Q&A with UMBC men's basketball coach Randy Monroe

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Three consecutive seasons of single-digit wins might damper a coach's enthusiasm. But heading into the 2012-13 campaign, UMBC coach Randy Monroe is "confident and optimistic" about this Retrievers squad.

Monroe returns the top three scorers off last season's 4-26 team in junior forward Chase Plummer, senior guard Ryan Cook (Pallotti) and senior guard Brian Neller. Other returning Retrievers are sophomore guard Joey Getz, junior guard Quentin Jones (Mount St. Joseph), senior forward Adrian Satchell, junior guard Jamar Wertz, sophomore guard Jarrel Lane, sophomore forward Will Wise, junior center Nate Basalyga and sophomore guard Jordan Wejnert.

UMBC also welcomes three new players to Catonsville: Brett Roseboro, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound junior center who sat out last season as a transfer from St. Bonaventure; Malik Garner, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward from Philadelphia; and Aaron Morgan, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound guard from Washington, Pa.

Monroe spoke to The Sun this week about his incoming class, what went wrong last season, how much progress can be expected this year and much more.

Let's start with the freshmen. What can you tell us about Malik Garner?

Malik Garner, 6-5, can play a couple different positions. He’s just a rangy, athletic, 6-5 wing. He has played some point and the off-guard position, [and he] can get the ball into the basket. He’s respectable outside, with a 15-, 16-foot jump shot. He’s a good defender, he closes out well and he does a good job of contesting shots.

Aaron Morgan is the other freshman. What do you like about him?

Aaron Morgan, who’s a combo guard, plays both point and the off-guard position. He does a really good job of getting to the basket and finishing. He can shoot the ball from 3-point range. He makes good decisions with the basketball. He had a successful career at Council Rock North. I’m very, very excited that he’s with us.

Do you see one or both of these freshmen contributing right away?

Well, I think they’re both certainly capable. But as freshmen, they have to come in and learn how to play on this level. But I think both of these guys are certainly capable of contributing and helping us out. It’s a matter of them adjusting and how quick guys can catch on to things. It’s no secret to this game. It’s just a matter of freshmen making that transition from high school to college. It’s all about how quick they can do it. But I’m certainly high on both of them. I think both of them can really contribute to the success of the program.

The other newcomer is Brett Roseboro, who sat out last year after transferring. What have you seen from him?

Well I think Brett has got really good skills on the interior. He’s a very skilled post player who can also step out and shoot the ball from 17, 18 feet. He’s got a mean streak in him, which I really like. He can rebound the basketball. He’s a good athlete, a big guy who can run the floor and plays hard. He’s really dedicated to the game. I think he can be a very good player for us.

You had a premature departure in freshman forward Chandler Thomas. What happened there?

He just got homesick as a freshman. I just think that he kind of started out playing well, but then as the season went along, I think once again, you talk about the season being a grind. In high school, your season ends in early February. In college, your games go into March and even the middle or end of March. You’re constantly playing. So that additional month is tacked on to what high school players used to play. I think with Chase playing as well as he did, that took away from [Thomas'] minutes. Obviously, players want to play. But at the same time, everybody can’t play. There are a certain number of guys for about 200 minutes. Those minutes are determined, pretty much, by the players more than the coaches. So I saw Chandler seeing that, as well as being a little homesick and having a hard time making that time adjustment. He’s a terrific young man and a good student. I think he’ll do well as he moves on to his next school.

[Editor's note: Thomas landed at Grambling State, roughly 800 miles from his Indianapolis home.]

Are there any returners that you expect to make the leap?

Well I think Adrian Satchell would have a good year for us. I think that he’s had a couple injuries, a couple nagging injuries that set him back a little bit for a couple years. But I think he’s a senior who can really come out and really do a lot of the little things for us that we need, from taking charges to defending to running the floor to getting some easy putbacks in transition to making a key pass. He’s that kind of player. I expect some really good things from him this year.

When you talk about seniors, Ryan Cook is another young man who I would say is a success story in and of itself. Ryan came to us as a walk-on, has done a really good job and earned a scholarship. So he was our second-leading scorer on the team last year at 12.6 points a game, which is quite impressive. He’s really one of our best athletes. He’s terrific at having what I consider to be [a short-term] memory playing this game. If he makes a mistake, it doesn’t devastate him. He’ll realize it, and then try to make up for it on the other end by playing hard and with effort. So I really think he’ll have a good year as a senior.

Brian Neller, who was our third-leading scorer on the team, I think he can have another good year for us. I think he’s one of the best shooters in the conference. The expectation of Brian last year will be the same this year.  He’ll do whatever we need him to do, and that’s shoot the ball, but take better shots – knowing when he has a good shot, and knowing when he doesn’t have a good shot and passing it. [We’ll need him to] use screens effectively and just be able to knock down those shots. If he can do that and defend, he’s really going to make a major contribution to the program by doing those things.

