HOUSTON - As part of Conference USA Basketball Media Day earlier this week, University of Houston Men's Basketball head coach James Dickey sat down and spoke with Ron Thulin on the C-USA Digital Network. See and read what Coach Dickey had to say about the Cougars and the upcoming 2012-13 season.
On what was learned from last year
"I expect our team to be much better, in terms of wins. There were some good things that happened, but the biggest problem with our team was we were inconsistent, and it comes from a lack of defense. Defense is a great equalizer. Since the end of last year, our theme has been to work on our toughness, both mental and physical. If you're tougher, you play better defense and you rebound. Turnovers were a problem. We need to take better care of the ball, and we weren't a good road team. When you combine all those things, if you don't do them well then you will be inconsistent; when you do, you have a chance to be consistent every night, and that's what we really worked on."
On defensive mentality being teachable
"It's something that becomes a habit. We have to be demanding on it, and then players have to believe in it because the offense is going to be inconsistent. There are going to be nights when you aren't able to shoot the ball as well, but you can play defense every night, and you can rebound. I can go back to three games at home, where if we get one rebound in each of those three games, the game is over and we win the game. Rebounding is a complement of your defense; we have to do a better job there. You saw our games last year; we didn't' value the basketball like we need to so, we've just got to be tougher. I like this team a lot, but that's something we really emphasize."
On the next step for players like Joseph Young and TaShawn Thomas
"These two guys were both on the All-Freshmen team. I was really pleased with what they did. We look at Joseph like a third-year guy, even though he redshirted his first year. TaShawn did a really terrific job last year. We had to play him too much in the paint, both defensively and offensively, so now with Leon Gibson and J.J. Richardson who redshirted, we hope to move him out more of a midrange, but he still has to be around the basket.
We want to free Joseph up where he doesn't handle the ball as much. With J.J. Thompson coming back and our two junior college point guards Brandon Morris and Tione Womack, these are guys that can really handle the ball, distribute and think pass first and that's going to allow Joseph to slide off the ball and do a really good job for us."
On where the leadership will fall with only one returning senior
"The three guys that we had that redshirted last year because of injury, Mikhail McLean, LeRon Barnes and Jherrod Stiggers. Those three guys we couldn't use last year. You take those three, the four new guys, plus the other redshirt J.J. Richardson, then you have eight new guys. All of them are hungry. We're going to have a lot of competition, and the leadership is going to have to go on that senior, not only on the court but off the court as well. Our lone senior Leon Gibson has to be good for us in the paint but also in the locker room as well."
On team chemistry
"One of the new rule changes was that we were able to work with our guys in the summer. We had eight weeks, and that really helped us. We had our freshmen on campus, our new guys there and that really helped. You get to work with your guys and be around them on a daily basis. Another thing is it gives those incoming guys a chance to get adjusted, not only to the school but your system. Chemistry is always something that is elusive. If you have it, it's hard to beat and if you don't have it, it's hard to get. Our guys are hungry and really pulling for each other. We've had a lot of competitive drills and a lot of toughness drills, and I hope that pays off for us."
On feelings of having a top 25 recruiting class
"I was pleased for a couple of reasons. One, obviously they're a talented group. Several of them were from the city of Houston, so you want to keep some guys from home. As much as that class has been heralded, it's much more important for those guys that are returning, the guys that were a good class the year before, our upperclassmen to step forward. The three guys that redshirted because of injury, we need them to elevate their game. If you combine the upperclassmen with the young guys, we have high expectations."
On the players realizing the importance of having 18 home games
"That is something we talk about all the time, protecting your home court and playing well at home. That brings up another point; we haven't been a good road team. Good teams, disciplined teams and teams with toughness execute and find a way to win on the road, but it starts with protecting your home court. When you do a good job at home, then we have to be much more tougher, physical and mentally tougher on the road."
On a season confidence builder
"In order to get that confidence, it's when you go on the road. You have to feel good about how disciplined you are in your preparation. You have to be willing to go into someone else's facility, in a loud environment and be able to execute. You have to go in there and play with confidence that you know you do the things that are necessary. Then, you will have a great chance to win on the road."
On how to teach taking care of the ball
"Players have to be accountable in practice, and that's something we've really worked on with our guys. They're accountable for their mistakes, whether it be turning the basketball over, a defensive mistake, missed block out or missed assignment, and our guys have done a good job with that. To understand that, it's going to hurt you when you have a turnover, it's going to hurt you when your man scores and if you don't block out the free throw line then that gives a guy an extra possession. Those are things that are all key, and we're going to hold our guys extremely accountable there. Our guys are hungry, and that's something that will be another positive for our club."
On the schedule
"There are some challenges on there. Obviously we've got an old Southwest Conference foe in Texas A&M coming in. We have TCU on the road and an intercity rival with Texas Southern, but what we did with our non-conference schedule, we want that to prepare us for the conference. Everybody is looking for the conference race, an opportunity to make a run for the championship, and we know there are some challenges there, but we're looking forward to that schedule. For us, we have to make sure we can't look ahead. We have to be ready for Nov. 9 when it rolls around."