Hawk Talk: 2011-12 Season Wrap-Up
This past season was difficult on more levels than one, but it was strangely rewarding as well. This may seem strange for our fans to hear. We began the year with high expectations, and struggled through many adversities in the preseason, such as the Juwan Howard transfer. There were many individual personal situations within the team, as well, which made the offseason difficult.
With all of these things happening before the first official day of practice, the challenges began immediately for us. The challenges continued through out the year, mostly in the form of injuries. These were most visible and were the first evident things our fans could realize. We had seven players go down with injuries for more than one game this season. David Brown went down for the year, Brandon Pokely down for a month, and Flenard Whitfield down for a month. Then you had Demetrius Ward, Mike Douglas, Shayne Whittington, and Muhammed Conteh each missing more than a game on top of that. Nate Hutcheson separated both shoulders during the season, but he was able to play through it.
It is not the players going out that presents a challenge, exactly. The athletes know and understand it is now their job to get treatment and become healthy again, and their replacements also understand they need to do their part the best they can. It is when the injured player is ready to return to the line-up that is complicated. Do you integrate them slowly? Does he get playing time back like the time he got before he left? How will the player who has replaced him respond? About the time you get one situation figured out, two more end up going down and you have to go back through all these questions again.
Due to this, it became difficult to gain traction or any real momentum throughout the year. Throw in the fact we were losing games by two to five points, and this has a huge effect on team chemistry as well; not in terms of the team getting along, but just the dynamic of confidence and how it goes into a team setting.
The other challenge that arose was that we created a challenging schedule with this whole team in mind. We figured we would win our share of games during the non-conference portion of the schedule. As it turned out, seven of our first eight opponents made it to the NCAA Tournament, starting with South Dakota State winning the Summit League tournament, then looking at Temple, Iona, PAC-12 champion Colorado...and then we go to Purdue and Gonzaga, not to mention the game with Duke in late December. It was then we started to get hurt, which made things that much tougher.
We won our share of games in there; we won our home games. We beat Duquesne, Milwaukee and other teams that had done very well in their own league. Then we had a big win at Oakland who is still playing in the CIT Tournament.
If you had told me before the season that all of these things were going to occur and that we were still going to be competitive, I would have thought you were crazy. I have never heard of a year like this, let alone been a part of one. The adversity, the challenges, the injuries, and all the other challenges our student athletes faced off the courts was a big part of the year that no one really understands or knows about outside of here.
If you had told me before the season that we were going to win 14 games, I would have said how disappointed I would be in that. If I would put down a list of everything we went through, and you would have told me that we would win 14 games, I would have been very pleased with that. It was just one of those years that we were snake bit by more than I have ever been associated with.
It was not a distraction-free season, to say the least. There are the things that happened on the court, but there are also the things that happen off the court as well. As I mentioned, of all the things that our fans want to know, there were a lot of personal things that hit the team pretty hard, and hit individuals pretty hard, that should be kept private out of respect for the student athlete. We need to remember that these are college student-athletes, not pros. They have lives, they have families, they have brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, moms, and dads that they are not paid to ignore, like a professional. They are not trying to make a living like a professional.
The satisfaction comes in seeing that they battled. They battled all the way to the end. We went into the last week of the season in contention for another MAC West title and finished where we probably should have finished, or as good as we could have finished under the circumstances of the year. It is so satisfying and rewarding to see these kids rebound like they did. After saying all of this, I hope I never have to go through another year like this again.
On the final game of the season, nearly coming back from a double-digit deficit against Kent State in the MAC Tournament...
We had 18 out of 34 games that were decided by three points or less, and we lost 13 of those 18 games. In our six games decided by one possession or less, we went 2-4. We then had eight games decided by two possessions or less and we went 2-6 in those. These are very difficult circumstances to hold a team together. That our team was willing to get past those losses and come out for more the next day is a testament to our players' commitment. The last game we played against Kent State probably epitomized our season and our team; no matter how far we got down, there was no quit. We almost became numb to the circumstances that arose.
On the approach to the offseason...
We have already met as coaches, and went through a thorough review. Normally it is around this time of year that I take some time away from the office to decompress, but this year I won't be doing that. We want to put a period at the end of the chapter that is this year and we want to do it soon. I don't want to forget the problems of this season, but I don't want to go through them again, either. There have already been changes made, ones we think needed to be made to progress our program.
As I normally do, I have already met with all the seniors to discuss their lives and their futures now that their playing careers at Western Michigan are done. The exit interviews were very productive, and are important to me in that it allows us the chance for a candid, honest evaluation.
In the returning player meetings, we have gone through a detailed list of expectations in terms of what they need to work on through out the offseason. We have begun the work already, as the kids are already in the weight room and going through individual workouts with coaches.
On the European trip...
As I'm sure many of you know, we will be going on our European trip this summer, which will go from August 17th - 27th. We will be spending four days in Rome, two days in Florence, Italy, and three days in Nice, France. Besides the obvious positives of this trip, it also allows us to practice as a group more during the summer. Starting this year, the NCAA allows us to have eight weeks of workouts with our players over the summer for two hours per week. We are going to do three weeks with the returning players, and we will do five weeks during the Summer II semester with all the players, including the freshman class. We will then have 10 days of practice getting ready for Europe. There are a lot of freshman, which is very exciting. I believe this group will be a breath of fresh air, and will be a tough-minded, fun group of Broncos to watch for years to come.