Put yourself in these shoes:
You are the head coach of a Division-I basketball program. In your five years as coach, your team has gone 105-64, made four postseason appearances and finished in the top three of your conference in each of those seasons.
One day, you get a phone call. You have been offered a job as “the coach in waiting” — a demotion — under a Hall of Fame coach. Would you take the job?
That is the decision Tim Jankovich had to make when Larry Brown came calling in 2013.
The coach in waiting did not have to wait long. When Brown resigned in July, Jankovich inherited a team that won 25 games in each of its previous three seasons.
Now at the helm of a nationally relevant program, Jankovich looks to continue the success Brown found at SMU. The Daily Campus sports writer Reece Kelley Graham sat down with Jankovich following SMU’s basketball tipoff luncheon to discuss what fans can expect in the 2016-17 season.
Reece Kelley Graham, The Daily Campus: You coached this team while Larry Brown was serving his nine-game suspension last season. Has that experience made this changing of the guard come easy?
Tim Jankovich: Well I came here as a head coach, as you know. The adjustment for me was when I first got here not being the head coach. That was a big adjustment, and then when I served the nine games last year it actually felt more comfortable. I don’t think that mattered to how I’m feeling now, but I do think that it was a benefit to our players given the fact that now they don’t have to wonder what it will be like.
DC: This will be the first time in awhile you have coached a team without Nic Moore on it since he first played for you at Illinois State. How do you replace that production at point guard?
TJ: Well, you’re right. I became like Linus and he was my blanket for gosh sakes, for five years. Now we don’t have the blanket. He was as talented a winner as I’ve ever coached. It’s college basketball, it ebbs and it flows. It’s a new team with a new personality. It’s our job collectively to try to form these pieces into a very coherent, efficient basketball team.
DC: How has Shake Milton developed in the offseason and how much should fans expect to see him at the point?
TJ: He will be asked to play a significant roll at the point guard. I think there will be some nights when we are point guard by committee – I think we have four candidates. I think Tom Wilson, Dashawn McDowell and Ben Emelogu can play point as well. I’ve been in programs before where you have multiple point guards. I can tell you I wouldn’t trade Shake for the world.
DC: SMU has only nine scholarship players on the roster this season. How important is the addition of Semi Ojeleye and having Ben Emelogu back from injury?
TJ: Absolutely critical. Because not only are they talented, but they have that maturity and age and strength. They are legitimate major college players. You need as many of those as you can. I really like our freshman class but you never know at this point what they’re going to be like in games, particularly early on. You look at the breakdown of our team, we have four returning players, period, four on the whole roster. Then we have two that sat out, and then we have three freshman coming in. I don’t know if anyone is not vital at this point. I think we have a chance to be awfully good.
DC: At Illinois State you were known for a fast-paced, perimeter oriented style of offense. How do you adapt the lessons you learned from Coach Brown to your own style?
TJ: Well the truth is, I was adapting how we played at Illinois State to our personnel. I coached at Kansas before that and we were throwing the ball inside right and left because we had four pros at our inside positions. I coached at Illinois and we had two pros on the frontline and we played inside-out basketball. I think most coaches are going to look at their personnel and play to their talent. They’re not going to try to put square pegs in round holes. The way I see this team, I think we have a lot of very good shooters. I think we have some good post players. I think we have a lot of versatility, honestly. We’re not real big up front, other than Harry, but we are big at the guard spots. We have length, athletic ability, we got a lot of guys that can shoot a 3. I will always tailor to the strength of the players. We’re not going to have a system we always play, I think you’re short-sighting your players when you do that.
DC: At American Athletic Conference media day, commissioner Mike Aresco compared Moody Coliseum to Cameron Indoor at Duke. How does the gameday atmosphere in Moody compare to other famed venues you have coached in?
TJ: Well two of the most storied ones that people talk about all the time are Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, I had the pleasure of working there. And of course Duke as you said. They are incredible places to play. But I’ll tell you what, lately we’re not taking a backseat. I’m so proud of our fans and so appreciative. I hope they know how significant they are in our win and loss record, how significant they are in our recruiting, how significant they are in the future of our program. Show me a great program and I’m going to show you a great homecourt environment.
DC: You said at AAC media day that you hope your players play like, “caged lions let out.” What is this season about for SMU?
TJ: I have so much respect for the players we’ve had here in the last few years because they have been through the most adversity of any program I have ever been in. And they handled it better than, as a coach, we could have ever hoped. Just look at the start of last year – upon hearing the news “you have no future in March” – our whole message was well, the only way we can turn this into a positive is to do something so special that people have to keep paying attention to us. And they did. A lot of people wouldn’t do that. So they’ve been through so much and I would expect them to play with a little bit of a different chip on their shoulder. I hope they are like caged lions. Does something carry over? I hope it does, but I think time will tell on that.