The Paladin interviewed Bob Richey on April 22nd.
Q: Do you have any superstitions or routines that you follow before games?
A: I would not say I am necessarily superstitious or routine driven. As opposed to superstitions, I like to make sure that when game time comes, my mind is free and clear. You do not want to let the anxiety, the stress, the fear of losing creep into that. I usually get a good walk in to make sure I get my blood flowing a little bit and get my thinking clear. I also like to get a good reading in on game days. When I get to game time, I make sure I am enjoying it. In the season, you have to sleep right, take care of your diet and health. Once you eventually get to game time, you have to make sure you get yourself right and enjoy the game.
Q: Any surprises or events to further attract student interest, as the fans helped our guys get up and fight back a lot this past season?
A: There is nothing at this point that I would say is concrete. However, I will say we are working to do more student engagement right now. I am having lunch with students in the facility who are some of our core students, who have been active in a lot of games. We are trying to turn Timmons into a place where there is more dialogue with me on a weekly basis. We are working on an October event with the student body, too.
Q: Would you say there is a head coach that you model your coaching after? Do you associate your coaching style with a coach from the NBA or the NCAA?
A: I have got a few coaches that I have studied through the years, and I have kind of just blended it. I love learning. I feel like a lot of coaches have had an impact on me. I love college football; I think there is a lot of things you can learn from there. Watching Steve Spurrier, growing up, I have learned a lot about the culture of how he operates a program, the values he has put in the program, how he recruits… John Beilein at Michigan, Rick Byrd at Belmont; all those guys have impacted me from a schematic standpoint.1
Our style of play is starting to evolve in the direction of the NBA, and our offensive schemes are kind of NBA style right now- with the decision making in the hand-offs, cut options, ball screens, and the spacing. This is an NBA style offense and we take a lot of pride in that."
Q: Early in the season, we beat Louisville in front of their fans; we forced overtime against Belmont. In December, we had one or two unexpected losses. Yet, we bounced back and played neck to neck against UNC Chapel Hill, and unfortunately, we ended the season with a heartbreaking loss in the SoCon championship game.
With these many ups and downs, what were your favorite and least favorite moments from this past season?
A: Well, I think there were quite a few highlights. This past season was by far the hardest schedule that we played in modern day history around here. We wanted to advance our schedule to make it more competitive; to really make it where every game is going to be challenge, a huge game.
The Louisville win was really exciting. The College of Charleston win here, the way it happened, down by 3, four seconds to go and get in the game in overtime and winning there was a lot of fun. One of the biggest highlights of the year was definitely sweeping our rival Wofford for the first time since 2006.
But really, the biggest highlight was us going to Asheville with a different attitude this year. Furman has played a title game three times over the school history, twice this century. These runs were more of Cinderella runs; this year was the first time in this century that we were supposed to go the championship based on our seeding as a top two seed. Getting to Asheville, we wanted to break that.
We went up there this year to win it and was really proud of how our guys handled that. We got beat on the buzzer in a very hard situation. That was definitely the hardest moment of the year but it does not take away from what they did and how they went about it: quieting those who say we cannot go to Asheville, play well, and beat our rival. Getting over the hump on those two things is another good sign for the trajectory in the path of this program.
Q: What is the biggest hurdle you foresee to face in the next season for a spot at March Madness?
A: We are losing two really good players: Alex Hunter and Conley Garrison, two guys that just understand winning. They understand toughness; they are smart basketball players; they are very good shooters. We are going to have to replace them, and that has been the good thing about our program as we have been able to stay consistent and sustainable despite losing players.
The good news is that we also have some good players coming back, Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell. Then there is Marcus Foster, another star of this season. We have got a lot of guys that are continuing to get better already this off-season. We are going to add three players as well with the two freshmen and one transfer. On paper, it is probably going to be our deepest team, and it will be our job as coaches to put it together and make a team to get it to a point where we can function as one.
Q: You just mentioned the departure of two of our star players. Fortunately, young players such as red shirt rising junior guard Marcus Foster and Joe Anderson stepped up when needed this past season. Who do you think will make the most improvement and step into a larger leadership role in the next season?
