Introductory press conferences for coaches are often full of cliches, ranging from “establishing a culture” to promises of an uptempo play style — with frequent mentions of words like “program,” “opportunity” and “community.”
Inspired by Hoop Vision’s Jordan Sperber’s compilation of cliches from the latest coaching carousel, we decided to rewind the clock to a year ago, when Penny Hardaway, Chris Mack, Jeff Capel and Dan Hurley, among other notable names, were hired. We rewatched their introductory press conferences from last year and took stock of some of the measurable goals and ambitions for each coach.
Through their first season at their current schools, have these coaches delivered on their promises and ambitions? Let’s find out in Part 1 of our series of press conference reviews.
For each quote, we assigned a status of great, good, OK or poor, and gave evidence to support the grade.
Penny Hardaway, Memphis
Quote: “To me, I’m not a luck hire. I’m not just coming here to be a face, I’m coming here to make a difference and I really feel like I can do so with the help of getting the fans back in the stands like the old-school days … we gotta get those days back.”
Memphis averaged 6,225 fans for its 19 home games during the 2017-18 season – only 432 more than Hawaii and 748 fewer than Grand Canyon.
However, that number is likely the number of tickets sold, not actual fans in attendance.
According to The Commercial Appeal, Memphis averaged 4,583 fans per game during the ’18 season based on the arena turnstile count.
For a college team playing in an NBA arena that has a maximum capacity north of 18,000 fans, averaging roughly one fan for every three empty seats wasn’t a great look. Especially considering that Memphis averaged more than 16,000 fans per home game during the first half of the decade and nearly 17,000 at the end of the John Calipari era at the school. That number had dwindled by roughly 10,000 by the end of Tubby Smith’s tenure at Memphis.
But in Hardaway’s first season, Memphis’ attendance based on its turnstile count nearly doubled to 8,813, according to The Commercial Appeal.
Official NCAA attendance data based on tickets sold isn’t available yet for last season.
As for attendance, it’s often a chicken-or-egg debate.
Do teams need to win in order to convince fans that it’s worth spending their time and money attending a school’s games or do fans need to show up in order to create a strong home-court environment that helps a program reach its goals?
There may not be a right answer and if there is one, we may never know what it is, but to essentially double a team’s home attendance in one year is impressive. The Tigers went 22-14 and earned a No. 3 seed in the NIT, so they weren’t a particularly great team in Year One of the Hardaway era, but with the influx of talent at the school, which we’ll address next, Memphis basketball could very well be on the way to “getting the fans back in the stands like the old-school days.”
Quote: “…and also bringing some really good talent here that the city of Memphis will love to see on a nightly basis.”
Maybe Hardaway’s comment was a blanket statement about Memphis’ 2018, 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes and beyond, but it’s also fair to speculate that it likely applied to Tennessee native James Wiseman, a 7-foot center who’s the No. 1 recruit in the 2019 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Wiseman attends East High School in Memphis, where Hardaway had coached as an assistant, then as head coach, before being named the Tigers’ head man. Wiseman also switched AAU teams in 2017 to join Hardaway’s Team Penny.
Hardaway beat Kentucky and John Calipari for a commitment from Wiseman, who also received offers from Kansas, North Carolina, Arizona and Texas, among others, according to 247Sports.
Hardaway landed the No. 1 player in the country (and the best prospect in Memphis history in the modern era of recruiting rankings) in his first full recruiting class, along with top-100 prospects DJ Jeffries (No. 47) and Malcolm Dandridge (No. 94).
The Tigers’ 2019 class is currently ranked 10th nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and Memphis is also in the mix for uncommitted top-25 recruits Precious Achiuwa and Trendon Watford.
Memphis’ recruiting class rankings under Tubby Smith, Hardaway’s predecessor, were No. 98 and No. 50, respectively. Hardaway’s 2018 and 2019 classes compare favorably at No. 30 and No. 10, respectively.
Chris Mack, Louisville
One of the first things Louisville Head Coach Chris Mack said at his introductory press conference was, “You’re not going to get a lot of promises today. The one thing I will promise today is you’ll get my best.” So Mack tried to avoid any potentially empty promises and cliches that college basketball coaches can fall into when they are introduced at a new school.
Quote: “Well, I think if you ask people around the country that follow college basketball, I’d like to think they think my teams are tough, both physically and mentally. And as I said before, I do want our team to be together, tough and unbreakable.”
This is admittedly a tough criteria to judge. Mack’s quote was in response to a question about what a “Chris Mack team” looks like on the court. Rather than dive into Xs and Os, Mack offered personality traits about his ideal players and his team, and they were ones that don’t necessary lend themselves to measurable stats or evaluations, especially from afar.
