Jimmy Patsos was equal parts realistic and hopeful when discussing expectations in his first year at Siena. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times-Union)
Only two weeks have come and gone since Jimmy Patsos was introduced as the new head coach at Siena College, but given everything else that has happened in the offseason, it certainly feels like an eternity.
Earlier this afternoon, I had the chance to finally speak to the new coach of the Saints for the first time since putting this piece together after his Loyola team was eliminated by Manhattan in the MAAC Tournament quarterfinals. After starting by asking about his family's well-being in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon tragedy and him asking about new Marist coach Jeff Bower after I mentioned that I was at his press conference yesterday, (Patsos lived two blocks from the site of the explosions, and thankfully, everyone he knows in the area is safe) what followed was a 21-minute, 21-second (not the longest interview I've ever conducted, but definitely in the top five over my six-year career) conversation that started on a straight path, but took multiple detours before reaching its destination, in typical Patsos fashion. Here's Jimmy, offering his opinion on a number of different topics, including how he and his wife Michele follow our site "religiously" from their time at Loyola:
On taking over at Siena:
"I'm really excited about it, I mean, it's a great job. Every job has great parts and bad parts, whether you're at Carroll High School where I was, I was at the University of Maryland when they were pretty down, Gary Williams had been there, then we got Joe Smith and Keith Booth, then we went to Loyola and, luckily, Andre Collins came with me, and now I see guys here that can play, and I mention players because (at) any program, you have to have players. Make no mistake, when Fran McCaffery won, it was because they had really five or six good players, and that's a credit to him recruiting. I've got to get out there and recruit. I think there are three or four kids right away that can help us that are in the program, so that's encouraging. A couple of guys, I want to see if they can play fast because they've been playing slow forever. I want to now know if they can play fast because we're going to press and run, but it's just a great place. You've got Troy and Schenectady and Saratoga, everybody's excited about basketball and that's really a great feeling. The arena's great, they have some great people. Jason (Rich) and Mike (Demos) in the sports information office are great, John D'Argenio (the athletic director) is great, Father Kevin (Mullen, Siena's president) is great, they've got a great trainer. Are there some things they need to fix? Of course, but it's a great job, and I'm looking forward to playing. Our schedule's challenging, it's going to take a year to rebuild because we lost some guys, but in a year, I expect to be back on track, and it's a great opportunity to try and win the MAAC."
On long-term expectations:
"To go to the postseason, I'm sure some people will say back to the NCAA Tournament and beat Vanderbilt and Ohio State and all that, that's nice with matchups, you know. The MAAC is a very good league, Quinnipiac and Monmouth were added, but it's still a one-bid league with eleven teams. That means we have (a) 9 percent chance of winning the league, I'm just a math guy, okay? Nine percent chance of winning three games in March, like everybody else. Now, winning four is really tough, but you can win three games in March. I want to get better as a team every game, I think month by month you have to take a look. Are we doing better in the classroom, are we being better citizens, are we doing better on the basketball court? Citizens, classroom, court, you know, I do a lot of things in threes. When you get two out of three, you're in good shape. We have to work on some things here. My long-term goal? Absolutely, the postseason. The CIT, we were lucky to play in that at Loyola, it was a great tournament. Joe Dwyer, Angela Lento, great tournament. I've never played in the CBI. I played in the NIT, it's a great tournament. As a head coach, I played in the NCAA, that's great. Postseason's a great thing. There's 140 football teams and 80 of them go to bowls, okay? That's over 50 percent. There's 350 basketball teams and about 130 go, so that's like a third. So maybe I'm being different, but the goal for this program absolutely should be (to) have a winning season and go to (the) postseason. Sure, I want to win the regular season. Sure, I want to go to the NCAA. That's not that easy, or else teams like Marist and Fairfield and Canisius and Rider would have done that before, see, there's a reason why they haven't, because it's really difficult. Iona has, they're defending champs, we were the defending champs (at Loyola) the year before, Siena had a nice run before that, so I'm really interested to learn how this 11-team (league) works out, because there's two brand new teams, and I want to see how good we can get next year. Next year, we have 32 games to get good, a very challenging schedule to be ready for the MAAC Tournament."
