Interview with Enrico Mastroianni: Better days to come for men’s basketball

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Interview with Enrico Mastroianni: Better days to come for men’s basketball

 Coach Enrico Mastroianni watches his team during their game against Keystone College on Jan. 27.

Coach Enrico Mastroianni watches his team during their game against Keystone College on Jan. 27.

Photo credit/ Katlynn Whitaker

Coach Enrico Mastroianni watches his team during their game against Keystone College on Jan. 27.

Photo credit/ Katlynn Whitaker

Photo credit/ Katlynn Whitaker

Coach Enrico Mastroianni watches his team during their game against Keystone College on Jan. 27.

John Ferraro, Sports Editor

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Despite a poor record in his inaugural season as men’s head basketball coach, Enrico Mastroianni remains optimistic. He talked to The Wood Word about the struggles of his first season, some trouble getting players to buy in to his new system early on, recruiting, and his expectations for next season.

Q: How was coaching at Marywood different from any other program you coached previously?

A: It’s been special for me just simply because I got a chance to come home and do what I love to do in my hometown. This is a program that I’ve had a vested interest in since I started coaching in college. I’ve always had my eye on it. It would be a position that sometime down the line if it opened up, it would be great to step into. I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to do it this season.

Q: Looking back at this season, would you change anything about the way things went down?

A: Of course a lot of things could’ve been different. We could’ve had guys not get injured at certain times in the season. We could’ve had some players not leave the team prematurely, when we thought we would have them for the whole season. I think how you handle things as a coach — in your first season especially — you have to lay the groundwork for what you want the program to be moving forward.

Trouble getting players to latch on to his system:

Sometimes that change creates conflict. Sometimes that conflict results in, not failures, but differences in expectations. For me, there were things that this season it was important for us to instill with our guys as far as our expectations go and make sure that moving forward that’s not ever going to be in question again. So, the guys that we are bringing into the program moving forward have that expectation coming in because we got a chance to communicate it. On the fly, during the season, you don’t really get that chance. It’s kind of a trial by fire thing. Getting off to the late start was difficult because I didn’t get a chance, in the first few weeks, to get to know the guys that well. So, it was when we started practice that I really got to know them. That created a little bit of difficulty for us.

Q: Did you feel like you were starting a new program with the late start? How difficult was it?

A: I think the most difficult situation for us was the fact that the guys had had some success the year before. They had success doing things a little bit differently. So, you bring in a new coach with new ideas and different concepts. Now that coach starts to go in that direction and the results are different by not having the success they expected. It’s hard to look at the end of the road and see that we are going to be good. So, there is a swirl of doubt that goes around a program. For me, I’m confident in what we are doing because I’ve done it before. I know how it’s going to look in the end. I also know it might take a few years before we get to that point where we know we are going to be a perennial playoff team.

Q: Can you speak to some of the positives you saw on the court?

A: Buying in was the most important thing. Defensively, this was the right thing for us to do. When we finally did it and finally bought into it – we were one of the best defensive teams in the conference. I think there was a stretch of three games where we lost by a total of six points. We had two one-point overtime loses and one four point loss where we had a three point lead with a minute to go. There were definitely a lot more positives toward the end of the season than even the guys imagined.

On losing Connor Callejas:

I think it was mid-January, where Connor [Callejas] got injured and we had just played Cabrini College down to the wire. It was a great finish. In that game Connor had 30 points, but he also played a great all-around game. He got other guys involved, made a lot of free throws, and got some steals. He helped us in a lot of ways and the very next game he’s not eligible to play because of an injury. We gutted it out and got a tough win against Summit [University]. We went back and forth we Keystone College and had a good opportunity to win and toward the end of the game, we let it slip away. We were competitive down the stretch; and that had a lot to do with the guys buying in to the defensive scheme.

Q: Do you think the buy-in to your system is complete?

