I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Manhattan College basketball coach Barry Rohrssen. We talked about the upcoming season and what to expect. Hope you enjoy. You can also find my Manhattan College basketball preview here.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about Operation Hardwood and what you saw over there? How did it influence you?
Coach Rohrssen: Well, it was a privilege and an honor to be asked to be a part of something that has such an impact on a lot of lives both abroad and here.
One of the things that we found (the coaches who went over there) was what joy and relief it brought to the daily grind of the servicemen’s life. To be able to give them another outlet, whether it was a basketball game or even just a conversation in the tent or the mess hall, was great. Just to be able to share stories with them.
The interaction from having people from their country over there to come and visit them relieved them. Then as it narrowed down to people, in my particular case, from the East Coast, then from New York, finally even New York City even.
You just come across and in contact with so many people over there, it was one of the more incredible things to have ever happened to me. It was certainly eye-opening.
When asked before if it was a once in a lifetime experience, I have used maybe, because it will be more than that if they ever ask me to go again. It left such an impression, so certainly if the opportunity presents itself again I would do it again.
Q: There are a couple new faces on the coaching staff in C.J. Council and Guy Ngarndi. How will they add to your staff?
Coach Rohrssen: Well, both of the new members of the staff have higher education degrees. C.J. Council is an undergraduate and master’s degree graduate from St. John's, and Guy is a Manhattan College double major graduate. A double major graduate is someone who deserves cartwheels for what they did.
Guy, the year that we had been together here as coach and player, he was our hardest worker. Not just during the 40 minutes on game day, but also in each and every practice we had.
When you look at both these young men, what you are seeing is two people that have an idea about what higher education is, C.J. having both a bachelor's and master's degree and Guy having a double major.
One of my main points is that our players don’t ever lose sight of the value of education. I stress the student part of student-athlete. It is of paramount importance to me that they don’t go through their college years and leave without acquiring their degree.
Guy is personal proof from being on this campus that those things are obtainable and are achieved through hard work. Some of these guys may be able to relate to Guy in particular because they were teammates of his and know what his work ethic is like.
Both of these guys can be an example and someone that you can look towards when it comes to being a good student and good person.
Q: You and Coach De La Rosa go way back, right? You used to play at Saint Francis?
Coach Rohrssen: He was the captain of our team in college.
Q: How important is it to have someone there that you have known for so long?
Coach Rohrssen: Well, even though we played in college, we go even further back to high school together. We grew up in the same neighborhood and played at competing rival high schools. Edgar, even in high school, was a very good player.
Throughout his career he has been an overachiever. He has excellent leadership qualities, and he is an outstanding gentleman. So when you are putting a staff together there are certain things you look for, and first and foremost is a quality person and individual that also demonstrates good leadership abilities.
Having that good background and familiarity with Edgar throughout our lifetime together has really made him a nice addition to our staff.
Q: How are you going to be able to replace Rashad Green (transferred to University of San Francisco), one of the best rebounding guards in the league in my opinion, and statistically the best rebounder on the Jaspers last year?
Coach Rohrssen: Well, on every team for different reasons things have to be replaced, whether by graduation or whether by transfers. In this particular case it will be more rebounding by committee.
We don’t want to just look to one individual person and go out and say, hey you, grab eight rebounds. We actually as a team need to do a better job in rebounding.
Statistically he was our leading rebounder. There is always a value in that someone who can rebound the basketball. That is one of the areas we highly emphasize in practice and in games, so they hear it a lot, but individually and as a group they have to execute it.
Q: Opposing teams shot 47.5 percent from the field against you last year. Have there been any changes from the defensive strategy, or is it still the same scheme and you just need to get the players to work harder at it?
Coach Rohrssen: Well, defense is an aspect of the game that if you commit to it and you do it properly, you should always be in the game. There are going to be nights when your shot isn’t falling, as an individual, as a team, but if you can defend and guard people and stop people, you more than likely have a chance to be in the game.
For you, being a Boston guy, for all that was said about the Big Three, let’s not ever lose sight that Kevin Garnett was the defensive player of the year last year. All that seems to go under the radar screen, but having a good defense and playing a good defense keeps you in games.
Teams that are good defensively and take pride in it are winning teams, and teams that master it and excel at it become championship teams.
Q: You have two new players on the team, Djibril Coulibaly and Marty Higgins. What does each of them bring to the team?
Coach Rohrssen: Djibril provides us with another body at the center position, which is a very important position on the court. He also brings a different look in the position for us. He has an ability to run up and down the court and appears to have a knack of being able to block some shots. He will be a big help to us if he stays healthy and progresses.
Marty Higgins is a walk-on who has appeared to be a very hard worker, a diligent worker, and a good student. He seems to have a good understanding of the game and how it's played and should be somebody that can help us in practice and be a good member and part of our team.
Q: Siena is obviously the heavy favorite this year, but after that I feel the two through seven spots are sort of up for grabs, as there are no other teams that are significantly better than the others. Where do you anticipate Manhattan falling?
Coach Rohrssen: Well, I’m not much of a predictor. We are both sitting here and don’t have a crystal ball in front of us. Instead of where we need to fall, it is where we need to rise. Where someone finishes is more up to them, through hard work and attitude, than where someone else sees them finishing.
There is a lot of work in front of us. There is a lot of wood to chop. This team, like a lot, is most definitely a work in progress. We need to take things day by day, week by week, and month by month and try to build that into a productive and successful season
We need to take pride in coming out each day and working hard. We need to take pride in getting better individually, because when you get better individually, you get better collectively. We need to make greater efforts on the defensive side of the ball, rebounding the ball, offensively making better decisions with the basketball, and overall need to have a real sense of leadership in our team.
The pendulum needs to start swinging now from youth and inexperience to maturity and experience. A lot of young guys, because of how the situation was here, got playing time for us early. You don’t always get that in other programs, so we cannot let them fall into a false sense of work ethic or entitlement. To get time on the court you have to earn that, and that’s through hard work.
Q: You are playing Iona at the Garden again this year. Will that become a tradition? It was a huge hit last year for the students, getting to go to the Garden and watch the Jaspers. In future years, 2010, 2011, is it a possibility?
Coach Rohrssen: Well, we love to play in the Garden anytime we have that opportunity. It is always something we will look at and try to do. The Garden is synonymous with New York basketball. It is dubbed the world’s most famous arena, so it’s a tremendous experience for our players to be participants on that hardwood floor.
It is also great for our students, alumni, and fans to walk in there. They walk through those turnstiles and have their green and white on and are proud of that venue they are playing in. It makes sense doing it with a recognizable school like Iona. We are locked in for this year obviously, but it is something that we hope continues.
Personally, I am very thankful to the MAAC conference for helping us arrange that game and also very thankful to St. John’s for letting us be part of the doubleheader. In both years we have and will be playing on a night that they already had the building. We are sharing and piggybacking in the game in the Garden. They have been very hospitable in having us as another game on the card.
Q: Any chance we will get to see a UCLA or a Pitt on the schedule in the future?
Coach Rohrssen:(laughing) You know what, that would be nice to happen, but I’m not sure if Ben Howland or Jamie Dixon are going to bring their teams into Draddy Gym.
Q: With Jason Thompson playing so well in his rookie year so far, who is the next NBA prospect in the MAAC, if anyone?
Coach Rohrssen: We will have to see how the players develop. Being in the league for two years now, it has been nice to see and good for our conference to have two players drafted—Jared Jordan from Marist two years ago and Jason Thompson last year in the first round as a lottery pick. It brings attention to our conference and is great for the league.