We sat down with Coach Russell Turner of the UCI Men’s Basketball Team to reflect on the previous year.
New U: Last year was one of the more successful years at UCI, what do you attribute that success to?
RT: Primarily our seniors, we had a lot of good things come together last year, the seniors were the reason that was able to happen. There were guys that made a commitment to one another that was more evident last year, but had begun the year before when we were still a young team trying to establish an identity. I just feel like we had a good team, a good staff, and it all came together. I really thought we were gonna win that championship game too, but we weren’t able to pull through. I am proud of what we did though.
New U: Take me back to the UCLA game, would you say that was a tone — setter?
RT: People like to focus on those big games. The UCLA game was a tough game, but I wouldn’t say it was a tone setter either. To me the tone setter was against Nevada, and that game wasn’t even close. We struggled a lot, I mean that UCLA game was an important game for us, and everyone on our team felt like we should’ve won. I definitely felt like it was really big for Will Davis to experience that and he was able to grow through it.
New U: What do you consider this team’s goals? Are those goals winning games and making the tournament, or “growing” as a team and winning games in the future?
RT: That’s a good question. I mean we have to have a tangible goal, and the goal for our program is to make the NCAA tournament, I don’t shy away from that. The way to do that is to win three games in March and win the Big West tournament. We also have less specific goals too that are geared to our team’s improvement. Having everyone on the same page is what makes the big difference, and I feel like we have that.
New U: I noticed team chemistry was great this past year. Considering all the seniors we’ve lost, how do you feel like the chemistry is going to be different this coming year?
RT: It won’t be the same but I believe it will still be great. We recruit guys that have certain ideals that should fit well here in Irvine. But it is not a guarantee since the guys that graduated are the ones that built that chemistry. We are definitely gonna have to grow to get to the same level of chemistry that we had last year.
New U: Shifting gears a little now, what would you say is your most memorable moment as head coach at UCI?
RT: I was really proud at Davis last year when we came back from a 20-point hole in the second half. That was like a relief almost, it was also an accomplishment though it was a moment that signified our team’s togetherness. It’s hard to identify a moment though, because coaching and being on a college team is more about the overall journey. Clearly the moment would have been if we had won the tournament, but falling short, while that’s disappointing, there were a lot of moments going into the near completion of that goal that were really good. I know the way I felt going into the Hawaii game and even the Pacific game was really good, I felt like anything was possible. I guess that’s what I felt like in the Davis game because of the adversity we were facing going into that game.
New U: What would you say is the biggest difference between coaching in the NBA and coaching in the NCAA?
RT: Everything’s different. The only thing that’s the same is the ball, and even that is a little different … no, seriously though the way I describe it to people is the difference between coaching football and coaching baseball, that is how different it is coaching in the pros vs. coaching in college.
New U: What was working with Don Nelson like?
RT: You know they say the four most fun years of your life are your college years, but for me the four most fun years of my life were working with Don Nelson. He is definitely a basketball genius.
New U: Take me back to 2007 Game 6 at Golden State, against Dallas, 8th seed beats the 1st seed by 23, what was that like?
RT: Well I’ll tell you this, in the locker room after the game I was standing arm and arm with Snoop Dogg, and Owen Wilson was back there and Kate Hudson, it was an interesting scene. The players we had at that time were so much fun, we had Baron Davis Steven Jackson, Al Harrington, Matt Barnes, Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis, we had a really good team.
New U: At that point coming out of Game 6, did you feel like you could win the whole thing?
RT: I mean it would be foolish for anyone to jump ahead like that, but I think at that time we all realized that we were really good, I mean REALLY good. It wasn’t gonna be an easy route, though like there weren’t gonna be any steps along the way where we would have been favored.
New U: Do you see yourself coaching in the pros again?
RT: No, I love where I am, and I mean that’s all that matters. I’ll tell you what though I love the NBA, I’ve been a part of some great programs in both the NBA and NCAA. The NBA is just very different, I loved how much I learned and the challenge. But the NBA doesn’t present you with the same rewarding opportunities as having an influence on young men. In college you have much more of an impact in other areas of player’s lives not just in their basketball lives. But this is definitely the best place for my family and me right now.
New U: Favorite player to coach, college or NBA?
RT: I just love coaching highly motivated smart guys, and I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of guys that really want to be good. People often ask me what it’s like coaching NBA guys, but NBA guys are no different than anyone else they; just want to be good and if you have something to offer them they’re going to be intently focused on getting coached. All the seniors that just graduated I REALLY enjoyed coaching those guys. My favorite guy to coach, Chris Mangelia, my lone senior, I want to see what he’s gonna do this year.