Q&A: Bulldog Coaches Face Familiar Foe
Nov. 21, 2017
What stands out to you from your time as a Patriot?
"It changed my life. Just being a kid from the inner city of DC, being an underdog at 5-10 and having the opportunity. Coming out of high school, I didn't have that opportunity right away. So when I finally did get the opportunity, when I believed something and accomplished it, it was a life changer. I would not be here today if it was not for that. Not a lot of people can say they were part of that. There are so many layers to it."
What was your relationship like with coach Konkol?
"He was my guy at Mason. He was not the head coach, but we had a relationship that continued on, even post-George Mason. He left my senior year. One of the things I always remember is my post-Mason relationship with him. I was a pro and doing well for myself. I had no reason to stay connected with him, but I respected and valued him a lot. He turns around and gives me an opportunity I was working towards."
Was there a moment in the 2005-06 season when you realized things were building toward the Final Four run?
"I want to say that maybe a third of the way into the season. Our first two games, we played in some preseason deal. We ended up playing UC Irvine and Wake Forest. We beat UC Irvine and went into overtime with Wake Forest so we should we could compete at a high level early. Then we went back home and got thrashed by Creighton. It was reminiscent of our previous year where we were really talented but just didn't buy into some of the things we did end up buying into which made a significant different. After that home loss to Creighton, we ended up running off a few wins and a portion of that was on the road. Once we got a sniff of that, it carried us into conference play where we ended up winning the league. I tell people all the time that being from the city, we didn't have that fear factor of playing high majors. That was the mentality of that group. Once we were finally put on that stage, we weren't fazed by much. You put us on a neutral floor, it was a different feeling. Part of that just came from our build-up."
How big was the win at Wichita State?
"That was a big time win and a big time game. We played extremely well that game but then gave up the lead. I remember the last possession we had, coach drew it up. Lamar Butler was our best shooter. Coach L had this thing where he would blow his whistle and say, `Find Lamar, find Lamar.' I remember going to Jai Lewis, if I'm open find me. I was hot. It was like a play out of a movie. We drew the play up to get the ball inside to Jai and the second he caught it, he demanded a double team, and in that particular possession everybody swarmed him and he didn't hesitate. He kicked it out and I hit it. Getting that win was what set the tone that got us the at-large. Without that win, there probably isn't any Final Four."
How nervous were you and the team on getting an at-large into the NCAA Tournament?
"I was very nervous. I was going through my situation as far as the suspension was concerned. I wanted to get into that tournament more than anything in my life. I didn't want a mistake that I made affect the history of George Mason. Without that issue, I think we had a good feeling that we were getting in. I wanted us to get in and when they called our name, it was a huge sigh of relief. Obviously, what unfolded afterward was like a snowball. We were a really good team. We had three seniors that were all-conference guys and we had some young guys that stepped up and played like seniors. That combination was deadly."
What is it going to be like coaching against your alma mater?
"This is the way that basketball works. It's a full circle. It is all good that that is my alma mater, but this is the one scenario where my alma mater doesn't matter. In this situation, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and these guys we coach up every day are what matter right now. I would want nothing more than to build towards some of the things that I have experienced. This tournament, going down in Cancun, is part of it. It doesn't happen in March. It happens with what leads up to it."
What is the back story of how you got to George Mason?
"I was a GA at Tennessee for the 2001-02 season. I was getting my master's degree and I was anxious to become a full-time assistant coach. There was an assistant coaching job open at George Mason. That one and probably 50 others I applied for. I sent my resume and some graphics, trying to show I had some computer skills and could market a little, help with recruiting. All of a sudden this random day, I got a phone call from coach Larranaga. We talked several times and I was invited for an interview. On the way back to Tennessee, he called and offered the job. I got back up there a few days later and that was in 2002. Ended up spending seven years there all together."
"I got a flat tire on the way back from my interview. I already had gotten the job so it didn't dampen my day. I ended up stopping in the southern part of Virginia at a gas station. It also had a junkyard behind it and they just found a tire for me and changed it. It was like 11 o'clock at night. I sent them some George Mason right after I got the job."
How did you go about finding and recruiting Tony Skinn?
"That first fall in September in 2002, we were doing individual workouts and we are getting ready for the season. We were going out and doing some recruiting. It was just an average day at the office when one of the former players, who grew up in the same area as Tony, called the office. He was coached by coach Larranaga. He said there is a guy from up in Hagerstown in my neighborhood that can play. I had heard he did not pay compliments very easily. Bill Courtney and I got in the car. We didn't have workouts that day so we drove there to check him out. We went up there and he played with such tenacity. He didn't shoot it great that day, but he barely missed. You could tell he could shoot. I remember him chasing a ball down and pinning a layup on the backboard. He was so competitive. I talked to him and set up a visit and he ended up committing."
What has the relationship with Tony been like?
"I coached him for the next two years. It has been one of the great joys of coaching, when you recruit somebody and watch them grow as a player and as a person, get their degree, get married, have kids. Now you get to work together. It is really a full circle, now seeing him mentor our players."
"What was it like following the team all the way to the Final Four?
"Megan and I went to the Final Four. We stayed at the team hotel. We sat in the George Mason section. I remember arriving there before Megan, the team was going to practice. I went with them and it was the first time seeing the guys in a while because I had left months before that. I go through the back of the bus and the guys had me sit with them. They were telling me stories about how crazy this experience was. Watched them practice, watched them play. That was a special group."
What is it going to be like coaching against your former team?
"There are some supporters that I have heard from that are going to be there. It will be neat to see them. Of course, there are great memories. Ethan was born in Virginia. But once that ball goes up, we are trying to beat them."
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