FULLERTON, Calif. -- With the first 100 days of his tenure as head men's basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton behind him, Dedrique Taylor sat down with FullertonTitans.com to discuss the whirlwind start to his head coaching career, the high's and low's over the first three months, and his thoughts about the upcoming 2013-14 season.
FullertonTitans.com: The first 100 days… what's it like being "home" a little more often after so many years away?
Dedrique Taylor: "You know, it's been comforting, but it's been mass hysteria. Everybody's pulling in all kinds of different directions, everybody wants your time, they want your space. Just trying to be understanding of that but, also still trying to run a program, it's been taxing. At the same time, it gives me a different level of appreciation to have people WANT my time, to have people WANT me to be around because, obviously, it could be the other way around where nobody cares. That, at the end of the day, is what we stand for and what we're about is being around caring people. Fortunately, we've developed enough relationships where people are concerned about what's going on with me, personally, and, in turn, what's going on with our program and what we're doing over here in 'Titan Country.'"
FT: You've been in charge now for 100 days, give or take. There's been some ups, there have been some downs. Talk a little bit about some of those ups and downs now that you're in charge?
DT: "The best way to put it is that the honeymoon is over and we are now looking at this job for what it is in all of its greatness and in all of its not-so-great moments. Yes, we've had some really high moments in recruiting and establishing some things and, sure, we've had some low moments in terms of just not knowing or being inexperienced at Cal State Fullerton. All in all, though, I think it's been a situation where we've tried to move forward by being fundamental and picking up one foot and putting it down and picking up the next foot and putting it down. I feel like we're continuing to do that. Sometimes, it takes longer for those feet to get up and get back on the ground but, for the most part, I feel like things are moving in the right direction. I feel like our guys have really bought in, for the most part, and they're reflecting us and they're mimicking some of the things that we stand for and what we're about. Sure, there's been some not-so-good moments, but we knew that. We understood what this job was. We understood and were familiar with the culture here and so, what we've done, is try to infuse our beliefs, what we stand for, and what we want to represent as far as Titan Basketball into campus life and, so far, it's been pretty good."
FT: What's been the biggest surprise?
DT: "I think the biggest surprise has been the lack of communication, I guess, between all of the different silos that exist on campus. You know, you walk onto a university campus and you expect that everybody would talk to everybody but, ironically, it's not the same everywhere. I will say that, once we've gotten past opening the door and 'Hi, my name is…,' the relationship and the communication has taken off. That's been an awesome feeling. From dealing with the ASI (Associated Students, Inc.) President to all of the different entities on campus that we've had a chance to meet and greet, everybody seems to be excited about what's going on. The biggest thing, I think, has been just being able to help one another. It's not a situation where we're just asking them to help us. We want to know how we can help each other to do what we all believe we can do, which is make Cal State Fullerton one of the best universities in its own right and that's what we're all after."
FT: This program has been in a bit of flux over the last few years, now on its third coach in the last three years. How have you tried to bring some stability to the situation?
DT: "We've talked a great deal about controlling what you can control and worrying about what you can worry about and I feel like our guys have done a good job of trying to stay focused. We've tried to go overboard by dictating their days and giving them structure so that every day looks the same. There may be some variation here or there, but we want their day to be structured almost the same so they do know what to expect. They do know what time they're going to lift, they do know what time they're going to work out with us, they do know what time study hall is, they do know what time they can have some personal time, which is important, and we've tried to establish that as often as we can and as early as we can and, so far, I think the guys have appreciated it and responded by showing up, being on time, and giving great energy and effort on the floor and giving pretty good energy and effort in the classroom."
FT: Talk a little bit about the coaching staff you've assembled. This is a very experienced group that is very familiar and knowledgable with Southern California.
DT: "The first thing with (Associate Head Coach) John (Smith), we are really fortunate to get a guy like that here, at a place like this, who understands what Cal State Fullerton can be. First and foremost, for me, he's a mentor. He's the essence of what a 'real man' is and for our guys to be exposed to that on a day-to-day basis, I think, is extremely unique and it's a great situation for them to have access to a guy like that, who has a family, who is married, who is doing things the right way… he's not perfect, but doing things the right way. They get to be exposed to that and he, in turn, gets to pour into him some of the life experiences that he's had and some of the things that he's been through, on the floor and off the floor. I've said this publicly multiple times, it was a selfish hire. It was a hire for me personally, but our team and our program gets the benefit of him being here.
"Obviously, Danny Sprinkle brings with him a wealth of knowledge about the Big West, but he also has a level of experience, in his own right, in terms of being able to recruit this area and also, having been the player that he was, he can get out on the floor and do some things and so, again, our guys can be exposed to that on a daily basis.