A: Joe Anderson and Marcus Foster made big jumps this year. Gary definitely made a huge jump this year. JP McGee has really helped us once he got playing time. Tyrese Hughey… We would not have won the semifinal game without what Tyrese did. Then you have Alex Williams and James. You know both are going to continue to fight for minutes. This is going to be highly competitive. As we say around here, hard work always works. The guys who work the hardest, they are going to reap the pigs at the end of the day.
Q: Defending champion Villanova and #8 ranked Loyola-Chicago in 2018, Louisville in 2021… You have played against and beat some fantastic talent during your tenure at Furman. Who would you say was the best competition you have ever faced at the collegiate level?
A: We played Duke in my first year in camera, and that was an incredible experience. They were very good that year. This year, the North Carolina team almost won the national championship. They were basically one possession away from winning the whole thing. To see that we were tied with them at halftime, you know it puts confidence in our team and our program. You know we can play with anybody, and that is how we want to think. We want to start to build a mentality that we can play with anybody in the country if we play the right way. Playing Charleston, a classic… Not sure if our students are aware of that but this year, the (Charleston) game will be an ESPN event. We also want to get some students down there to enjoy that.
Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Penn State, Davidson… It is going to be a great group, and we are looking forward to putting ourselves against the very best.
Q: I want to take you back to December 3rd, 2018- the Dins entering AP Top 25 poll. The last team to do so before Furman was a Stephen Curry-led Davidson team in 2008.
After the release of the rankings, you said, “We have got to continue to focus on what got us to this point. If you keep doing things, there will be more ‘first times.” What other ‘first times’ do you think are waiting for the Dins? Can you see Furman getting ranked again?
A: It is definitely a possibility. We try to run a process-operated program. We feel like if we trust our process and do the process well, the results will take care of themselves. We want to focus on making sure that we continue to improve and do the things every single day that will eventually lead us to all the results. We want to be focused on our process of improvement. We just trust that at the end of the day, the hard work and process will result in those results, so yes, I think there will be another day when we enter AP Top 25 rankings.
We had the dream of “hey, we can go to March Madness.” If not for the last 4 seconds, it was right in our hands. It will come down like this as we continue to push the program forward. We are going to keep meeting new marks, that is what this program is all about. That is why we want the students involved; why we want them to feel ownership of this team; feel like this is their team because we are just getting started, and we are going to continue to push this. We want our students to feel totally included and invested in what their team is doing.
Q: At the end of the season, sources stated you interviewed for the South Carolina’s men’s basketball head coaching position, but then withdrew your name from consideration.
After the withdrawal, you said, “We have a great situation here and look forward to continuing to build our program. We have a chance to have a special season next year.” What was the most important factor that empowered you to withdraw your name from consideration?
A: This past year, we had the highest NCAA NET Rankings, highest college ranking in the state. We had the best basketball program according to the numbers in the state of South Carolina this year. We want to continue to further that. We want our students to understand that we have a very good product here, and we are not done. For me, it is more about building this program. Our family loves Furman, our family loves Greenville. We want to continue to see where this can go. We do not think we have hit the ceiling. We feel like there is more in the journey, so it is one of those situations where we love our players, our program, our staff, our institution, our city; and we just want to continue to enjoy the ride and then continue to push this as far as we can push.
Q: Through the Paladin, what will your message to the Furman community be?
A: We want them to feel like this is their program; like they have got ownership. We want them to feel like they are part of this; like they have access to it. Our students are welcome to anything. If they want to come see a practice, if they want to come meet our team, if they want to find ways to go on road trips; obviously, we would love that. We want to make Timmons a huge home advantage. I think it makes the college experience much more fun. You have got 15 home games, and that is your outlet to make this big-time environment where you can enjoy yourself, feel ownership in it, and say “hey, that is our team!
We know the rigor of Furman, the academic prestige of this place, and all the different responsibilities our students have, which are great. This is just one of those deals where you get to go out and have fun. We have had a student tailgate at one of the games this year; we are trying to continue to find ways to make this more of an event to make it more exciting- with the music, with video, with everything. We just want our students to feel like they are a part of this.
Responses have been edited for clarity.