Le Moyne basketball coach Pat Beilein talks beating Siena, national title aspirations

By Chris Carlson, SYRACUSE.COM

Syracuse, N.Y. -- Starting his third year with Le Moyne men's basketball, head coach Patrick Beilein already has a preseason upset over a Division I program and national title aspirations.

The Dolphins knocked off Siena, 73-71, during a preseason game this year, building off a season in which the Dolphins earned the top seed in the NCAA Division II Tournament's East Regional, hosting the event for the first time since 1969.

The Dolphins were upset in the first round by Merrimack, 72-68, but lost just one player from that team, while adding three other contributors. Le Moyne is fourth in the receiving votes category in the Division II basketball poll to open the year but is setting its sights much higher than that. 

The Dolphins kicked off their regular-season last weekend with a pair of road wins and play their home opener against American International (2-0) at 7:30 on Ted Grant court on Wednesday with heftier expectations than the program has maintained in a while.

Through two games, Nottingham High School graduate Tyquan Rolon is leading the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game, while Bishop Ludden's Daniel Kaigler is seeing solid minutes off the bench.

Beilein, widely considered an up-and-comer in the coaching profession, sat down with Syracuse.com/The Post-Standard late last week to talk about his program heading into his third year. 

PS: You won your division title in just your second year. How do things look this year?

PB: We lost just one player (Stan Buczek) from last year's team, so I think expectations will be high. We replaced the one with a Division I transfer (Robert Jones a 6-foot-8 forward from Idaho State). We had two of our best ball screen offensive players sit out last year, one with academics (Rolon), one with an ACL (Oshae Gairey).

They've re-joined the team so really three new faces to add to what we had. A great core and some great offensive weapons. Every player on this team except one is 21, so we're mature.

Managing expectations will be the biggest thing. There's 12 guys on the team. Eleven of them, even 12, could play in every game. That's how deep we are. That's great as a coach. But difficult when it comes to playing time and managing playing time. 

PS: How have you prepped them mentally for that?

PB: I've been very open about it. I said everyone in this locker room has to be OK with getting subbed into the game for two minutes, not getting a shot, not getting a rebound and coming out of the game. Everyone has to be OK with that. Everyone looked me in the eye and said, 'Coach we just want to win. Yes, sir."

PS: Do you think that really lasts four months?

PB: I truly believe that with so many seniors these guys just want to win. They understand the team concept that we got where we did last year because of it. We didn't have a superstar. We had five guys average 8 to 10 points. That's what the culture is built around.

PS: What was beating Siena like for these guys, it didn't seem like they went nuts?

PB: We went down there expecting to win.

PS: You mean that or are you just saying that?

PB: Anytime you can win a road game it's very challenging, I don't care what level it is. But I went in the locker room and it was just another game. It's a very mature team. They pressed us, they played 2-3 zone, 3-2 zone, 1-3-1 zone and man-to-man. It was the greatest exhibition game ever to face all those things and win. Now we move forward to the ultimate goal, which is take every game as best we can and reach the national goal. It wasn't like jumping around. It was just, great game.

PS: For you guys to expect to beat Siena, did you think you were that good? Or is Siena down?

PB: We gave our kids the first day of practice 12 goals. You need to pass all 12 drills to come back. Every player passed them on the first try. I could tell they did what they were supposed to this summer. That kind of snowballed. I knew we'd compete and I knew it would be close. And it if was close, with the way we guard, I knew we'd have a chance. That said, Siena lost a lot of scoring. They're young. They started three freshmen. It goes back to that older kid. I knew we had that advantage.


PS: How'd that game get set up?

PB: I knew (assistant coach) Jordan Watson, who I worked with at Dartmouth. He set it up. He might be in a little trouble right now. He said, 'We'll do this game but you just can't beat us.'

I looked at their schedule, they were all graduating. ... I talked to them after, though, and they said it's what their freshmen needed. It's not going to be easy. Jimmy Patsos is a great coach and I'm hoping they do well.

PS: You talked about the national goal. What's that?

PB: National championship. The highest goal. Getting back to the NCAAs was great. Leaving in the first round wasn't. But we can't do that unless it's game by game by game. We have to put ourselves in position to make that run. That's the messege each day.

PS: All right, so I have no idea how good you are. Is a national championship actually a reasonable goal? Or is that just, if we're going to play, we might as well make that the goal.

