Oct. 12, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Matt Daniel said he has been told he was suited to go into “coaching college basketball or preaching … those two callings are not that far off.”
Maybe Daniel could have added “mixologist” to those potential career options, because right now with his first Marshall women’s basketball team, the first-year Herd coach is trying to blend passion with patience.
After one week of preseason practice, the program he inherited – the record is 581-581 in a history dating to 1969-70 – has players named Veronica, Jasmine, Erica and Shay, among others -- but all are Alices when they’re on the floor with Daniel and assistant coaches Tony Kemper, Caronica Randle and Tamisha Augustin.
They’re really in wonderland.
“I feel bad for them,” Daniel said during a revealing, 25-minute give-and-take on Marshall Basketball’s media day in the Henderson Center press room. “One thing we talk about is the fact that there are obvious changes that need to be made, and we are eager and happy to come in and implement those changes, and that in the process there will be good days and bad days.
“We’ll get on you when you’re out of line and we’ll be the first ones to praise you when you’re in line … One at a time is our approach; one day at a time, one pass at a time, one class at a time, one practice, one week, one game … and everything is different from what it was, totally different.”
In summer meetings and workouts and now that the Thundering Herd is pointed toward a Nov. 9 opener against Radford, Daniel said he has found a team that has embraced change, if at some times on wobbly legs.
He referenced former NBA and Kentucky guard Rex Chapman, whom Daniel got to know through his former University of Colorado teammate, Chauncey Billups.
“Rex said the biggest difference between a pro and somebody who’s not a pro is confidence,” Daniel said, “and I think after being around our players that our confidence has grown in just the last week of practice, and that’s a vital part of what we want them to be.
“We will play with a swagger. What the result of that is remains to be seen. What I can promise the Marshall faithful and the community is we’ll play hard, play smart if we possibly can, we’ll play together and try to enjoy the process.”
Daniel’s team was picked to finish last (12th) this season by his fellow Conference USA coaches earlier this week. Neither is he surprised or deterred by that, and he tackled the subject without prompting early in the session.
“I think if you look where we’re picked in the conference race, I’m not surprised by that,” the Herd coach said. “I don’t get surprised or shocked by much, but it doesn’t change our work ethic. That’s not going to change, whether we’re on the top or the bottom, and that’s our approach.”
At Central Arkansas, he took what was a six-win program in his first season to 21, 21, and 24 wins in his last three years before heading with his “Home of Higher Hoops” philosophy to Huntington.
And besides passion and patience, there’s another p-word he’s pushing like the tempo he wants the Herd to eventually play.
He found a team that seemed “afraid to make a mistake.” That’s not going to work, Daniel said.
“You know we’re going to turn it over, and we’re going to miss shots,” Daniel said. “What I don’t have patience for is not being prepared … Hopefully, game day is a celebration of your preparation. You prepare for class and you’ve got a test or a final and you know you’re prepared and you walk in and your shoulders are lighter and you have a little swagger.
“Well, it’s the same for us. I want you to come to practice prepared every day. There is no excuse for not being prepared. On game day or in practice, I want you to play free. You’re going to turn it over, but I want you to have fun, want you to smile.
“I want high-fives and handshakes, and diving after loose balls and picking up after charges and pressing and hoopin’ and hollerin’ and playing this game, not this job. Playing this game the way it was meant to be played.”
Daniel said that while his team has made progress, he added he doesn’t know if he could ever use the words “appropriate progress” in that order. He said junior Suporia Dickens told him she was waiting for Daniel “to blow up” over some practice play. He’s only going to light the fuse selectively, it seems.
“My pace is pretty fast, but I’m not going to give them what they want, we’re going to give them what they need,” said Daniel, who left immediately after the Thursday session to recruit in Texas. “And right now I’m going to give them a little patience, because (the change in the program) is hard. It’s tough.
“I tell them to prove something. Prove the believers right and the non-believers wrong. Just go prove something. If you do one of those things and let the chips fall where they may, it will work itself out.”
Daniel said coaching and preaching “both try to get or transfer people into believing a common thing, or showing them a path, a belief system.”
He’s trying to do that with not only his team, but also with a Herd fan base that looked at women’s hoops and saw a program that had stagnated.
“Everything contagious,” said Daniel, who has “gone green” is so many ways since his late May hire that perhaps the state should put the guy in recycling promotional spots. “Colds, winning, losing, playing hard, acting right, it’s all contagious.
“I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know all of the questions, but I know it’s starting to feel real good … It depends on how good our vision is. This will be whatever we want it to be, but it will only be what we make it, and it won’t be any more than we make it.”
Daniel used a comparison with the current Vision Campaign to enhance Marshall athletic facilities (with $20 million in private funding) as a metaphor for where he sees his new program.
“Show me what it can be like: What’s your vision?” Daniel said. “It couldn’t be more perfect for me to be at Marshall with the Vision Campaign, because I’m trying to see across the street, through that wall. I’m looking for superhuman vision.
“That’s what we’re trying to spread, not sell … sell is the wrong word. The vision is what we’re trying to help become contagious.”