But Louisville hit a rough patch at the end of the season as an overtime loss at Florida State was followed by the Cardinals blowing a 23-point lead at home against Duke. After a 17-6 start to the season, Louisville lost eight of its final 11 games, which included conference games as part of a backloaded ACC schedule.
After an impressive road victory at Virginia Tech on Feb. 4, Louisville’s only wins the rest of the season were against Clemson and Notre Dame (twice). Its losses in the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament were by double digits.
Quote: “We went after a lot of the guys that ended up here, so I don’t know how much the profile will change in terms of the type of player, type of student-athlete that we want here at Louisville, I just think we’ll be able to get a few more of them than we’ve been able in past years … it’s going to take a special person and special family to believe in this place just like I did, and I think there will be a lot of families and prospective student-athletes that will.”
Louisville currently has the No. 9 2019 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, thanks to a six-player recruiting class with four top-100 recruits, including four-star power forward Samuell Williamson (No. 35). The Cardinals will also enroll the No. 1 recruits from Kentucky (combo guard David Johnson) and New York (center Aidan Igiehon).
At Xavier, Mack landed the No. 11 class in 2017 and the No. 15 class in 2014. Both classes had two top-100 recruits, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, so in his first full recruiting class at Louisville, Mack is already recruiting at a career-best rate as the Cardinals have been “able to get a few more of them than we’ve been able in past years.”
That goes to show the power of Louisville’s brand, resources and conference affiliation.
Jeff Capel, Pittsburgh
It took until the final 15 minutes of Pittsburgh Head Coach Jeff Capel’s introductory press conference to get to the good stuff about his vision for his program, sharing some tangible tenets to building the Panthers.
“I will give you everything I have every day,” he said early in the press conference. “I will give 100 percent of me.”
That was followed by, “We’re about building champions” and “There will be no excuses.”
But during the Q&A portion, Capel gave the media some specifics about the future of Pitt basketball.
Quote: “It’s play hard, play together. Very simple. And then depending on who we have as a group, that will determine the style. I’m not a coach that’s married to a particular style – I know how I’d like to play. I’d like to play fast, I’d like to play where we score, where we get out and you have talented guys and you put them in positions to be instinctual and you teach and have freedom and things like that. Who you have on your team determines your style. I like man-to-man defense.
“I like being versatile, I like players that are versatile, players that can guard multiple positions and do different things offensively. I want to have a point guard. In my opinion, that’s the only true position in the game anymore, if you look at the game now, it’s completely different. So having a point guard is very, very important, but the main thing is we want to play hard and we want to play together.”
Capel got his point guard, at the very least for the short-term, in his first recruiting class at Pittsburgh.
Freshman Xavier Johnson, a three-star recruit from Arlington, Virginia, played a team-high 1,028 minutes last season and registered a 33.2 percent assist rate, which ranked 43rd nationally.
Not bad for the nation’s No. 232 recruit in the 2018 recruiting class.
However, Johnson will have to cut down on his 24.2 turnover rate from his freshman year.
In terms of creating a roster with versatile players, the 10 players on Pitt’s roster who averaged more than five minutes per game in the games they played were all between 6-3 and 6-10. They’re all listed as guards or forwards and the Panthers’ lineup typically consisted of four players who were between 6-3 and 6-6 with one forward who’s 6-9 or 6-10.
Capel said, ideally, he’d like his teams to play fast. Pitt ranked 206th nationally in adjusted tempo.
Quote: “I don’t look at myself as a great recruiter, I don’t look at myself as a great anything, except I think I’m a great father. I’d like to think I’m a good husband. I think I’m a great father. Everything else, that’s for everyone else to put those superlatives on me, whatever they want. Do I think we can get in the door? Yeah.
“We got in the door with guys who were maybe above us when I was at VCU. And we certainly got in the door with guys people didn’t think we could when I was at Oklahoma. So I have no doubt that we can do that here. There’s a brand here. Being a part of the ACC, there’s a tradition here. There are facilities here, there are resources here. You have a great city, you have a great academic institution. I don’t see why we can’t. We’re going to go after it. We want to get guys that fit. I want to get guys that fit what we’re trying to build here … sometimes that’s an incredible high-level player, sometimes it’s a guy that you know is high-level that maybe other people don’t know. I’ve never been one that kind of looks at ‘This guy is highly ranked, so I should go after him.’ It’s about the right fit.”
Pitt landed two four-star recruits during the 2018 recruiting cycle – combo guard Trey McGowens and forward Au’Diese Toney – but both players were ranked between No. 95 and No. 120, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. So they weren’t quite the five-star, one-and-done types Capel was used to recruiting at Duke. But that wasn’t to be expected for his first recruiting class that was assembled in the months after taking the job at a school that went 0-18 in ACC play the previous season.
Pitt’s highest-rated 2019 commit is four-star small forward Gerald Drumgoole, who’s ranked No. 121 nationally.