Obviously, the majority of coaches use film a lot to scout and look at opponents, but what’s unique about Arch and his brother Sean with whom I worked for, is the ability to coach and develop your team week to week by watching either practice or game film. I learned that skill from Sean while out there in Arizona for five or six years being his GA, video coordinator, and assistant coach… it’s a very consistent, daily approach of seeing where you are at.
It’s not always the most fun to finish up practice at 5, 6, 7 o’clock on a Tuesday evening and go watch drills… but if you look at it through the lens of making an individual player or team 1% better by giving them a few clips here and there – and it doesn’t have to be long. I think some coaches get in the habit of watching film for 45-60 minutes and you’ve lost the player after five minutes. So, understanding your audience, using your film to teach and build what you’re doing on both sides of the floor is a skill and trait that is really special about Arch. He’s special in this area.
CDD: Let’s shift to you and your own career progression, growth, and the role you play on this staff. What’s the skinny on how you see your role with this group and perhaps how is it different from past roles?
AC: Obviously, I had a big role and a big voice with Dave [Cox] and I appreciate Dave for that. I’d say that with Arch here, we got together as a staff for a type of ‘staff responsibility’ meeting when we first started the year… and he laid out what he was looking for from each of us. I’m a person who appreciates that. It’s detailed. In terms of my exact responsibilities. Xs and Os offensively is the area I’m focusing on this year. I’m looking at our offense in practice more than the other side of the ball, I’m examining it and giving him suggestions throughout the game offensively in terms of our individual and team development. It’s helpful to be able to focus in one area and help these guys lock in. It’s in practice, in games, but also research – looking for different things people are running that might fit us.
Always recruiting. I’d say our recruiting shifted three or four months ago after signing Cam (Estevez) and Connor (Dubsky), we decided the high school area is pretty much taken care of for now, so focusing on JUCO and transfer portal opportunities.
And then trying to keep these guys where they need to be. That may sound like a vague and generic statement but it’s also honest because it encompasses a lot of things with these guys on a daily and weekly basis. These guys need adult figures in their lives when they are not around their families.
So, it’s these three areas and then scouting every third opponent whenever I get the chance.
CDD: Let’s shift to a couple of players. Let’s go with Abdou Samb first. He didn’t play at all last year as a redshirt and is coming along in terms of his growth. He does a lot that isn’t necessarily box score material. What do you all like most from him and what are a couple areas you want to see continue to get better.
AC: For sure. You have to begin with when Abdou first stepped foot on our campus which I was here for. He came from a public school in D.C., the situation with COVID in terms of his high school and the ending of his high school career got pretty jacked up. He came to us after already having almost a year off… a little wet behind the ears… and to where he’s at now, I have to give credit to Abdou. What he has done in terms of his work ethic, his consistent time and effort into the weight room, eating/nutrition, all of the aspects – he’s made it a point to work and be consistent.
He brings a level of consistency and a level of physicality and toughness always needed in the frontcourt and I think something perhaps unnoticed from the naked eye is the pace in which he moves in our offense is a huge deal. It was one of our issues at points in the La Salle game. If you watch our second half when – shifting gears for a moment – Rory Stewart got inserted into that particular game… it had a different pop. This is something that Abdou has been bringing almost every game, and to his credit, he has been one of the main guys who has really grasped what it means to create action in our offense. It’s the relationship between the guards and the bigs but the five man, with what we’re doing, is a real key part.
On the defensive side of things, he does a lot of little stuff that over the course of the game has a big effect, whether it be ball screen defense, post, or overall team defensive concepts. As you said, he might not be filling up the stat sheet with 5 blocks or 15 defensive rebounds, but he has been a very consistent player for us on both sides of the ball. You pretty much know what you’re getting with Abdou every single day, and that’s a skill.
CDD: Brayon Freeman continues to grow. Overall, what have you seen from him, post recalibration and as he’s gotten more comfortable in this system? He’s an important piece – an understatement – and I’m wondering what’s on your mind?
AC: First and foremost, I love Brayon. He’s been a pleasure to have around. I love coaching him and being a part of his journey. I think he came in, similar to many of these guys now in college, with the year or two during the COVID pause/stop-start… and they kind of got forced into college. These two years were not normal. Then he had a year at GW where he had a good statistical year. I think the overall structure and what is being asked by us was an adjustment for him and I think that he is learning how to be a complete basketball player and understanding what that means. Because of his skill set and overall talent, he’s always been able to kind of do what he wanted to do… especially scoring the basketball, he’s learned habits or traits because they always worked for him, because he could.
For Brayon – and all our guards – they are learning to make the right play. Not make the pass or make the shot. It’s whatever the defense, it’s whatever is being asked of you… just make the right play. Brayon and other members of our team are growing in this area and understanding. This goes back to what we were talking about before, whether it be film or development… we’re looking at this as a day-by-day, week-by-week thing. When we look back and say “Did we help “X” guy or the team overall get better this week,” that’s a win. Brayon is no different in this sense and I thought the Fordham game was pretty fun to watch. I told you that at the courtside table; it was really enjoyable. It showed he is growing up as a player.
Chris DiSano is Rhode Island’s color commentator for Learfield, an Atlantic 10 analyst, and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44