The final part of my interview with Fairfield men’s basketball coach Sydney Johnson:
12. To use an overused cliché, do you feel like this will be more like ‘your team’ because you have guys coming back that have played for you, you have a year under your belt and you are bringing in guys you recruited? Is it a little bit more of a comfort level than maybe last year when you came in and there was a lot unknown?
SJ: “It is cliché, but I think that’s fair to say. I don’t necessarily say it from the comfort level stand point. It’s just the familiarity. When you go through the recruiting process, you can’t equate with that. I didn’t get the opportunity to meet Derek (Needham’s) family or meet Desmond (Wade’s) family. … Sure that brought Ed (Cooley) and the coaches closer to his young men. So, I do have that but I also have a year with the returners that I haven’t had with the incoming freshmen.
“Colin (Nickerson) knows one hundred times better what we are asking of him and how we see the game than any one of these six freshmen. So, there’s closeness. There’s different ways to be close and I think at the end of the day, and I’ll state this plainly, we are coaching one team. And so, yes to the first part, but when we walk into the gym we are one group and we are going to try to get on the same page as quick as possible.”
13. Some people outside the program could possibly view (next) season somewhat as a rebuilding year with what you lost, but does it seem more like a reloading year?
SJ: “I hope so. I do know how good the league is. Almost every single team in our league is going to be better than they were last year maybe with the exception of Iona. But, they have some junior college transfers and possibly some high major Division I transfers coming in so they maybe able to keep pace. And if they don’t keep pace maybe they’ll only when 24 games, not 25. They are going to be good.
“My point is I don’t think we are falling off the cliff with six returners. And again we have to figure out if it’s six or seven returners with Keegan, and then our six freshmen we have to figure out who we are going to be. We can’t worry about whether we are going to win 22 games or not. We don’t feel like we are disappearing either. I don’t know if it’s reloading, I definitely think rebuilding, but somewhere in between.
14. Gene Doris went over the schedule a bit with Chris Elsberry and I recently. Are you happy with it (Drexel, BracketBuster, Preseason NIT, Providence, Central Connecticut State, DePaul, Austin Peay, ODU)?
SJ: “I don’t know if you get happy as a coach with your schedule. We once again are going to be playing good teams. I think don’t, and partly my fault, that we got enough credit for the schedule we played last year. I thought it was really good and the numbers show we played the best schedule in the league from an RPI stand point – better than Iona’s and they went on the road and got some great road wins. Yet the numbers suggest our schedule was tougher.
“I think we are going to be in more of the same playing Old Dominion and Drexel. We might face up with Virginia, Robert Morris again (both in NIT). It’s a toughs schedule again and one that I think we are going to have to learn as we go a little bit like we did this year and see what where we can go.”
ODDS AND ENDS: Johnson said he was pleased with his staff (associate coach Tony Newsome, Tyson Wheeler and newly promoted Martin Bahar), but the program will miss Brian Nash as a coach and as a friend. … He also said while last season was “pretty good” overall the Stags still didn’t win the MAAC championship and that will be the goal once again this season even with a new cast. … Senior-to-be guard Derek Needham was all smiles on campus today after practicing with guard Desmond Wade and friends. When asked how his left ankle (which he broke at the end of the season vs. Iona) was doing, Needham replied with a big grin “I was just hooping.” … Even though guard Justin Jenkins has verbally committed to the Stags for next season, he still needs to reach the necessary SAT score to gain entrance. According to the N.Y. Post, Jenkins needs to improve his score by 100 points and will take the test again on Saturday. A university source confirmed Monday that Jenkins had yet to qualify at Fairfield.