CATCH THE RAMS VS. ST. BONAVENTURE SATURDAY, JANUARY 25 AT 3:00PM ET. ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RHODE ISLAND.
Current Rhode Island assistant coach T.J. Buchanan blends competitor with class. While a player with the Rams, he battled through the uncertainty of a coaching change and heavy rebuild years to make an NIT in his senior season (2015) and help lay critical building blocks that have the program in the solid position we find it today.
Promoted to assistant coach in July of 2019 after serving previous roles as Director of Player Development and Director of Basketball Operations, Buchanan is a humble, hard-working sponge of a learner — dedicated to his craft and helping his alma mater continue achieving success.
I connected with Buchanan on Thursday evening to chat about the Rams.
Chris DiSano: Now that you’ve had season-plus as an assistant coach (having served in an interim role last year before the formal promotion), what is your greatest learning so far?
T.J. Buchanan: It’s been game-by-game scouts. How to go about that and manage your time to make sure you’re prepared the way you need to be when it comes time to present to the group of guys. Just being prepared at all time is the biggest adjustment when you step into this role. And also recruiting. Just continuous traveling. It’s a monster.
CD: As far as your focus on individual, professional development moving forward, where is your primary focus?
TJB: My primary focus is trying to better myself in all areas honestly. The goal and the dream is to one day become a head coach so every day I come into work willing to learn and willing to listen. I feel like I know a lot but there’s so much more to learn and take from others, whether head coach David Cox, Austin Carroll, John Carroll, Kevin Sutton, Ryan McCloskey… just talking to guys like that on a daily basis and picking everybody’s brain.
CD: How about other Atlantic 10 coaches you’ve developed relationships with… I’m sure you’re not swapping notes during the season, but are there guys that you see at other times and keep in touch with regularly?
TJB: Yeah definitely. I get along with a lot of guys. Of course the great Tyson Wheeler over at UMass. He’s my guy so I talk to him quite often. Also Charles and Carl Thomas over at Duquesne. They recruited me when they were in the MAC (at Akron | Eastern Michigan as well) and I was coming out of high school, so I kept that relationship with them and it’s been good to see guys on the road from Michigan.
CD: Good opportunity with you mentioning Duquesne to touch upon that win. What did you make of the team’s performance?
TJB: I thought we came in with a great game plan. The players dove into the scouting report, dove into the personnel of the other team and they locked in. I know the first half we struggled a little bit, but we never got down. We knew… we’ve been in these situations before with the schedule we’ve played — one of the toughest in the country – and our guys were prepared. We came in at half time, talked it out, and we knew we were gonna get the big fella Cyril [Langevine] back [from foul trouble] and once we got him back we felt confident we could dominate the paint… whether with him and Jermaine, or him and Antwan, Jacob, whoever… we felt confident.
CD: Let’s backtrack quickly to scouting. Can you take folks behind the curtain on game prep and scouting.
TJB: Yeah, we use all of the tools, whether it’s Synergy, kenpom, stats of the other team (overall and individual)… it’s doing complete research on the opponent, assessing strengths and weaknesses, trying to find ways we can attack them offensively. And figuring out the best things we can do defensively, whether that’s ball screen coverages, whether we want to run teams off the three point line or pack the paint — things like that. It’s time consuming but once you dive into it and if you love to do it, it’s something you can learn from. You can learn from other schools, steal a play here or there… and, like I’ve said throughout this interview… you can always learn.
CD: As you relate to your players, how helpful is it that you’ve recently played at a high level and that you did it here at Rhode Island? How much of an impact do you believe that has in mentoring them?
TJB: I think it plays a big role. I do. Because whenever I say something to them and I’m standing in front of them it’s from a genuine and real place… they know I’d never mislead them. So, with them hearing it from me, it helps… knowing I’ve been here, been through these experiences, been through rough times here and also know how good this place can be when we’re winning. They listen and respect me and I respect them as young men — and that mutual respect has been working. So I want to keep doing it with these guys and always being there for them.
CD: You just referenced going through rough times as a player on a more general level, but it got me thinking… Temporarily, you all went through some rough times early this month but have now rediscovered footing and are playing well, winning five straight heading into this weekend. What clicked after the tough start to the month?
TJB: I think we hit a rough patch and most teams hit that rough patch at some point. We were able to dig our way out, play and win through adversity. That was huge for us; taking those losses and watching those films and learning and seeing how to address weakness and build off of that. That was a key moment for us. Coach Cox kept these guys confident and locked in when they could’ve gotten down on themselves. Cyril, Jeff [Dowtin], and Fatts [Russell] were able to keep everybody locked in knowing there was light at the end of the tunnel. That was the biggest thing. Having these guys who have been through battles, seen what it takes to win, who have won championships… they were able to keep the young guys in the gym, keep confidence and not let anyone get down — because we knew we could play with the best.
CD: I’ve seen it, you all see it up close every day. This team is different from last year’s team in terms of its resolve. They’ve been down in several games where they could’ve folded and have not. Beyond just experience, do you see anything else growth-wise this year, because that’s not common and is important for a team with championship aspirations?
TJB: I think you have to go back to our leaders and also to Coach Cox. He has these guys believing in him and he believes in them and it’s a trust that wasn’t complete last year. Now it’s complete. We’re seeing guys buying all in and if they continue doing that we’ll see brighter days in March.
CD: Okay, let’s go with a gimmicky one but I think people will enjoy it. We’ll go through every player on the team, you give me a the first word or phrase that comes to mind…
TJB: Jeff Dowtin: Smart, Cyril Langevine: Goofy, Fatts Russell: Warrior, Tyrese Martin: Cool guy, Jermaine Harris: Tough guy, Antwan Walker: Little big bro, Jacob Toppin: Bambi, Mekhi Long: Swiss Army-Knife, Devale Johnson: Brooklyn, Jeremy Sheppard: Smooth, Eric Dadika: Sniper, Jordan Green: Jay
CD: Let’s end it here. St. Bonaventure this weekend on the road. Your thoughts on heading out there and facing the Bonnies?
TJB: We know it’s going to be a tough environment. They have a really good, well-coached team. We know it will take a heck of an effort to get a win there. But we’ll prepare for it one game at a time as we have all season. We’ll prepare for this game like it’s our [big football game in February that we can’t say], we’ll go out there and try to give it all and come back home with a victory.
Chris DiSano, is 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, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44