At OVC Media Day, I sat down with all 12 men’s basketball coaches coaches. Here is the entirety of my interview with EIU head coach Jay Spoonhour.
CB: How are things going in your first summer at Eastern Illinois?
JS: It’s a typical deal for taking over a new program. Players trying to figure out what you’re saying, guys trying to figure out what’s important to you. You’re trying to figure out how you can best use them, and it’s not all necessarily basketball stuff, it’s getting to class, showing up on time…
CB: Just general expectations…
JS: It’s always the same. Guys are always used to doing things their way and we’ve got guys that have been all over the county playing for different programs because we’ve got, gosh, 7 new ones, so they’re all trying to figure out, they’re in the first year of Division I, and then you’ve got 6 or so guys that were here last year, and even the guys that were here last year have only been there one year, no one has been there longer than one year, so there’s really no one that can say “Hey, here’s how we do it.” So we’re the one’s that say it.
CB: That’s a good thing for you, right? You get to create that system without much resistance.
JS: Our guys want to do right. Our guys are all trying to figure out, “What am I supposed to do,” “What does coach want us to do.” They’ve all got their own ideas, but nobody’s fighting anything. It’s hard to get it all figured out. It will happen, it all just takes time.
CB: With so many new players, what is the expectation you have competitively this year?
JS: It’s always hard to say. One thing I know we have is that we have a lot of guys who are trying. They all listen. And if you’ve got that, if you’ve got 7, 8, 10 guys that are all thinking the same way,all pulling the same direction, you can go do stuff. What that is, I have no clue. I have no idea. I don’t know if we can beat anybody. But I know they’re going to try. And the thing we told them all before the season is we need to have goals we can manage. Let’s get to the conference tournament. We haven’t consistently made the conference tournament. Let’s start with that. We’d all like to say we’d like to go to the NCAA tournament, but let’s face it, c’mon, let’s set stuff that we can handle. So, we’re going to try to get to the conference tournament, we’re not going to do things to help people beat us, we’re going to try to play the game the right way and hang onto it, and do things that don’t beat ourselves
CB: On that question of expectations, do you expect that this team will make the conference tournament.
JS: I think so. I mean, it depends on how well we all figure things out. We don’t score very well. You know, we just don’t. That’s kind of a big deal. And do, we’ve got to figure out ways to score.
CB: Do you defend well, though?
JS: Yeah, they try. They try. I mean, we’re not there yet. You’re talking about 14 different guys, and we’ve only been at it eight practices, I mean, come on. Give us a little time. (*laughter*) I think we will get to where we can do that. If we don’t defend well, then it’s going to be, it will be rough. But I think we’ll do that. Every team I’ve ever had has tried to defend. So they’ll do that. Then if we can figure out who can make shots; I mean, our returning leading scorer averaged 4 points. Okay? So there’s the guy we’re going to run plays for, we know who that is, so we know he can at least make two a game, and then we’ll figure out the rest from there.
CB: Who is standing out early in practice? Who’s really shining in these early days?
JS: There’s two guys that have played Division I before. Josh Piper played last year 13 minutes a game, and Austin Akers played 20 minutes a game. Now combined, they only averaged 6 points. But those two guys play with more poise because they’ve been at it. Everybody else is really just trying to find it, and what ends up happening early on is players always try to do too much. They want to show you, “Hey, I can make this shot,” “I can make this play,” and invariably they’ll make mistakes trying to do too much. Akers and Piper are not making as many mistakes as the other guys. Taylor Jones got to play some last year, he was a walk-on, but he got to play, and is in the same boat. Little bit more poise. Everybody else is just real excited. Because they think they’re going to play, and they’re right, and so they’re trying to do things to impress the coaches, and they’ll learn pretty soon that, look, you’re not impressing anybody by kicking the ball out of bounds, you’re just hanging on to it. “We like you, we think you’re a good player, it will happen on it’s own time. Don’t make plays that aren’t there.” And that’s what every team, I guarantee you, is doing right now.
CB: With so many new guys, I assume, especially the early games this year, we’re going to see a lot of players hit the floor for minutes as you work through lineups.
JS: And I think we may have a team that does that for a longer span than most. We could be a team that plays all 12, 13 guys. I mean, honestly, because there’s not a huge dropoff from the very top guy to the very bottom guy, there’s just not. And so, the thing we’ll do is, everybody comes into the gym expecting to play, then you have the chance to keeps everybody’s attention, a chance to keep everyone enthusiasm up. And if you have that, and they’re trying to guard, that’s a benefit in itself. And I think, as it’s looking now, I think that everybody right now could play for us.
Posted below is a separate interview Spoonhour did with the OVC: