BQ:"This is the 12th pre-season we've had this conversation. Where the heck does the time go?"
RR:"It's unbelievable how fast these 11 years have gone. When I look back at the tremendous players I've had the opportunity to coach, starting off with the first group with Zach Freeman, and I look at the stage of life those guys are in - guys getting married, having kids, having professional success - it's really special as a coach and it makes me proud."
BQ:"You hit the 200-win milestone last year on January 7...what did that mean to you?"
RR:"It's a number...that's about it. I have never set out to try to win a certain number of games in my career. But it is a moment to reflect on the teams I have had the pleasure to coach and all of the players. And the journey - the coaches I've gotten to coach against, the relationships formed, the fun experiences, the big games. It was just kind of a nice opportunity to pause and reflect back a little bit."
RR:"You know, we had a good season...and we were close to having a great season. I'm disappointed because I believe we had and NCAA tournament-caliber team and we were probably 1 game short of having that opportunity. It's frustrating because I think we were very close to being a team that not only played in the tournament but advanced. If you look at some of our big wins over the course of last year I think we played at a very high level at times. But we have to learn from last year because a lack of consistency ultimately hurt our resume at the end. This season we have to realize that every single game factors in at the end."
BQ:"You lost some guys to graduation who meant a lot to the program. Talk about those guys."
RR:"That's the difficult part of this job. You spend 4 years with these guys watching them grow up from high school kids and developing into young men who are ready to move onto the next stage of their life. When they graduate you miss them. We lost 4 terrific seniors. Trevor Seibring was a mainstay in our program - 3-year starter, 2-year all-conference guy. On a personal note, having known Trevor his entire life I'll miss having him in the gym every day. You have Andy Stempel who was an integral part of the program for 4 years. Alec Bausch was a varsity player for 3 years and had his best season last year. And then Austin Amann was the consummate program guy - played 2 years of junior varsity and did everything we asked him to do. I was thrilled he finished his career in the rotation, helping the team win games. All 4 seniors were contributors in their career as both young men and players. They will be hard to replace."
RR:"We really like this freshman class. It is deep and balanced. You look at Grant Wolfe, who has played well early. Doug Wallen has competed well early and physically is ready to play at the varsity level. Other guys who have performed well and made a big jump since the first practice are Charlie Bair, Max Muller, and Colin Cheaney. There are other guys who have an opportunity to contribute as their careers progress, but those guys are the closest at this point.
BQ:"You added a couple transfers that could make an impact. What do Alex O'Neill (D2 St. Cloud St.) and Zach Knobloch (D3 UW-Whitewater) bring to the Titans?"
RR:"We haven't had very many transfers over the years, so it's pretty unique to have two in one year. What helped is that we recruited both of them out of high school and had strong relationships built. Zach has a whole year of college basketball under his belt at a high level, coming from Wisconsin-Whitewater. And Alex has two years of college experience under his belt, having redshirted at Creighton and then played last year at St. Cloud State. They have both already made the adjustment to the speed and physicality of the college game. These two guys also fit our program very well and are compatible with everything we do. We are happy to have Alex and Zach and they are both competing for time."
BQ:"How has the pre-season been so far?"
RR:"This is a hard-working group that wants to be coached. I can tell they are hungry to get better and have a great season. Because of the number of new players, at times it has gone slower. We've had to go over things at a little slower pace than some previous years, but at the same time they've picked things up quickly. In some ways we are behind where we have been going into the first game in some seasons, but in other ways because of this group's attitude and work ethic we are ahead. Sometimes you have to coach intangible things in the pre-season and we have not had to do that this year."
BQ:"What do you think the identity of this team will be?
RR:"As you look at our strengths, we have as much size and more athleticism than any group that I have coach at Illinois Wesleyan. We also shoot the ball exceptionally well and are very skilled offensively, which is pretty consistent with Illinois Wesleyan teams over the years. I think we have several players that are multi-dimensional, who are talented offensive players and also can defend. This is going to be a team that evolves over the season because we can play a lot of different combinations. We could go with 3 point guards on the floor at one time, or we could go big and have a bunch of 6-3 to 6-6, or bigger, guys on the floor. Part of the identity is the versatility these guys bring. I think we have the potential to be a really good defensive team, and the better we are defensively the better we can fuel the tempo we want."
BQ:"Augie is ranked #2 in the preseason and North Central #12. What's your take on the CCIW this year?"