On any possible advantage to knowing his roster from coaching against it previously:
"You know, that's a really good question, Jaden. What I would say, though, my big advantage is that I know the league more than the players. My point is I know how each team plays with the coaches they have, and the league lost Joe Mihalich, a great person and a great coach, our ambassador left, so that's a new coach, Marist has a new coach. As far as my team goes, I know (Rob) Poole is really good, I really hope Evan Hymes stays, I think he's leaning toward that because he's experienced and he's fast, (Imoh) Silas, the big guy, can play, and then after that, some guys are getting new chances. And the other thing is, we're going to play fast, so you can't just say 'Hey, is this guy good?' Watching a team play 2-3 zone and walk the ball up the court, there's nothing wrong with that, that's a great way to play for certain coaches, I'm not criticizing that style. We're running, we're pressing, we're taking more threes, I'm a big offensive rebounding guy, I have to let these kids play that way and evaluate them, is that fair? I've only had two practices and I've been working on things. I want to see how they play when the game is speeding up. I have a feeling some of these guys may excel in that system."
On recruiting and how he can sell Siena as a campus and an experience beyond basketball:
"Well, that's a good question, I mean Javion (Ogunyemi) is coming to us from Troy, he kept his commitment, you know, he had signed a letter of intent. I could have been, you know, a jerk and said 'just come already,' but I went and re-recruited him. Being recruited or re-recruited is okay, it's all part of the process, and they recruited me at Siena. I've gone to that campus twice to shoot around, but what does that show you? It doesn't show you anything. I've been to the arena, I like Albany because there are restaurants and I know Saratoga and there are different parts, Schenectady's a great suburb. I didn't see the inner workings of Siena, so I get on the plane, I drove over actually, landed, I spent five hours with John D'Argenio, who's a great guy, and he's an experienced guy. He's a guy who has a lot of experience as an athletic director, and I really like that. So what I did was just get off, meet him, have breakfast, tour the campus. I wanted to see where the dorms are, the dining hall, I met the president, I met the board, I met Joyce, the senior woman's administrator. These people are all important, the people at the SID office, well, athletic communications I guess you call it now, so I think it's one of those things where you just look and you act like a player, and I said 'this is really good.' The dorms are good, the academics are good, the support is good, the arena's good, I like the city, it's got a great airport. Why wouldn't I come, you know? I'm a lucky guy to be coaching here, I'll tell you that."
On incoming recruits:
"Well, Javion (Ogunyemi) is coming and (Stephan) Jiggetts is coming, because we signed them. Jiggetts has lost ten pounds and is getting in shape. We'll try to recruit some other guys, I'm not allowed to comment because they haven't signed yet, but I'm sure there are a couple of guys that want to come visit. I still think getting local kids is most important, then my next area is Baltimore/Washington, but I've got kids from New England a lot too. And I'm sure everybody's like 'What about New York?' I'll get to New York, but there are a lot of schools in New York, you know? I'm really well known in the Baltimore/DC area, and they have the best players in the country, per the experts, whoever they are, you know, Dave Telep or Clark Francis, or all these guys. They've had success, (Kenny) Hasbrouck, John Williams played here like 20 years ago but for Mike Deane. It's a 40-minute flight, so that's important. Then I want to get local kids, I also think the Boston region's great because it's only three hours away, but we'll get kids. We'll get recruits because I've seen what the product is and it's a great sell, but it's a great academic school, and parents at the end of the day at a major level, parents care about academics, and that's really important to me."
On next year's nonconference schedule:
"Unfortunately, we're going to have to put UMass off for a year, but we'll continue that series later, we're starting up a series with Cornell, we're playing Hofstra, we're playing La Salle, John Giannini, great job, we're playing Purdue in a money game that's part of the Old Spice. We're going to the Old Spice with Memphis and everybody, see, it's going to be a little rough here early. Old Spice, those are three big time games, BCS-level games. We came in eighth last year, not first, okay? But you know, this is the business we have chosen, Hyman Roth from 'The Godfather.' I understand that. So, you know, I got Purdue in the Old Spice. That's four games that those teams have more resources and better players than us, but we'll try and compete. I think La Salle's a good game, I think Fordham's a good game. Father Kevin has started a series with St. Bonaventure, the Franciscan Cup, I think that's a great idea, I like Fordham, we will play Albany every year. Will Brown and I talked yesterday, we're going to lunch, Will's a really good coach. We're opening with them, I think we should open with them every year. That's 12,000 people at a game, the first game of college basketball. We might have the biggest crowd in the country, other than a Kansas or somebody, but like a real 12,000, not tickets sold, but people in the arena. So, the schedule's great, I think it's good to have a little local, we're going to, down the road, always play a national championship team. I like to play Georgetown, Duke, Kansas, we went to Michigan State. I like to do one trip a year where we get some money for the program, we get on national television, we play a game that's going to get us ready. I'm a history guy, so I think it's important for these kids to learn about places that won the national championship. Our schedule will be challenging, but we're 0-0 until we play a MAAC game, because that's what counts, the MAAC and then the MAAC Tournament."
