Big Apple Buckets had a chance to catch up with Niagara Head Coach Joe Mihalich and talk about how he expects some of his players develop, his expectations for the season and who he thinks has the most talent in the MAAC coming into this season.
Big Apple Buckets: You return almost everyone who made starts from last season. How do you think you will set your rotation?
Joe Mihalich: The returns are all back. We’re excited about some freshmen but I always like to be, a little in fairness to the freshman, not put pressure on them you know. I don’t want to sit here and say, ‘this kid Tahjere McCall is going to be a surprise and we think T.J. Cline is also good’, I don’t want to do that. I just want to give them a chance to just be freshmen and you know kind of surprise people as oppose to you know. Frank Layden once told me, ‘it’s better to surprise them than disappoint them’ and I thought that was pretty good advice. I’d rather see our freshmen surprise people than me pump them up too much and then they’re going to disappoint somebody.
Big Apple Buckets: We all got to see Juan’ya Green burst onto the scene last season, winning MAAC Rookie of the Year, what do you look forward to seeing improve in his game this season?
Joe Mihalich: Well he’s a hungry guy. You know the great ones, the great ones are never satisfied and you know like what he did last year the accomplishments and so on and so forth. He’s as healthy as he can be in that regard, he’s just not satisfied. He wants to get better, he wants to be a better shooter and that’s why he’s a special player because he’s never satisfied.
He, like a lot of guys on our team, I think they want to become a little more consistent shooting the ball and I know he wants to limit some of his turnovers more.
Big Apple Buckets: Antoine Mason had a great first year as well, what do you see of as the keys for him to develop into a top player in the MAAC?
Joe Mihalich: I mean not to get caught up in numbers, you do look at the numbers a bit and I think all our players would do that too I mean he’s a hungry guy as well and he’s a tough tough kid. And he’s a fearless, fearless guy. We’re hoping that he can, just like all the other guys, do a better job with his shooting percentages and be a little more consistent shooting the ball.
We need somebody to step forward and say they’re going to be a lock down defender, I think if Antoine Mason ever decided to be that guy, he can be a lock down defender.
Big Apple Buckets: Where do you think your areas of improvement need to come from this season?
Joe Mihalich: Frontcourt. Both offensively and defensively, frontcourt has got to be better. Got to rebound more, got to defend more. Frontcourt.
Big Apple Buckets: What are you looking forward to when you get your first fall practice with this team?
Joe Mihalich: In general you just can’t wait to get on the floor with these guys, we’re just excited. … Of course if you’re not excited at this time of the year you shouldn’t be doing what we do but we just cant wait to get together with them and start getting to work.
Big Apple Buckets: What are the three keys to this season, the three things that will be the difference for your team to have a successful season?
Joe Mihalich: Rebound better, defend better and I would say shoot better. Let’s go ahead and say shoot better.
Big Apple Buckets: Where will you set expectations for this season?
Joe Mihalich: I’m going to sound like every other coach in the country and say we don’t care about everybody elses expectations it’s more about our expectations. Our expectations are that we can be one of the better teams in the league. But our league, you know, our league … Almost every member of our league can feel that they can win it all this year and they should because there’s going to be a lot of teams that are good.
Big Apple Buckets: Who would you peg right now as the team to beat?
Joe Mihalich: I’m going to say Loyola (MD) and Manhattan because everybody’s saying that but Canisius has the most talent in the whole league. They got more talent than anybody else, Canisius.
They had three kids sitting out last year, one kid started at Kansas State [Freddy Asprilla], one kid started at Central Florida [Issac Sosa] and the other kid was a NAIA 6’10” shot blocking player [Jordan Heath]. They got an all-conference kid coming back in Harold Washington and Baron’s son [Billy Baron, Rhode Island transfer] got the waiver. That’s a pretty good five right there isn’t it?