PB: I think it is. Last year getting ranked was great for us. There's a lot of good teams. If you look at our schedule we're playing at Fairmont State, they lost in the national championship last year. We're playing at Bellermine, they lost in the semifinals. We're going to Louisville to play them, a 13-hour bus ride. We're going to Florida to play two schools that are really good. We're playing St. Thomas Aquinas who won our region last year in our gym and made the Elite Eight. We've scheduled 10 home games, 17 road. We're going to go after it. Let's just go get better. 


PS: How did that work with your athletic department?

PB: We couldn't find any games. Pretty big contrast from after my first season when everyone was calling my phone. No one called this year. The AD Matt Bassett was on board, let's go play these top teams and see where we stand.

A bunch of them are home-and-homes, so we've just got to live with this year. But, if you've got the team, go play. In my first year I wouldn't have scheduled like this. But if you have the team to, not necessarily win, but compete in every game, go play.

Through two games, former Nottingham High School player Tyquan Rolon is leading Le Moyne with 16.5 points per game.

PS: Tyquan Rolon has been big so far. Is that the expectation?

PB: It'll be very balanced but I think overall he's the most talented in terms of passing ability, scoring ability. I was pleased with him after sitting out a year-and-a-half to come out and play like he did is a testament to him. He's working hard in the classroom. That was the biggest thing when we got here. We could have played him last year. He was eligible after the first semester, but we had 12 games left. Why use his year for 12?

We redshirted him so we could have him for 28 games. He can catch-and-shoot. He can dribble. Offensively he's our best one-on-one player but also a very unselfish teammate. He'll hit the open guy. And he's matured on the defensive end. I know a lot of people from Nottingham and his family went down to the Siena game so they're excited.

PS: How'd he handle that?

PB: It was a mutual decision. We both went to each other. He said, 'Coach, I want to play a full season with these guys.' He knew what we had coming back.

PS: How about Kaigler, he's the other local guy?

PB: He's really matured. He had a great game at Siena, 12 points, nine rebounds. He's a leader on the court. We had a 6:30 a.m. practice and he was very fired up, even at 6:30. I think he and all the guys realize these are the final days, final games, final practices of their career.

Through Le Moyne's first two games, Bishop-Ludden's Dan Kaigler is averaging 19.5 minutes.

PS: 6:30 a.m. practice? 

PB: Our class schedules. Monday we practice at 7. Tuesday is 9 p.m. Wednesday is 2 p.m. Thursday is 6:30 a.m. Tomorrow is 1 p.m. Class schedules. Seniors have manadatory classes and they have to take them at certain times. We passed it down the road a little bit and now they've got to take them. They feel good after practice. We make it work.

PS: Your dad (Michigan coach John Beilein) won the CBS coaches polls for being the cleanest coach in college basketball. You're a young coach trying to climb the ranks. What's your take on the Adidas scandal?

PB: I wasn't shocked. You always hear rumblings. You hear about things behind the scenes, different types of coaches and how they get players. But it's all hearsay. To see it come to light and have facts about it is kind of refreshing for a young coach. Especially one who had a mentor, in my dad, who said if you've practiced for an hour and it's 3:57 and you have four hours of practice, you better be off the court. Those little things lead to bigger things. I'm hopeful it cleans up college basketball and puts recruiting on a more even playing field. It's refreshing. I think that's the best word. And I don't think it's over. I think it's coming.

PS: It was reported that you (were interested) in an assistant coach job at Michigan this offseason. ...

PB: Never interviewed. Had conversations with my dad about the decision. We both thought with the team I had coming back, I would have had a really hard time leaving the guys. I think that will be every year. My dad said you always will have a hard time.

I'm not looking at a time in particular. But I have a sense this group is special. I think we have something special. Having played for my dad, worked for my dad. He can help me from afar. I can always learn from him. 

(Editor's note: Beilein was correct when he said that published reports were that he talked with his father about the job but was not formally interviewed)

PS: Was there any drama with your players? Did you have to address it?

PB: I didn't address it. It's such a unique situation because it's family. I wouldn't want to work under any other coach. Some of the team might have thought, 'Oh, he's going to go because it's his dad.' It's understandable because it's family.

But it was over before they got back to campus. I recruited a lot of these guys and told them, I'll be here on Senior Night to take that picture. That weighed heavy on me as well, that I'd told them that. How could I just leave them? You'll always have that. But I think this team is special.



Jack Benoitpatrick beilein