"Then, Rob (Spence) brings the component of the structure. We've been together for the past six or seven years and so he knows me better, probably, than I know myself. He knows the structure that I'm after. He knows how to connect the dots for me, for our guys, and he's been an integral part of this first 100 days in terms of helping us set the foundation with our players, set the foundation with the campus community, set the foundation with just the day-to-day grind of what it takes to run a program. I've really had very little to do with it. It's all Rob and he's run with it and, I think to this point, he's passing every test with flying colors."
FT: I bet most of your time has been spent pounding the pavement in search of recruits. How have things progressed in that department? Have you discovered or ignited some new-found interest in Cal State Fullerton?
DT: "I think there's always been an interest, but what I think what people have found with us is that there's a different level of relatability. There's multiple relationships that we have been able to pull together that have really been productive for us in recruiting. I think a lot of it has to do with the goodwill that we've collected over the course of each one of our careers individually, and now as a staff. People ask multiple times, 'Who's on your staff?' and I run down the list of the guys and they stand in awe of our staff because we have really good people who have, in their own way, collected goodwill from our community, from the basketball world, and it's paying off. I think we're reaping the benefits of that early, hopefully we can continue to buy into that goodwill and people will help us spread the vision of what Cal State Fullerton can be from a basketball standpoint."
FT: When you go out and recruit with that 'F' on your chest, what are the things you look for? How different is it than recruiting to some of the other schools you've been at?
DT: "It's not a great deal different in terms of the things we're looking for. We're after character guys, we're after guys who are academically motivated, academically driven to be successful, because I think if you can find THAT guy, you can find a guy who's also motivated to do things on the floor at the same time. Where, at some of the other places, a guy who is maybe a '7' on a scale of 1-to-10, these guys here at this level might be a five-and-a-half or a six-and-a-half. They might not be the fastest guys in the gym, but they still do things that are productive on the floor and lead to winning. So, I wouldn't say it's been a great change in terms of those things. The foundation, the pillars, that we're after are all the same. We want character guys, who are good guys, who are looking for an opportunity to prove themselves both academically as well as on the floor, but they represent their community, they represent Cal State Fullerton in the best way possible. Those are some of the things we've always been after whether it was at Arizona State, Nevada, Portland State, LMU, or UC Davis. A lot of that, I think, emulates myself, in terms of what I'm about and hopefully we can continue to carry that over into recruiting. Talent-wise, we'd like to get as much talent as we can and I think we're off to a good start."
FT: So, it sounds like you're trying to put together a giant puzzle?
DT: "Exactly. It's a big puzzle. We're trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle of a guy like (freshman forward) Joe Boyd, who is 6-foot-9, 237 pounds, already, and he's physical and he's strong. What we'd like to put alongside him is a guy who's athletic, long, and lanky. They're so different, but they compliment each other extremely well. A guy like (senior guard) Michael Williams, who is capable of doing a little bit of everything exceptionally well, you can put anybody next to him and he'll find a way to make them look good. We want to put players on the floor who compliment each other from a talent standpoint, a physical standpoint, but they should all mimic each other in terms of the character quotient."
FT: What's been the response from the student-athletes thus far? How have they handled the adjustment to a new staff and style?
DT: "You know, I couldn't ask for the guys to be better, really. They've accepted us with open arms and change is probably one of the hardest things to deal with, especially when you're 18, 19, 20 years old. You feel like so much is at stake for you to have to go through one, two, or even three college coaching changes… that's almost life-shattering in some kids' worlds, but they've been great and I think it's a testament to who they are and their character quotient, and what they're about. They came to Cal State Fullerton to prove something and, under our leadership, hopefully we can help them get exactly to where they're trying to go. They've been awesome to be around. Probably the most exciting part of my day is between 1 and 3 because I get to see them on the floor, interact with them, sweat with them, and they've given us everything that we've asked for up to this point."
FT: So, they've bought in?
DT: "Seems like it."
FT: In the spring and summer, I know the NCAA rules limit you to what you can and cannot do. What kind of things have you been working on in the off-season to prepare for when the day finally comes that you can go all out?
DT: "What we've tried to do, once again, is provide them structure and, within that structure, we've asked them to increase their workload. The first day we got here, the first time we had the chance to meet with them, we asked them to increase their workload by 10 percent. If each person increased their load by 10 percent individually, as a group you're looking at 80 or 90 percent improvement in just the workload. They've bought into that part of it so, what we've tried to do is just amplify that part of their summer. They're in the weight room four times a week, they're on the court with us two hours a week, then we've asked them to get some extra workouts in and really, really, test where they are conditioning-wise. I think that's the biggest different between high school and college, junior college and college, is the conditioning component. We've really tried to test these guys and find out where they are so that they understand if they want to play at the pace we want to create, we've got to be in shape. That's probably the biggest change for them, the biggest adjustment, is just the pace at which we're trying to work is a lot higher than what they're probably used to."
