"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Blog Exclusive: Q&A with Tom Keegan

The Cracked Sidewalks team is pleased to welcome noted journalist and Marquette graduate Tom Keegan to the blog for an exclusive Q&A on Marquette basketball.



Tom is a 1981 MU grad. As he tells it, "I used to think it was bad timing, missing the national title by one year. But watching the game with my late, great father, Jack Keegan, in our den, then getting phone calls from my brother Dan, who was at the game in Atlanta, and my brother Jim, who ran to Lake Michigan with the rest of the campus, is one of the greatest memories of my life."

Tom is currently the sports editor and columnist for the Lawrence Journal-World. Previously, Tom was the afternoon voice of New York City's ESPN radio flagship station, as well as the lead baseball columnist for the New York Post. Tom is also the author of several sports books, most notably his biography on Ernie Harwell. Here is Tom's Q & A - - enjoy!

What are your impressions of MU's season to date?
The first thing that comes to mind is how impressive the freshmen have been and how committed Tom Crean has been to letting them play their way through mistakes. I love playing three guards together. The next thing that comes to mind is how many misses the staff made in recruiting big men. Ryan Amoroso is a talented player. After that, if you count Steve Novak as a perimeter player, there isn't a player worthy of 10 minutes a game.

Which of the Big 3 freshmen will be the best player as a senior?
Wow, what a great question. It could be any of the three, but I guess I'll go with Jerel McNeal. If he can find a way to get just a little more loft in his jumper and can continue to improve his left hand, he could be big-time. The best freshman is Dominic James.

Tom Crean raised expectations to stratospheric levels with the 2003 Final Four. How do you think he's managing with that overhang?
He doesn't seem to me to be the kind of guy to get too paranoid about expectations. He's too busy working to stop and think long enough about expectations. I loved what his wife said the day he was hired: "Tom thinks about recruiting 365 days a year." That's the only way to get better.

Coach Crean has had difficulty in two areas of note: signing highly-regarded post players, and players transferring out of the program. Which is the more significant problem and why?
I would say the failure to sign highly regarded post players. All coaches who have hard practices are going to lose transfers. The guys who realize the practices aren't any tougher now than when Dwyane Wade was here (how did they work out for Wade?) are the guys who are going to stay.
As for the big men, I often wonder if the way to go is get springy 6-7 guys and bulky 6-8 guys instead of the slowish 6-10 guys.

What is your favorite post-1977 Marquette moment?
The Kentucky game in 2003. As a sophomore at MU, I covered the women's basketball team, my first beat. The starting power forward, Mary Spellacy, was one of my best friends. After games we'd go to her room or mine and I'd interview her over beers. We fell out of touch and then my brother ran into Mary and gave her my e-mail address. She e-mailed me, told me her son was a vastly improved 6-7 senior who was not getting any Division I looks. I told her to send me a tape. I watched it, called a friend to see if he agreed that he was a D-1 prospect. He did and said he thought he'd be a perfect fit for Dave Magarrity at Marist College. We sent the tape to Marist. They liked it, flew to Cleveland to see him play, set up a visit. I went up to see them during their visit and Mary, her husband, their son Ryan, Magarrity and his assistants and I all had dinner watching the Marquette-Kentucky game on a big screen. Ryan Stilphen committed at the end of the trip, redshirted, Magarrity got fired, and then, playing for the new coach, Matt Brady I think his name is, Ryan was named to the MAAC all-newcomer team as a freshman. He's starting again this year and doing well. I e-mailed one of the former assistants about the possibility of Ryan walking on at Marquette, but nothing ever came of it.

Favorite MU player?
All-time: Oliver Lee.
Current: Ryan Amoroso.

What is the best aspect of the MU basketball program?
I've always thought the best aspect is how the student body on the one hand shows the players great support by going nuts for them at the games, but on the other hand lets them blend easily into the campus and treats them like just fellow students. I've always thought that has kept the players from getting too stuck on themselves and helps prepare them for their post-playing days when they have to make it in the real world. ... Another cool thing about the program is how addictive it is and how it leads to so many family connections. You visit a brother on campus, have such a blast at a game, you decide to come to Marquette. For example, I have three siblings who graduated from Marquette. And at the moment, I have two sons, two nephews and two nieces who are Marquette students. I heard a rumor that one of my nieces doesn't go to all the games. That better not be true.

What is the worst aspect of the MU basketball program?
The current state of the big-man stable.

When do you expect MU to compete for a Big East title?
That's a tough one. It could be as soon as Amo's senior year if MU could get someone like Takais Brown from the JC ranks this year and then follow that up by getting one of the top big man recruits, either from the high school or JC ranks, the following year. With the three freshmen and Lazar Hayward in the perimeter rotation, all it would take is two big-time big men, which actually is saying a lot. They get Takais Brown and they're halfway home. Follow that up with Keaton Nankivil and we're talking big-time powerhouse.

What can you tell us about Tom Crean's new coaching staff?
When I was growing up in Rochester, N.Y., my favorite local players from rival high schools were Glenn Hagen and Danny Panaggio of Cardinal Mooney High School. You wouldn't know it looking at him now, but Panaggio was the Diocesan champion in the high jump. He had an awesome lefty jumper and was a real winner. His father was a local coaching legend in high school and at Brockport State and went on to win big in the CBA. Danny, like his father Mauro, has won everywhere he's been. He's got a great basketball mind and a tireless work ethic. A couple of Wichita State fans I know were real sorry to see Jean Prioleau leave. He has a reputation as a personable, honest, hard-working recruiter. I know Crean is super high on Jason Rabedeaux and he, like Panaggio, has head-coaching experience, which I think is always good to have on a staff. The hard part in college basketball is keeping a staff together.

What are your impressions of MU's win over UConn? What was the most significant development that you noticed during the game?
Wow! Unbelievable. Awesome gameplan: Attack with penetration for layups and kick-outs to Novak and foul their big men and see if they could make their free throws. What's gotten into Novak? He looks so much more aggressive. It makes you wonder if the NBA scouts who came to file reports on Gay, Boone, Armstrong, etc., added one more file to their list. And it was cool to see with Amoroso having an off night that Lott, Barro and Burke all made key contributions. I didn't know any one of them had that in them. For a guy who fouled out without scoring, Fitzgerald also was real solid. And how about Joe Chapman? For a guy who's not the most talented, he sure has a lot of confidence and a lot of clutch in him. Marquette doing this in their first Big East game just shows they were born to play in the Big East. For the first time all year, after watching that, I think Marquette has a shot at being a tournament team, despite being so young. I can't imagine Keaton Nankivil and Korie Lucious sitting there watching that and not fantasizing about being on the floor wearing MU uniforms.

Thanks very much for your time and expertise, Tom.

Readers can keep up with Tom's columns at the Lawrence Journal-World Website.

1 comment:

Chili said...

AWESOME!

Thanks for setting this up junior journalists.