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A Conversation with Kevin Kuwik
A Conversation with Kevin Kuwik
Published by Swampy Meadows
A Conversation with Kevin Kuwik

BEVERLY HILLS (MI) – Recently “From the Swamp” was fortunate to have the chance to chat with UD Assistant Coach Kevin Kuwik. Buffalo native, Notre Dame graduate (in Mechanical Engineering, no less), Class President, Army veteran, rabid Yankee fan and outspoken advocate for airline safety, Coach Kuwik is essentially Dayton’s Renaissance Man of the Sidelines.

Our conversation got off to a false start, as the number Kevin had provided me to contact him was for his fax…he later admitted that’s the one he is always giving out. (That is, after all, how a LOI would be sent to UD, is it not?) After hearing his fax number ring a couple of times, Kevin figured it out and sent me his correct digits and we were able to connect.

FTS: We first met prior to the Michigan HS All-Star Game that Percy Gibson and LaDontae Henton played in here in Detroit. Did either of those guys give any consideration to staying with UD or were they pretty much already out the door when you and Archie got to Dayton?

KK: You see that happen nowadays any time there is a coaching change. You always try to re-recruit ‘em and see if you can convince them that your system could be a good fit for them. The thing that you’ll never know is that when Brian Gregory left and Archie showed up, it’s kind of a feeding frenzy and you have no idea who got to them or their AAU coaches. If they stay, it’s a pleasant surprise but nowadays it’s almost always gonna happen. What “Buckets” did at Providence, he might not have done at Dayton or what Percy did or didn’t do at Iowa State, he might have done or not done at Dayton—you never know. You gotta look forward all the time, you can’t dwell on what didn’t happen.

FTS: What is the division of labor between the assistant coaches with you, Tom and Allen? Do you rotate things or have specific duties?

KK: I think people have a vision of football coaches where you have a bigger staff and so they are much more specialized. With us, it’s much more interchangeable parts. I think every college basketball assistant coach potentially turning into a head coach down the line, you have to be able to handle all phases. In scouting reports, roughly every third game we each take a turn scouting the opponent. Position-wise, we each usually have three or four guys on the team that we kinda work with—sometimes it’s position-based, sometimes it isn’t; sometimes it’s the kids you recruited and have a relationship with. Obviously, recruiting-wise there is a lot of overlap. You work off of the relationships that you have already made in your past career and places that you worked…different AAU coaches and high school coaches that you know. We complement each other well in all of those areas, with all of our different backgrounds, the places we’ve been and the experiences that we’ve had. Don’t get me wrong—Archie Miller is the reason we are where we are, but I think the three of us have helped to support him in the way that each of us can. For us to be together for four years and grow as a staff, everyone kinda knows what the other guy can do and that can only help.

FTS: Archie described last season to David Jablonski as “panicking every day about what could go wrong.” How did you guys manage that stress? How do you keep the players from feeling it too?

KK: The kids found a way. Every coaching staff is always trying to push the right buttons to get the most out of the guys. The kids are the ones who still play the game and they find a way. With seven players you really can’t afford to have anybody having an off night. They’re kids but more often than not, everybody answered the bell. To me the amazing thing was we never lost two games in a row. That’s a great credit to their resiliency and just kinda hangin’ in there, rallying when some adversity hit. To look back at it, it’s pretty cool to see how it happened but you certainly don’t want to make a habit of doing it like that.

FTS: I’m sure it looks real good in the rearview mirror.

KK: Exactly! You could never really totally relax and enjoy it because you felt that any team on the schedule could beat you if you had some foul trouble or an injury or one or two guys had an off game -- you had no margin for error. Honestly, we were kinda white-knuckling it the whole year, from day-to-day which is not necessarily the way you want to do it.

FTS: Talk a little about Bobby Wehrli. If he doesn’t play up to that level, UD doesn’t make the Big Dance.

KK: No question. All seven of those guys, in their own way, were instrumental—you don’t get anywhere without all of them. But certainly you didn’t expect Bobby to have to fill that kind of role…that’s not why he was here at UD and that’s not why he was on the team. But it just shows you one of the beauties of college basketball is that a guy like that, circumstances arise, an opportunity presents itself and he is able to step up and he is able to find a way to contribute and to keep the train rollin’. It’s a great credit to him and it was kind of cool to see it all unfold, to be honest with you.

FTS: What do you and Archie look for when you are recruiting a prospect?

KK: You guys have watched us for four years, I think versatility is a big deal. I think this year’s team embodied that because we had to play guys in non-traditional positions to make it work. I think that versatility offensively, defensively is one. I think that two is skill level. I think he likes that the more guys out there that can shoot the ball, the more guys out there that can handle the ball and bring it up, fast break and pass the ball, the better. I think we are where we are in four years because our defense has gotten a lot better. But I think if you said what is the trademark of this team, it’s skill level—it’s guys that can move the basketball and attack the defense, spread ‘em out and move the ball around. When we are clicking, it’s really fun to watch. I think versatility, skill level and then the last thing is that you look at Archie’s background as kind of a self-made player with his dad and his brother, playing in the ACC at his size and to be the factor that he was --toughness. When you look at what some of the guys did this year -- Kendall, Kyle, those type of guys -- I think that’s the other thing that he really gravitates towards when he is looking at kids.

FTS: Take us thru the six new players who will be suiting up this year, starting with the four frosh and then Charles Cooke and Steve McElvene. What are their strengths? What do they need to work on?

KK: The thing I would lead off with is to under-promise and over-deliver. People ask “Did you have a good recruiting class?” Well, every coach thinks he has a good recruiting class; every fan base thinks they have a great recruiting class. I think you gotta let ‘em be kids and grow. You get a kid like Devin Oliver and it took him probably three years to get there, but what he ended up becoming was a really great thing. You don’t want a kid to be buried in his first two years by expectations, so I always try to qualify on the front-end with that.