RR:"It seems like I say it every year but this as strong as I can remember the league. The CCIW has been good every year - there have been a couple years where someone says the league is down, but then it never proves out that way. The coaches in the CCIW work so hard, and the league is so competitive that it leads to good players coming into the league every year. This year is no exception. It's a year where many teams have a majority of their players back. Even though Augie is ranked in the top 10 and North Central probably should have been ranked in the top 10, there are at least 5 schools that could find their way to the top 20 at some point. The depth of talent in the CCIW this year is very unique. The other thing that is unique relative to some other seasons is the size. We think we're as big as we've ever been and we may be the 4th biggest team in the league. There is some tremendous size in the league this year."
BQ:"You played on some great IWU teams, especially that '87-88 team your senior year - this is your 30-year reunion year by the way. How does the CCIW compare to 30 years ago?"
RR:"It's different. Different because high school basketball is different. There was no AAU basketball around when I was in high school. Kids now play a lot more than they used to. The training is also much different now, so kids come in much bigger and stronger now and having played better competition - freshmen are often more prepared to play at the college level. At the same time, there are fewer Division I transfers than you used to see coming into the league quite a bit. So it's not better now, but it's not worse. It's just different."
BQ:"It looks like your non-conference schedule is strong as usual. Safe to say this slate will prepare you for the CCIW?"
RR:"That is always our goal, to have a strong non-conference schedule. Now there also has to be a balance, I think because of how strong our league is - you don't want to play 9 ranked teams in the non-conference. I want to make sure each opponent will prepare us in some way. When you look at some of our mainstays - the Wash Us and Chicagos - they are traditionally strong and will be again this year. We have added Emory and are really playing some great academic institutions with the likes of Wash U, Chicago, Emory, and Rhodes. I love playing against good programs and really strong academic schools that are known nationally."
BQ:"Brady Rose played both the 1 and 2 last year...probably much more 1. What will his role be this year?"
RR:"Last year was the first year Brady was the primary point guard on any team he's ever played on. I thought as the year went on he really developed a strong understanding of how to run a team. That being said, the thing that stands out about Brady is his ability to score the basketball. So we want to make sure to put him in more of those situations. He had such a responsibility of handling the ball last year that I think at times we didn't put him in enough of the right positions. As opposed to last year where he probably played more 1 than 2, our goal this year is for him to play more 2 than 1. But he will play both."
BQ:"Colin Bonnett averaged 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in your final 6 games last year. Are you expecting a big year from the junior?"
RR:"He is going to benefit from those 2 years of playing on the varsity level. Colin really finished the season strong and played with a tremendous amount of confidence. We could all see what he is capable of. The scoring is just a piece of it. To me, Colin is a guy who can stuff the stat lines - he can score, is a good passer, a good rebounder, and a tough defender. We are going to count on him being one of those guys that does a lot for us, and maybe the thing he does best is compete at a super high level."
BQ:"With Trevor Seibring (12.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Alec Bausch (8.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg) gone it seems your biggest questions are at the 4 and 5. How are things looking there?"
RR:"We are going to have some new faces in there in addition to a couple guys who gained valuable experience last year. Jaylen Beasley was a part-time starter last year and I can say this is the best basketball he's ever played. He is really locked in and playing hard. I especially like that this pre-season he has really had a defensive mindset. He is also able to get rebounds at a height that very few in Division III can get to. He is springy and long-armed and we are going to count on him getting big rebounds. Tyler Burdine has changed his body over the 2 years he has been here. He comes into the season in great shape and you know what you're going to get from Tyler is 100% effort. He is willing to be a physical presence and at 6-9 provides some rim protection as well. In terms of the 3 new guys who are competing for time in the post, you've got Miles Curry who played the 3 last year. But at 6-6 and extremely athletic, playing the 4 is going to allow him to utilize his skill set. Danny Baker - we tell him all the time he is just a junkyard dog. He is a 6-5, 220-pound guy that just does all the blue-collar things and does everything right. He is a smart player on the floor and he just makes winning plays. And then a late addition to our roster is Alex O'Neill, and Alex brings unique size and athleticism at the Division III level. He also has a really strong skill set. When you put those 5 guys together, it's unique size, athleticism, and skill level. I think they will be able to complement each other as the year goes on and that our frontcourt will end up being a big asset for us."
BQ:"Nick Coleman was very good off the bench last year, making 49 3s at a 42% clip. Where does he fit in this season?"
RR:"I thought Nick really had a strong sophomore season. He had a rough start, so even though his final stats say 42%, if you take out his first few games, he's in the 45% range on 3s which is really elite. Nick can really shoot the basketball. He is also a great communicator on the floor and a smart passer."
BQ:"6-6 sophomore Miles Curry is really a unique athletic talent at this level. How is his development going?"
RR:"People will see he is a completely different player than a year ago. Part of it is that he had a great off-season in the weight room and he is bigger and stronger than a year ago. But also there is just something to be said for being a sophomore - it's not all new to him. The more comfortable Miles gets and more aggressive he becomes, the more that superior athleticism will show up. We are expecting really good things out of Miles this year. He can develop into a premier defender and rebounder at our level."