A: I do. I think from our last meeting in the locker room at Keystone, each one of the guys came up to me and thanked me for being with them and helping them grow. I think there is a lot that goes into that handshake and hug that tells you that the guys are yours now. They are with you. I think the group of them – together – is collectively strong enough to push away any negativity that comes at us. They believe what we are doing now and look forward to the offseason as I am [doing]. I really think that moving forward we are going to be better to the point where we might surprise some teams next year.

Q: Is there any area you want to see improvement from your team?

A: The biggest thing is the rebounding. We got killed on the boards in the second half especially. We started having to play a little bit smaller at the five. We played Dexter Shy more at the end because of his veteran experience and we needed guys like that who could provide leadership for the younger guys. Dexter did a tremendous job for us with that. Unfortunately, he was playing center for us at 6-foot-2, 6-3, so we had a little bit of a size disadvantage.

Teaching our guards to come in and help us a little bit on the glass is something we need to focus on in the offseason. A lot of that has to do with strength training. That was a situation I was not involved in because of my late start. I don’t know what the guys were doing from the offseason last year until the beginning of this year. We put in a strength program with Jeff Jones downstairs when I started in September; but it was only a three-week plan until we started practice. But now, we are going to start up a strength training/skill development program where the guys are going to get an emphasis on building strength, confidence, and explosiveness off the bounce.

Q: What was the last message that you gave your team?

A: The message for the guys returning next year is that from the start we need to be together. There can’t be any confusion about what direction we are going in. Let yourself go. Let yourself belong to the group and be a part of it. When there is too many cooks in the kitchen, things always don’t come out right. I think it’s okay to have conflict and disagreement. I think that’s how you create progress. But, unfortunately, I think that a lot of the guys were still tied to that previous staff and weren’t really ready to commit to what we were trying to do. I’m hoping that’s a different story next season.

Q: Now that you have control, a full recruiting summer, and a training program you created, what types of players are you looking for to fit your system?

A: We need character obviously. We need high character guys with leadership skills that are out there to encourage their teammates and not break them down. I think one of the hardest things to do as an 18 to 22-year-old kid is to not point blame at each other. The hardest thing to do is to point the finger inward instead of outward. We are going to look at that and we already have. We have a couple commitments, guys that we know are great character guys, great teammates, come from good families, and are all about winning for the team and not strictly for themselves. Selflessness is important.

Recruiting:

We need to improve at our size. Every position needs to get bigger, faster and stronger. When you look at it, we are well-equipped to compete with some teams in our league, but not all teams in our league. Gwynedd-Mercy destroyed us in two games. They are the best team in the league by far. They’ve done it to everybody, not just us. But the point is that when you look at the lineup; 6-foot-1, 6-3, 6-5, 6-7, 6-6. We are not [that big]. That’s hard. So, you can’t really compete like you want to against a team like that. Naturally, our guys have a competitive nature. We want to get up and down the court, run with a team, and go toe-to-toe with them; but, if you don’t have the horses to compete out of the gate, then can’t play that kind of game. We had to change how we wanted to play just to stay in games this year. Moving forward, I would like to get to a point where we don’t have to worry about that and we could dictate the tempo of the game.

Q: What are your expectations for next year?

A: I think we are obviously going to be better. Like I said, towards the end of the season we were competing a lot better than we were in the beginning. What we expect as coaches every year is that the players will give us everything they have. The players come into every season expecting to win a championship.

We are going to try and be a realistic as we can be. I don’t doubt that with a couple key ingredients added to the mix, that we will be better. We have a few commitments already that we’ve talked to that can make a difference. One of the players that didn’t play for us at all this year was T.J. Andersen from California. From everything that the guys say, he is going to be a big addition for us; a big help at the guard position. Obviously we lose Shane [Letthand] and Corey [Callejas], who were a bulk of our scoring over the last half of the season. We need guys that are going to be able to put the ball in the basket. We are working on trying to get those kinds of guys.

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