John Crosby: He’s a tough city kid from Baltimore with really good ball skills; can really get in the paint; he can defend; he is a physical player. We didn’t have that change of pace with Scooch last year. For him to push Scooch every day and if he earns it, to be able play with Scooch at times will be great. Because he was at prep school for a fifth year, you are getting a kid who is a year older and a year wiser and played against great competition in the New England Prep School league. I think he’s gonna bring a lot to the table for us.

Ryan Mikesell: Obviously, he’s a local kid from St. Henry and not only did he have a phenomenal basketball career but he just finished up a great baseball career as well—he threw a no hitter in the State Playoffs. In the last two years he has really made a jump because he really worked on his shot. Sometimes, when you go up to that part of the state it’s really good high school sports but they end up playing football, basketball, baseball. As good as it is to play all of those sports, sometimes you lose out on your skill development because you’re not able to do basketball year ‘round. The time Ryan has put into his shot in the off-season has allowed him to kind of take the next step. He’s a 6’7” kid that can shoot, pass the ball and basically play point guard at times for his team. He has a really intriguing skill set and it will be interesting to see how he acclimates to making the jump to Division 1.

Xeyrius Williams: He’s a local kid and he’s from Huber Heights and they won the State title. I think the game has evolved to those long, lanky forwards that are skilled; that can shoot threes; that can put the ball on the floor. He just turned 18 yesterday, so he is really young for his grade. He’s practically 6’9”, he can shoot threes, he can get a rebound and push the fast break, I think he’s got a really neat skill set. As he develops, I think we always looked at him as having similarities to Devin, as far as coming in physically with a little bit of room for growth, but with a really neat skill set. A really great kid with a high IQ and a character kid that from a coachability standpoint should give you a chance to make him into a really good player. We are excited about him.

Sam Miller: A kid who is coming from the DC Catholic League, one of the best high school leagues in the country. We always like to compare his game to Halil Kanacevic who was at St. Joe’s a couple of years ago. Sam is probably a much better athlete than that, but he’s a guy that can go inside, go outside, that can pass the ball, can shoot, can put it on the floor --at 6’9”. Going back to Archie’s thing, I don’t know if he is a 4 or a 5, he’s just a really good basketball player. He’s skilled and he’s versatile and has played against great competition. He’s another intriguing guy for us that we can plug into the front court and see how that works.

Steve McElvene: Steve has made good strides in his redshirt year and physically has lost a lot of weight and has been working on his skill development. He’s got really good hands; he moves well for his size; he’s got a really good touch, so I think there are some really good tools there. I think with bigs it’s always a maturation thing – you need to be patient. There are probably going to be some really good flashes and some probably not-so-good flashes, but everyone says “we need to have a big guy” so here’s a big guy. People need to be patient and let him play thru his mistakes. We are glad we have him. Last year he was a big asset practicing against him every day – guys get used to finishing shots when he’s around the rim and blocks shots. Every team looked at us last year and said “they don’t have any big guys, throw the ball inside” well our guys got to guard him inside every day and it prepared them. I think our post defense was one of our strengths, despite the fact that we were that small. Steve deserves a lot of credit for that. If we are patient with him, he’s got some great potential.

Charles Cooke: Charles is a little different. We had good luck with transfers with Vee and with Jordan. Vee and Jordan came from higher levels and didn’t really get a chance to show what they could do. Obviously they came here and you play for Archie Miller for a year as a redshirt and he’s gonna get you better. That’s kind of his thing and his family’s thing. Both of those guys were new players after they sat out here for a year, whether it was adding to their shot or their body, whatever. Charles came in and it’s different because he was looking for all of the same things – getting stronger, more physical, developing his shot, adding to his skill set. He put up really good numbers at James Madison in two years and now it’s like ‘I want to show I can play at a higher level on a bigger stage.’ The way he’s handled the redshirt year as a great teammate who worked really hard, I think we are really excited about him, too.

All of our guys have some big shoes to fill with Jordan leaving, but I know they are working their butts off this summer and someone always steps up.

FTS: So numbers-wise there are still up to two scholarships to be filled, correct?

KK: Yeah…if you’ve watched us for four years, you know that we don’t really show our cards. You might get Archie to say something here, but as assistants that’s not really kind of our job to get out on that. One thing that people lose sight of is that I don’t even know that we have carried 13 players in any year. A big thing in this day and age is to have good chemistry, you want the guys to be happy. Sometimes having 13 players, everyone is not happy. Two years ago, we probably played 11 out of 12 scholarship guys every night and that was a way to keep everybody happy. This year, we only had 7 guys and everyone knew they were gonna play every night -- that kept everyone happy. It’s not necessarily ideal, it’s not the way it was in past generations, but I think it’s a reality of today that you have to kind of manage your roster. More is not always…more, I guess you could say.

FTS: So, how key was Marty the bus driver to UD’s success in the Elite Eight run?

KK: I don’t know…I think one of the neat things about this deal is that you always come up with these superstitions. There’s obviously no correlation to how you do on the court, but it’s kinda cool to have some of that stuff. He was in Buffalo and did pretty good for us; next thing you know, he’s in Memphis and that worked out pretty good for us and then we saw him at Bonaventure. He’s on a pretty good streak for us!

As we closed the conversation, Kevin mentioned that he will be getting married this summer. Best wishes to you and the soon-to-be Mrs. Kuwik and good luck in the upcoming 2015-2016 season, Coach!

You can follow Kevin Kuwik on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/kevinkuwik

That’s it “From the Swamp.”
You can email me at: swampy@udpride.com
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