BQ:"Now for the speed round - quick one or two word answers please. Best CCIW player you played against?"
RR:"Mike Barach" (North Park, 1988 CCIW M.O.P., 1988 D3 Player of the Year)
BQ:"Best CCIW player you've coached against?"
RR:"Steve Djurickovic (Carthage '11) and Kent Raymond (Wheaton '09)"
BQ:"Down 3, 5 seconds left, Titan ball. Which former Titan (any era) do you want taking the 3?"
RR:"Can I go with Andy Etheridge? He is on the roster." [BQ: "Good point, yes he is, and yes you can."] "Then I am going with Andy."
BQ:"Who is the best dunker on the current roster?
RR:"For the first time we could have a legit dunk contest this year - like really legit. This is tough but I'm going to go with Miles Curry."
BQ:"OK, back to serious as we start to wrap up. What do you see as the keys to the 2017-18 season?"
RR:"Because of our athletic ability and skill set it is all going to come down to how hard are we going to play. If our effort is average, we'll have an average year...if it is good we'll have a good year...and if it's a great we'll have a great year."
BQ:"I think I am out of stuff. Any closing thoughts?"
RR:"I am really excited about this year, and really excited about the talent level and mindset in the program right now. I think we are poised for some exciting years of Titan basketball for the next several years, starting this year. I can't wait to take the floor Wednesday (Nov. 15 opener vs Fontbonne). People are going to really like this team."
Below is a detailed look at IWU's depth chart heading into the season...
2017-18 Depth Chart (IWUhoops.com Projection)/Ron Rose Comments
Varsity Rotation Candidates (as of 11/13/17):
1. Nick Coleman, 6-2/185 Jr. - "Basketball junkie...gained valuable experience a year ago...terrific communicator...floor general...an elite shooter."
2. Grant Wolfe, 5-11/175 Fr. - "Talented freshman point guard...terrific ball skills and court vision...a fierce competitor."
1. Brady Rose, 6-3/185 Sr. (Co-Captain) - "Returning all-conference player...looking for him to take the next step...will serve as a leader and captain this year...expecting a big year out of him."
2. Zach Knobloch, 6-2/180 So. - "Unique shooter that gets the ball off as quickly as anyone I've ever coached and with great range...as he learns our system and where his shots will come from will become a dangerous weapon for us...a flat-out worker."
1. Colin Bonnett, 6-4/190 Jr. (Co-Captain) - "Highly competitive...big wing that can score the ball in a variety of ways but also get his teammates involved...with 2 years under his belt ready for him to really stand out for us this year...will provide leadership as a captain."
2. Doug Wallen, 6-5/210 Fr. - "Physically ready to play college basketball...runs and jumps exceptionally well...a big, strong wing...plays with high energy...can score the ball in a variety of ways...all-time leading scorer in Champaign-Urbana history so has the ability to put the ball in the basket."
3. Jason Gregoire, 6-4/205 Jr. - "A true program guy...brings 2 years of experience to this season...super competitive...has good size and skill set...can play either the 2 or the 3."
1. Jaylen Beasley, 6-6/185 Sr. - "4 year varsity player...highly skilled...can shoot the basketball...can really stretch the floor from the 4...one of our best rebounders...has the ability to attack the basket...can get the big rebound in a crowd."
2. Miles Curry, 6-6/205 So. - "Ridiculous athlete...versatile player who can play post or perimeter...developing into a lock-down defender."
3. Danny Baker, 6-6/220 Jr. - "The epitome of a hard worker...blue collar player that brings toughness and basketball IQ to the team...one of those guys you really trust."
1. Alex O'Neill, 6-9/240 So. - "Brings a unique blend of size and athletic ability...good feet and soft hands...has all the tools...as he learns our system and the Titan way will get better and better."
2. Tyler Burdine, 6-9/235 Sr. - "Tremendous teammate...does whatever you ask of him and the team needs...hard worker who is able and willing to do all of the little things to help the team win."
Junior Varsity Rotation Candidates (as of 11/13/17):
Perimeter (listed alphabetically)
* Colin Cheaney, 6-4/195 Fr. - "Tremendous upside...smooth shot...athletic...as he gets more comfortable will become more aggressive...is going to be a good player for us."
* Bernie Coderre, 6-4/200 So. - "Great teammate...works his tail off every day...terrific defender and ball-handler...emerging offensive player."
* Charlie Bair, 6-7/205 Fr. - "Workhorse...dogmatic in his approach to the game and rebounding...crafty player with the ball around the basket...in the weight room all the time...he is going to be a really good player for us."