Here are some more excerpts from the conversation I had Tuesday with Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh about the men’s basketball program. As I wrote in this article, Mueh gave coach Jeff Reynolds an endorsement.
On whether he expects things to get better next year: “I do. I do. … I never gave up on this team. I really believe the New Mexico game (Air Force lost at The Pit, 59-56, on Feb. 20) showed the potential that this team had. We were reasonably healthy at that point. We didn’t have Sammy (Schafer) back, but everybody played, I think, to their capacity, and we played the No. 10, roughly, team in the nation to almost a draw. That was very encouraging. And I talked to the team the other day, and I said, you know, I really believed watching that game that that was a statement by you guys to say, ‘Hey world, look at us, we can play this game. And we’ll show you.’ … I think we’ve got some great kids coming up from the prep school. I watched the prep school play our JV and essentially dismantle our JV – very crisp, solid, solid ball-handlers, good shooters, and they’re coming up to join this squad.”
On Schafer, who has been out since the third game of the season with post-concussion symptoms: “I don’t know about Sammy. Sammy worries me because he’s such a great, great young man. And I don’t actually care about the basketball, I worry about Sammy. Because he still wants to be President of the United States, and he needs to graduate from the Air Force Academy to be President of the United States, in his mind and in my mind.” [I asked if he worried if Sammy would ever be able to play again] “I worry that we can’t graduate him because of the medical situation. I’m praying that somebody finds out what’s wrong with him.”
On Grant Parker’s pelvic injury: “If we have Grant playing the way he was playing (early) for the whole season, instead of losing 10 games – and it wasn’t 10 games, it was from that point on in the season, because he’s not 100 percent. He tries really hard, but it’s not there. The steps that he had early on. Even the planting to hit the shots is not back. And he was a huge, huge key to this season. He was a leader on this team. We needed that kind of leadership from a big man. This is his senior year, he had it going and then he gets this mystery injury. And you just shake your head going what else?”
On if he remains confident in Reynolds: “I do. Because I don’t think he’s had a fair chance to show his coaching ability. The first year, everybody praised him, including me. When we lost those great, great players (from the 2006-07 team) and we had Timmy Anderson and some other guys, but Timmy Anderson was special – Defensive Player of the Year in the conference and he was at a position where he could direct traffic. That was a very, very important position to have. If Timmy Anderson had been a forward, I don’t think we would have had that kind of success. But because he was where he was and could take true control of that team, we went 16-14, and it was phenomenal. To do what we did that season – 8-8 in the conference. I thought, wow. And then the wheels sort of came off. Jeff’s second season, last year. … It was one of those years that it didn’t mesh. It just didn’t mesh. And then this year with the injuries, I really believe had an impact. Because I really thought we would win half a dozen games in the conference this year. And I think, in hindsight, if we had had the team we started with when we were 5-2 and growing, I think maybe that was possible.”
On Reynolds: “Jeff is a very good basketball coach, and he and I have talked too. He aches, I ache with him. I think his assistants are phenomenal people. He has hand-picked a bunch of really good people. And I go down to practice, I watch. I told Jeff he ought to pat them on the butt a little more than he does, but, you know, that’s coaching – that sort of style. It’s harder and harder when you’re not winning. But I think that will get better. It’s amazing what wins will do for you. Winning is so far better than losing it’s unbelievable. It solves everything.”
On whether he’ll set benchmarks for victories in 2010-11 or if he’ll just have a feel for if the team is improving: “I wouldn’t want to set, ‘OK, Jeff, I expect you to win six or seven games.’ But I think you’re right – we will know when we’re in games. When we lose by an average of 17, 18 points a game, then we’re not there. If we’re losing by a couple and then maybe we pick off a couple, everybody will know, I think, that we’re in these games. And maybe we’ve added a little quickness, maybe we’ve added a little ball skill, maybe we’ve added a little shooting.”
On winning: “I’d love to win more. I ache for these kids every time out because they play so hard and they play so hard in practice and the coaches get frustrated and the players get frustrated. But I’m an eternal optimist, and I really believe we can play. We’ve proven that. … I went back to look at the league. The league RPIs when we were at the top, and we didn’t have as many good teams in the league back when we were winning. When we won the (MWC) title, I think there were two good teams in the league. So things have changed a little bit.”