Nov. 5, 2008
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- With just over a week left before the Navy men's basketball season opener with Towson on Nov. 14, NavySports.com sat down with head coach Billy Lange to get his thoughts on the season and where the program stands as he enters his fifth year as the head coach. The Midshipmen are coming off a second-place Patriot League finish in 2007-08 and return four starters and seven letterwinners off that team.
Q: What has been the biggest change in the basketball program during your four years at Navy?
A: The biggest thing that has changed in terms of our basketball program has been our culture and environment. Each year, guys are taking more ownership and more responsibilities with what happens, whether it be on the basketball court or off the court in terms or our interaction with the Brigade and classwork. Ultimately, you need those things to lead to winning.
Q: Do you still consider the program in a rebuilding mode after last year's success?
A: I still think we are rebuilding in some ways because we still have to climb another hurdle, which is consistency. I think once you get to a level where you can compete consistently at the highest level of your conference, whether its top one or two or even three or four, then I think your program has arrived. Then you are waiting for that special year where you capture the league championship and make the NCAA Tournament and let the rest take care of itself. We've gotten more competitive every year in our conference, but I would still like to think that the next step for us is to maintain some consistency.
Q: What is your offensive philosophy?
Q: How about defense?
A: I would say its players being confident playing together, sharing the ball and playing instinctively. I always go with the simple philosophy that against the best teams, they are going to take you out of your first or second option. Then it comes down to whether or not your guys have the instinctiveness to play together and play confident enough to make some plays for each other. We did a lot of that late in the season last year and that was a big reason why we went 6-1 down the stretch.
We have tailored our defense each year to our personnel. One year we played match-up zone, one year we were man-to-man and last year we were pressing. Other years we played a little more solid. I think we want our guys to be aggressive and ultimately, my philosophy is to combine our aggressive attitude with a poised, solid defense. I think we have the aggressiveness and with some experience, we can get a little more poised and find somewhere in the middle where we can become a very good defensive team.
Q: Do you look at any stats as ones that you have to win to be very successful?
A: I think that the assist-to-turnover and turnover stats are a major one. Not so much assists, but moreso turnovers. I look at the turnover battle all the time and if we are less than our opponent, then we have more possessions obviously. Second-chance points and offensive rebounds are also big ones. That tells you a little bit more about your rebounding than overall rebounding margin. That is sometimes equated to your shooting percentage. We keep some stats as a staff that aren't on the normal stat sheet (charge taken, deflections, points within a certain amont of time on the shot clock, etc...). We get the statsheet at halftime and after the game and the first two stats I look at are turnovers and offensive rebounds.
Q: Your teams have shot a lot of three-pointers in the past. Is that something you stress or does it just happen that way?
A: I think if you asked our players they will say we don't shoot a ton of threes, but what we do is we drive the ball a lot. Against a good defense, they won't let you get all the way to the rim. We space the floor fairly well and kick it out. More than emphasizing shooting threes, we emphasize making the right decision and spacing.
Q: How do you replace Greg Sprink?
A: You don't look at it on an individual basis. No one knew Greg Sprink was going to be the third all-time leading scorer at Navy when he arrived here as a freshman. You don't want to take just one guy and say "go replace him". As a team, and I think you would want to do this even if Greg was coming back, you want to get a degree better in every area of the game. We want to be better defensively, we want to be better rebounding, we want to be better offensive rebounders - we are stressing it more now than we ever have - better with the ball, better sharing the ball, better shooting. I think what you do is you build your team to get better in those areas and then hopefully that makes up for the statistical production he provided. For what he did, I don't know if any one player on our team can do that.
Q: What do you feel are the strengths of this team? What are your concerns?
A: The strengths are our upperclass leadership. Guys like Kaleo, Clif and Adam have been through a lot with our basketball program. I think our knowledge and experience are key factors too. I think our aggreessiveness on both offense and defense are strengths as well.
In terms of concerns, we still, even though we are more experienced, have some youth out on the floor. There is a good chance, in terms of our lineup last year, we will be starting three sophomores (Garcia, Avworo and Veazey), and have several more young guys that will be playing major roles for us. We still have some physcial maturity that we need to gain. My concern is if those guys as sophomores are ready to go out and compete at a junior-senior level. Other than that, I don't have any pessimistic views on this team.
Q: How do you ultimately end up grading your recruiting classes? You mentioned that you can now target specific players that fit your system, instead of just bringing in players for the sake of bringing players in. How did that happen?
A: I think we recruited so many mass classes and it will happen again, but when we first got here, we just wanted to bring in talent and fortunately for us, our talent kind of shaped the way we were going to play. I don't think we were trying to fit square pegs into round holes. We saw what we had and looked what we would have down the road. We did a great job putting together a depth chart looking at our roster three years out. It tells us what we needed in two or three years, instead of what you need to bring in right now. Hopefully, we don't have to be as dependent on freshmen as we have been in our first four years here. It doesn't mean they won't play, it just means we aren't as dependent. In terms of grading a class, I take a look at a class as they enter their junior year. That tells you what they have done and you can look back and where you made some mistakes and did some good things and we want to keep that continuity going.
Q: You seem to have a Texas "pipeline" on the recruiting trail. What do you attribute that to?
A: I think its a couple of things. Our school is heavily populated by the state of Texas. When you look at that, there is just a great affinity for the Naval Academy in the military and service in the state. Eugene Burroughs deserves most, if not all, of the credit for making the contacts year-round down there and getting out and getting to know the players. I just love coaching those kids. They are very coachable, they are tough, they compete, its a very athletic state. Eugene has done such a good job of getting our name out there.
Q: What are your impressions of the Patriot League through your first four years in the league?
A: I watch a lot of basketball, and I tell coaching friends this all the time. I just think night in and night out, top to bottom, we are as competitive as anyone on a conference schedule basis. Those 112 conference games are as competitive as any league in the country. We might not be able to boast the athleticism and talent or pro prospects, but in terms of a competitive style of basketball, we are as good as anyone. The games are coming down to the last five minutes every night.
Q: What do you look for when filling out a non-conference schedule?
A: We get asked that question all the time. Its a balance between a few things. One, we want to give ourselves the best chance to be competitive. Secondly, we want to give our players great experiences. Playing Virginia Tech, Villanova, in the Palestra, in tournaments, whatever it may be, we think those things are important. Lastly, and we think this is most important, we want to balance the schedule and travel time to our academics. This is the one we try to synch the most. We are always looking to not wear our guys out. We get through 15 games, then start the 14-game conference schedule, and we want our players to feel at the end of the first semester that they have every chance to succeed academically.
Q: Your wife gave birth to twins last summer, and now you have four boys under the age of five. How difficult is it to balance work and coaching with family life?
A: You want to be great at everything you do. Number one, I am fortunate to have an unbelievable wife who has raised these kids in a great fashion. I am very proud of our family. You don't want to suffer in any way, because your career progresses and your family progresses at the same rate. You have to keep yourself in check. It's not about how much time or quantity or quality, its about being the best father and husband you can be, and understanding your responsibility to manage this program and move them both in the same direction.
# GO NAVY #