HOUGHTON - After taking some time to reflect on the 2012-13 season -with none other than the GLIAC Championship trophy sitting on his desk - Michigan Tech men's basketball coach Kevin Luke sat down with The Daily Mining Gazette to talk about the program's most recent accomplishments and what lies ahead for the Huskies.
Q: Now that you have had some space from the final game, what stands out in your mind when you think back on this last season?
Luke: It's the reemergence - I hope I'm not making up a word there - but it's the reemergence of the program. I felt we were heading in the proper direction last year, but hosting the (GLIAC) Final Four, getting to the (NCAA) Tournament, winning a game, that is all things that you think about on a daily basis from this seat, and to have it come back (from the early 2000s) is a good feel. We are very proud of the accomplishments of the team. Now we feel that this needs to stay going - it was an awesome year.
Q: So that is where the pressure is coming from now, to keep it going?
Luke: I don't feel like there is pressure on us, I just want our guys to do well. I want our guys to learn that with hard work, good things can happen. With challenging yourself you can become a better player, you can become a better person. By being disciplined, you can become a better student. All these are steps of this process.
Q: Is (Ali) Haidar the ideal example of this for the departed seniors? He is a hard, hard worker.
Luke: He is a hard worker. And when he catches up mentally, he is an example of how that with hard work good things can happen. When his game catches up mentally, he is going to be dynamite.
Q: So with the reemergence of the program, how do you keep the guys motivated? How do you solidify that reemergence?
Luke: Last year is over. We start up workouts again and go back to 0-0. And we are going to be picked lower (in GLIAC standings) because Haidar is gone. So that is going to be one of the motivating factors. We are not going to be picked for first.
Q: Tactically, Haidar was such a huge focal point for the offense, how do you, how do the guys adjust to losing that all of the sudden?
Luke: I want to say this - I don't think it's an adjustment. We are losing him, he is gone. So I think it is part of the process. Guys have to pick it up, guys have to get better. Our returning post players have to get better. Our perimeter has to pick something up. There are 33 minutes and 25 points out there with Haidar alone and then you have to throw the other three guys (T.J. Brown, Matt Esters and Anthony Katona) in there and it's a lot. But this is the process. We are not going to be as bad as people think we are going to be, but all of those guys have to get better.
Q: Would this be considered a down year for Phil Romback, a year that did not meet his expectations as his playing time dwindled as the season went on?
Luke: Phil has the skill to be very effective in this league and he is a good player. I have to get it out of him now, and he has to bring it out. How does that sound?
Q: (Assistant coach Josh) Buettner just tutored Ali for four years, how much can that help Romback?
Luke: It certainly can. Phil has to want to be that guy though. I don't say that in a pressure way, but he has to step up and want to have some of the accolades and the blame come to him.
Q: So it requires a maturation then?
Luke: No question. He needs to get better mentally and physically because he is a very skilled basketball player. And it is my job and his responsibility to make sure he becomes the player he can be.
Q: The other option for some of those Haidar minutes would be sophomore Kyle Stankowski then right?
Luke: Stankowski is in the same boat. He has to learn how to play weak. And I don't mean that he is a weak human being, but at 6-foot-9 and 200 pounds, you have to learn to take a pounding and withstand it to be effective. It is going to be hard but he has to do it, because he is not going to be blessed with thickness.
Q: He seems like a guy who would progressively be more effective with more minutes, is that accurate?
Luke: He has some hurdles to get over, playing weak and mentally getting tired and being tough still. But if he gets that part of it, he can score the basketball. He can score, he can alter shots and he can rebound.
Q: This season you went with a four-guard lineup quite a bit, which was made easier because Haidar could rebound so well inside - is that a feasible possibility for next year with Romback or Stankowski in the middle?
Luke: If those big guys don't develop, that is not going to be a possibility, it is going to be an every-day thing. I mean that. There is a lot of time for those guys to develop and get minutes. There are 33 minutes available. Now do our big guys want it, or do our midrange guys want it? We are going to put the best team on the floor. Not necessarily the biggest team, the best team. It is their opportunity, and we are going to find out if they want it.