Entering his third season with the Binghamton men’s basketball team, head coach Tommy Dempsey has already seen major improvements within his program. The team recorded four more wins than last year – the most wins since 2009 – and entered the America East tournament as the six seed. Now, with another impressive recruiting class and seasoned players to lead the way as the Bearcats open their season at the Hall of Fame Tipoff, things are on the rise for the team.
Pipe Dream: After three years at the head of this program, you’ve largely filled out your roster with your own recruits. What can this incoming class, especially with its height, do for you?
Tommy Dempsey: I’ve been head coach for two years, but now I’ve had a chance to bring in two recruiting classes. We’re still going to have a lot of young guys because we have five sophomores and six freshmen, but, at the same time, I think we’ve added a lot of athleticism. We’ve added more size to the program, and guys that quite frankly fit the style that I want to play better, so actually I think people are going to see a little bit of a different team. We’ll play faster, we’ll press more, we’ll run more and we’ll use our athleticism to try to be a game-changer.
PD: That actually leads into the next question: How far along are you to getting back to the fast-paced game you played at Rider?
TD: I think we’re right there. The one thing is, if you want to press and run and play up-tempo, you need depth. And we haven’t quite had the depth necessary in my first two years to play that. So I think now we have more depth in the program, we have more guys that were recruited with that style in mind, so we definitely plan to try to implement that style of play.
PD: How important a role will Jordan Reed play this season, now that he’ll be a leader not only on the court, but also for these newer players?
TD: The key with Jordan has been his maturity. I think now he becomes one of the older guys in the program, so it’s essential that he provides strong leadership. He’s been very successful in this conference for his first two years, so naturally, the younger guys in the program are going to look to him to see how he handles his business. What makes him successful, and I think with the older players, is to lead by example on the court, off the court and just with the way they handle their business. We always like to talk about habits, about good programs and good habits. It’s crucial that your older players have good habits and that they’re about the right thing on and off the court, and then that will trickle down.
PD: You’re opening your season against Notre Dame and then continuing on to face Providence and Manhattan in the Hall of Fame tip-off. What are the perks of starting off your season against programs of that caliber?
TD: I think the advantages are great. It creates a competitive environment in the summer and in the fall, because your players know that right off the bat, they’re going to play against some premier programs. I’m able to use that at times in our workouts and in our lifting sessions just as a casual reminder of what we’re preparing for. I also feel like it helps in recruiting, to play against strong programs. When we’re out recruiting, players are looking at our schedule and they see that you’re willing to play against bigger schools from bigger conferences, and that’s what kids want. They want to play against the best, and they want to challenge themselves against the best. So I think our schedule is exciting in that regard. Then the third is, when you play the better programs, your weaknesses will be exposed. If there’s a certain element of the game that you’re not doing well, normally the bigger, stronger, faster teams can expose that. So I think when you come out of those games, you have a better sense of the areas where you need to improve.
PD: Do you think the practice penalty issued because of the program’s APR [Academic Progress Rate] will have any visible impact on your team’s success this season?
TD: I hope not. I really think we’ll work hard to manage it well, make sure we’re getting our team prepared for every game. On the positive, it will keep us well rested because we’ll have to have two days off per week instead of one, so it should keep a young team fresh. Sometimes, when you have a young team, you can’t over practice them. The season is very long. Our players are here now, so we pretty much go all summer, and then we go all fall, and all winter, so I think that a lot of times, there’s physical and mental fatigue that sets in. We’re trying to turn that into a positive. Yes, we’ll work very hard as a staff to use our time wisely and make sure that the players are mentally and physically prepared for the game, but I think on the positive part of that, it will allow us to stay well rested during a long season.
PD: Aside from winning more games, how are you planning on gaining the support of the student body?
TD: Just to get involved. As coaches, we try to do some outreach. I try to make myself as accessible as possible to the students. I think it’s just about the way that your players handle their business. You want your guys not to be a sheltered group, where they just hang out with each other, but where they get involved with different things on campus and they get to know their classmates. They encourage people to support them because they have great attitudes and because they’re good guys. Then people start to come to the games, because they want to support these kids, and if you play good basketball and you play a style that’s fan-friendly and that’s winning games, I can see things snowball. But in college basketball, your student body plays such an important role in your game-day atmosphere. My goal, and the goal of our players, is to create an environment at our home games every night where the BU Zoo is there, and they’re into the games, and we’re playing very hard for them. It becomes a crucial part of our program and I think it leads to a lot of wins. You have to make your home court in college basketball a tough place to play, and I think you do that with an engaged student body.
PD: When freshmen read this issue during orientation, what’s the one thing you want them to learn about your team?
TD: I want them to get a feel this summer for what we’re all about. That we’re a hard-working program, that we’re a hungry program, that we’re a humble program. That we show up every day and take care of business, but we also do it with humility. And I think that if our older guys – like I said earlier – if their habits are such, that that’s what we’ll become. It’s been my job and my staff’s in our two years here to establish the type of culture we want to have in our program. And that starts with hard work, and with being hungry and being humble, and not being a team that talks about it, but a team that is about it. That’s what we need to express in the field this summer. Our kids are coming in under my watch over the last couple of years. I’ve tried to recruit kids that are about that even before they get here. Talking to their high school coaches and just recruiting guys that really know the value of hard work and have great character and that want to be a part of something special. So I think we have a good group of players here right now. They’re true student-athletes that plan on doing some big things over the next few years.