FT: What players do you think have benefitted the most from the work in the spring and summer?
DT: "I think they all have. I think, even me as a coach, selfishly, I've benefitted from them. Being on the floor with them and learning some of the things that they like, they don't like. Some of the terminology that I want to use, they are already familiar with, so they'll say it and I'll run with it. It's really an environment where the learning is going both ways, it's not I'm teaching them and that's the way it's going to be. There's stuff going back and forth and, I think, that's the most fascinating part about what we do… you never stop learning. Our staff, that's all we talk about, is what we learn from our guys. What did we learn about them? The guys have been like sponges. They've absorbed everything that we've thrown at them."
FT: From day one, you've talked about building a "brand" of Titan basketball. What have you done to set the groundwork and start establishing what it means to be a "Titan"?
DT: "We are really after their best effort on the floor and, when we don't get it, we won't move on to the next thing until we get, what we think, is their best. We've tried to stretch them outside of their comfort zone in that area. We're doing stuff in that area, defensively, that most people would, probably, frown upon, because we need to establish that we're going to guard people, take people out of their first option. So, what we've done, is try and provide these guys, in the summer, with our base defense, fundamentally, and we've really broken it down, we're going ultra slow and talking about all the different angles and all the different things that we think makes a good defense. That's what we've tried to give to them as we try to establish our brand. In order to play fast, you have to be able to guard people so you're not taking the ball out of the net and trying to push. We want to try to create deflections and get rebounds and immediately push it up the floor but, in order to do that, you have to guard people and that's kind of new to this group. We're trying to establish that with them as far as our brand, this is who we are, this is what we stand for so, when teams see us coming, they're going to have to really, really, work to get a bucket against us."
FT: So, it's almost like you're taking it back to 'Basketball 101' and the basics and teaching those things that, somehow, got lost along the way?
DT: "It's literally like 'Basketball 101,' almost like 'Day Camp 101,' with some of the things we're doing. You can't assume that these guys know anything and so, I apologize to them at the outset, that I am assuming that you know nothing, so don't get frustrated with me, bear with me, and, if you know it, act like you know it, show me you know it, and we'll move on. We've started there, once again, just to give them a base, just to give them a structure, because I don't feel like you can start way out in right field to try to get them home. You have to start at home and show them, fundamentally, how to get to first base. Show them, fundamentally, how to get to second base. Show them how to get back to first base, if they need to, and then move on and touch all of the bases in that analogy."
FT: Perhaps one of the biggest nuggets of the off-season has been the announcement that the first two days of the Wooden Legacy will be held on your home floor. What are your thoughts about hosting such a prestigious event and what impact it will have on your program?
DT: "I think the biggest impact that it will have is that we will have some of college basketball's best coaches, some of college basketball's most respected programs, in our gym and people will get a chance to get a preview of what NCAA Tournament teams look like early in the year. I think our community will get a different appreciation of what these programs look like, up close and personal, and I think that's the biggest impact that this opportunity will have for this community. For our ball club, we'll get the chance to see, what I think, is one of the best-coached teams in Arizona State, some of the most physical teams in Creighton and Marquette, and, obviously, San Diego State and College of Charleston, they all bring a different level of basketball in their own right. Our guys will be exposed to basketball from different levels and they'll get the chance to be up close and personal to some teams that we'll see playing in March and, I think, that will have a huge impact on our kids and our community to see what that looks like so it gives us something we can compare ourselves to and something to strive for as we build our program to be, what we hope, is a constant in the NCAA Tournament.
FT: Are you ready to get started?
DT: "I'm ready! There's no question about it. I'm looking forward to our first game and our first opportunity to be home and see our fans and allow them to see some of the work that we've put out up to that point. I'm excited about what this means for me personally, what it means for my family, what it means for the community but, most important, I'm most excited about what it means for our kids. To put them in an position to showcase what they've worked so hard for, what they've dreamed about, which is to play college basketball, have an opportunity to compete for a Big West Conference championship, and an opportunity to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. That's what this whole deal is about. I'm excited to find out where we are once we tip off and, then, figure out how well we can make adjustments to continue to push toward our dreams, our goals, and our aspirations of being the Big West Conference champion."
FT: It's good to be home?
FT: No place like home?
DT: "Exactly. The best place in Southern California is right here!"