On advantages to his educational road trips:
"You know, look, I'm not taking kids to museums for five hours, we're just going for a half-hour to an hour. I just think kids are going to remember going to see 'Milk' in San Francisco. I think guys remember the Guggenheim. We took our players, half of whom are from Washington, DC or Baltimore and had never been to the Vietnam Memorial, or the 'I have a dream' speech on the steps. That's important. I took them to a Broadway show this year that was about a boxer who didn't listen and died, you know, it was The Golden Boy, the guy Tony Shalhoub was in it, the girl from 'Dexter.' I'm going to try and get kids to learn about life and build relationships and grow, because that's important for them down the road. I know I'm paid to win games, you know, I'm crazy, but I'm not that crazy. But I think those kids remember that. When you go to Niagara, you should go to Niagara Falls. I think when you go to Chicago, you should go to the stock market. That's just a different thing I do. We went to Memphis, how can't you go to Graceland and Martin Luther King? They're two of the top ten most important and most popular figures in modern history, both died young, one was assassinated, one had too many people pulled at him, the dangers of fame, you know? I'm going to teach that stuff, it doesn't mean I'm quizzing them on it, but we're here to educate young men and win basketball games. I get it."
On using historical figures as motivation:
"Well, the Black Panthers game was because it was Black History Month, and I had talked about Frederick Douglass and different people, I talked about Martin Luther King and I talked about Malcolm X. I just hadn't got to the modern era of the '70s with the Black Panthers. You know what? I don't care, I just said 'Sometimes you just have to get a little militant.' I didn't mean militant in a bad way, I just meant there's some times you can be a pacifist like Gandhi, but sometimes like Martin Luther King, you've got to use your own voice and you've got to use your own intellect, but sometimes you have to fight back, and I don't mean that in a literal term, but we were playing very passionate against Fairfield, we acted like that wasn't our game. I said 'Sometimes you have to strike back.' That means pressing, running, getting the boards, getting a little aggressive on defense so that you can change the momentum of the game. At some point in the '60s and '70s, the black community had to get aggressive to change the message, or it wasn't going to happen for them. My wife's a product of the Vietnam War. That war was a bad war. I know my stuff, I read too. So, my point is this: If I'm going to teach these kids, you've got to use it. The significance of people in history? I mean, of course. You just want them to know so when they go to a cocktail party or (are) at a job interview or at a sales call in 20 years, they don't look like 'Oh, I'm just some jock who played basketball. No, I'm a college student with a degree. I just happened to be a good athlete.' See, that's how I look at that."
On his influences:
"Jack Bruen played fast, he played at Power Memorial with Lew Alcindor. Dave Gavitt was the kind of guy that said 'instead of canceling the Albany series, you should embrace the Albany series and understand how grateful you are.' Dave Gavitt's the kind of person that says 'you should do every radio show and go in person,' like I would go to your studio if I could, 'and be grateful that you're getting a radio show and representing the university.' You know, Dave Gavitt was 'if you give, you'll get more back.' Gary Williams is my main guy though. You gotta have one guy, Gary's my guy. 'We're going to press, we're going to run, we're going to fast break, but in the last ten minutes of a game, you better be able to run a half court offense.' I'll play zone, I get that, but the first 30 minutes, let's get the tempo up. It's interesting to me: Usually the team that wins dictates a lot. Louisville won it (the national championship) pressing, playing a little fast. I just got off the phone with Andy Enfield, he's out in California right now, he's playing fast, throwing lobs and dunks, and I think that makes kids want to do it. I'm not a Big Ten coach, I'm an ACC coach. Greg Manning played for me, his father played in the ACC. We're ACC, let's get up and down. That's Georgia Tech with Kenny Anderson, that's Mike Krzyzewski forever, that's Dean Smith and Roy Williams and Bill Guthridge playing fast. I like playing fast, I thought (Jim) Larranaga did a great job this year. I'm going to learn from those guys that play fast, that's just me."
On the MAAC Tournament:
"I hope the tournament gets back here one day, and you can tell everybody I said that. The tournament is best suited for Albany because people come to the games, it's a great city, and I like Springfield. The Hall of Fame's cool, but there's no team there, like Marist and Siena draw a lot, you know? Albany is a great city, they've got an airport, it's easy to drive to, they've got hotels, you (can) go to Saratoga for the day, go to Troy for the afternoon, go to the game, and for $50, you can bring three people to the game and get something to eat. You know, let's face it, there's hard economic times. That's not easy."