You're bringing your top player back in Chase Plummer. What do you expect from him as a junior?

Chase, without question, did a terrific job as a sophomore. I had envisioned Chase doing what he did last year this year, as a junior. So to me, he’s ahead of schedule. I think there’s no question that he can be one of the premier players in the America East Conference, but he’s had some very big non-league games for us. He’s a gamer. He understands what it takes to play in big games. I think that he’s had a phenomenal career at UMBC. He certainly proved that this past year, averaging close to 17 points a game and seven rebounds a game. I just think that’s terrific. Of course, Coach Monroe would take that as a junior, those same numbers. That would be great. If he does better than that, it’s icing on the cake.

I’ve never been great for saying how many points a player can average. I just don’t know that off the top of my head. I certainly didn’t tell him I expected him to averaged 17 points a game, but we set a goal for him to be a double-figure scorer and a double-figure rebounder. I think he superseded those expectations last year. He’s one of our captains, and I think he’s done a tremendous job filling that role for us. We’re definitely excited for him and we feel that he can have another outstanding year as a junior.

Which players really took advantage of offseason practices?

Well I think a lot [of players]. You can go down the line with that. But I just think obviously, the two freshmen that were here, because we didn’t have the whole team on campus. The two freshmen, obviously, were here. And Brett Roseboro. Those guys did a really good job of working together and playing against each other. And really, there are times they just went out on their own and just got shots up and really practiced. I was impressed with all three of those guys that were here. Of course, Will Wise was another young man who caught my eye. I would say he was here the early part of the summer. I was really extremely impressed with the improvement and progress that he made when he was here for the first half of the summer.

Obviously last season started out rough with Chris de la Rosa leaving the team. What else went wrong?

I think when you lose a young man like Chris, that’s 17 points a game and an all-conference player. You’re losing a great deal of experience, and then Joey Getz goes down with an injury and Jarrel Lane goes down with an injury. That kind of sets you back a bit because those guys are contributing. It’s time for other players to step up and show. I look at it as an opportunity for you to show what you can do. I think what happened with the guard position kind of hurt us a bit.

We brought in six freshmen last year who were learning how to play at this level, and really understand what it took to play on this level. I always say to our incoming freshmen, ‘You’re going to understand two things about the game of college basketball – the overall speed and quickness of the game, and the strength factor.’ And a lot of times, players don’t understand what you’re talking about until they get into the mixing bowl and see what it’s all about. You could certainly tell by who’s out there playing against guys who are juniors or seniors. Then they kind of understand what you’re talking about. Most [college] players had a great deal of success in high school. They’re telling you, ‘Well, Coach, you don’t know me. I can deal with this.’ I love them to have that mindset because I think that’s what it takes to be a good player on this level. But at the same time, you still have to adjust to how the game is played.

It’s just like going from college to playing in the NBA. Great college players have to learn to play on that next level. So it’s not different from high school players going to college. You still have to make those adjustments. I think those who are more apt to listen and understand that you’re going to have setbacks and failures in the process of being a good player and dealing with some adversity, you still find a way to make yourself a good player in the process by working as hard as you possibly can. The players who can kind of figure that out are the ones who have success early. The ones who don’t figure it out take a little longer or have success later or don’t have success at all. I think that’s how the process works. There’s no magic to this.

Considering the past few seasons, do you feel any pressure from others to turn it around this season? And what are your expectations for this year?

The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. I’ve been doing this for 27 years. That’s quite some time to be around. I’ve been blessed to be with some good coaches, work under some good coaches. I’ve had the good fortune of doing something at UMBC that had never been done before as a Division I program [by making the NCAA tournament in 2008]. Pressure comes from within. There’s pressure as a coach to put the best players, or best group of players, together on the floor to be successful. Pressure, I think, is healthy as long as you manage it the right way. That’s always been there because that’s what you do as a coach and that’s what you do as a player. You want to be the best, you want to be very good. If you don’t want to do those things and if you don’t expect any kind of pressure, then this is the wrong profession to be in. Pressure is all about how you look at it. I’ve always believed that.

I’m very confident and optimistic about this year’s bunch. They’re a competitive group. They certainly want to do well. They know we’ve struggled the last few years. But just because we’ve struggled the last few years doesn’t mean we don’t have a good basketball program. When teams go through transitions, when they have young players and you’re trying to mesh with some older guys, sometimes that does take awhile. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens at times. I’m extremely confident in this group of young men. The thing I really, really like about them is that they get along with each other. They respect one another. Of course, they have disagreements, and I think that it’s healthy to have disagreements – as long as the disagreements are not personal. If individual players are getting better and the team is getting better, it’s extremely healthy. I’m really excited about coaching this group and I’m looking forward to the upcoming season.

mbracken@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mattbracken

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