The beach, cookouts, vacation; there are a lot of things vying for our attention in summer. College basketball generally is not one of them. However, those in the know understand that the decisions, developments, and even the thoughts in coaches heads that quietly happen while most folks are flipping burgers on the grill are the ones that will influence what we see on the court once autumn rolls on in. I recently caught up with Rhode Island Rams head coach Dan Hurley to talk about spring happenings and player development goals.
Chris DiSano: Dan, thanks for taking a few minutes as always to talk about your program. Since the final buzzer of the NCAA game against Oregon, can you get fans up to speed as to what you and your staff have been up to in the “off-season.”
Dan Hurley: It’s funny. You enjoy some moments where you’re out to dinner, or you get an email, or a call that reminds you of this past season and how amazing and fun it was. But for the most part, after you take a couple of days to emotionally and physically recover from it all ending, you get back to doing what you do. You break down the last couple of games that you played, you get focused on your seniors that are graduating picking agents… making sure they’ve got a good handle on the process. You turn your attention to late signing period, future classes, areas that your program has to get better, scheduling, and all of the items you move on to once the season’s over.
CD: Perfect segue… what are those graduates, Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson, up to these days?
DH: Those guys are in the midst of working out for teams right now. Each guy has been brought in by a couple different organizations to work out and have had their pro days. Hassan had his in New York and Kuran is having his in Los Angeles. Kuran is out west training and working out. Both guys had opportunities to go to Portsmouth and weren’t able to do it, whether injury or agent’s decisions… but they’re going to get a great look because of the success they had as individuals and team success.
DH: We lost some great people, great coaches, and successful coaches. But like the programs in this league do, they went out and hired some terrific coaches to replace them. When Dayton and VCU hire good people, that’s no surprise to casual fans… but across the board in other places we added a tremendous group of coaches which bolsters the way the league is perceived nationally.
I’m thrilled to be here and grateful that I get a chance to coach the quality of kids that I get to coach here.
CD: Another contract extension for you at Rhode Island (through 2023-24). What are your thoughts about what you’ve built to date, the University’s commitment, and continuing to see things through?
DH: I’m thrilled to be here and grateful that I get a chance to coach the quality of kids that I get to coach here. We’ve put some great people together on staff and with our players, and put together something that’s potentially special and sustainable if we continue to commit as a university, athletic department, and program to enhance the player experience and continue to push the program forward and try to get better. We have a great group of players and a formula that works… and we have the right people together. I’m excited to try to capitalize on where we are now. This year was a big step for us – getting over the hump and reaching some of our goals.
CD: Let’s drill down on the program – on the floor. Any specific players and/or player development goals you want to spotlight?
DH: A few thoughts about some of our guards… Stan Robinson has a ton of confidence going into the off-season. He’s always had a ton of talent. Can he parlay some of those great moments he had great in the year… and continue to maintain that level of play? He looks great. Jeff Dowtin, is one of our guards who at almost 6-4 does so many things for us. He didn’t look like a freshman late last year. Is he going to make an even larger jump this year with his game? Jared Terrell has had a great career and yet not ever made an all-conference team. From beginning to end, is he going to play at an all-conference level for 30+ games? Can E.C. Matthews be Player of the Year? Not scorer of the year or a hot-streak guy, but that tremendous all-around player with his age, maturity, and what he’s been through. And then, Jarvis Garrett, has to come back from his health issues and has been tremendous player for us.
Beyond those guys… I still know we’re all hungry. We’ve talked about getting back to where we were and go a little further and be better. When you’re a good program, your player development has to take over. So guys that didn’t have an opportunity to play as much or at all last year – whether young, talented players or older guys that would’ve wanted more playing time – well, they have a great opportunity. I think you’re going to see our depth on display this year.
CD: So that’s player talk… what about your development as a head coach? Any good books you’re reading during the off-season?
DH: I try to read two or three books a month. Some of the books I like, we’ll then read as a team. Right now I’m reading Peak, by Anders Ericsson, which discusses the importance of deliberate practice. Obviously (laughs) practice is one of my favorite times of the day. I just got done with Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, so this time of year I’m a lot more well-rounded.
CD: We’ll connect again and talk schedule and other facets of the program later in the summer, but let’s take it up to your summer trip to Europe and end with that here. How important is it, particularly for the big men who have more to prove as a group?
DH: The 10 practices are huge for us, in particular with the areas in which we want to get better. Most of the areas we want to get better are at the offensive end of the court. We want to become a better passing team and we want to try to get the ball down the court quicker too.
I think because of the type of defense we play and our level of defense, we play one of the longest possessions of defense of any team in the nation. It takes a long time for our opponents to get shots up and that drains us a little bit in terms of then getting out and pushing the ball. So if we get a lot better at those two areas and playing faster on makes and misses, then we can be better overall, because our calling card is going to be the elite level defense we play.
The European trip is a great chance for these front court players to get a ton of practice time and ton of minutes. So we probably, on the trip, will stay away from a lot of four guard play. There’s a lot of subtle things you can do with four guards but I think it’s something that’s easy to adapt to… so a huge focus will be to get these front court guys minutes and practice and really develop them.