12 Essential Questions for. . . Ralph Willard
For the second year, Ralph Willard has taken time from his preseason preparations to answer questions for posting on the CROSSPORTS site. As we all know, Ralph has accomplished a great deal in a relatively short period of time in restoring the winning tradition of Holy Cross basketball. What comes through in these answers is more than a talented basketball coach teaching his players how to succeed -- there is also a true dedication to Holy Cross and a desire to aim for even greater heights. I hope we all resolve to make an effort to attend games this season and cheer on our team. My thanks to Ralph for responding, and to all readers for your interest in Holy Cross.
Bill Cambria '69
12 ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS FOR . . . RALPH WILLARD
1. Looking ahead to the 2003-2004 season, with a high-profile game at Louisville and three games at Madison Square Garden, are you eager to get started?
Iím eager to start but we need a tremendous amount of work. We are not a very good offensive team yet and roles have still to be defined. Plus, learning to play through fatigue is a learned skill that we must develop if we are to press consistently this year. Our schedule is very challenging and being in MSG is a great step forward for the program, but right now it scares me to think we are 9 days away from our first game.
2. Last season was special Ė 26 wins. Is there anything from that experience that will carry over to this yearís team?
Each yearís team is like a newborn. Same parents but usually very different than last yearís, with its own personality, its own strengths and weaknesses. So I donít expect a big carry over from last yearís team because we lost its heart and soul with the graduation of the four seniors. What I can count on is that the returning players understand me (no easy task) and understand what has made OUR PROGRAM good.
3. Holy Cross graduated some special basketball players in 2003, and with them goes a great deal of scoring and leadership. How do you prepare this team to succeed despite these losses?
Scoring and leadership at this level are not easy to replace. Experienced teams are almost always the best. Our 2001 team with 3 seniors was much better than the 2002 team and the 2003 team with 4 seniors was probably our best. Thus this yearís team will be a lot like 2002 and I have to have PATIENCE and TEACH and TEACH until they find their identity. Leadership will have to come from me and the staff until on the floor vocal leadership has developed, which as of right now it hasnít.
4. I am sure you were pleased to see Sean Doherty move on to a leadership position in another program. What effect will the change in the coaching staff have?
My obligation is to move my coaches as soon as they are ready. I have always done this. Therefore, though you will always miss someone who has been with you a couple of years, we are always preparing for this to happen and preparing our other coaches to move on as well.
5. Recruiting always generates lots of discussion among Holy Cross fans. What can we expect to see from the four young men who will be freshmen this year?
I believe our four freshmen will develop into good players. But with the recruits you get at the Patriot level you are recruiting them for what you hope they will become, not what they are now. Generally speaking, if you HAVE to play freshmen at our level your team will not be very good.
6. It seems that the Ireland trip was a great experience for everyone. What did the games played in Ireland tell you about this yearís team?
It reinforced the quality of our kids in the program and also how much this team must improve in order to reach the level we want to compete at. It also gave us a head start at defining some roles on our team.
7. Jave Meade has demonstrated he is a special basketball player. What do you expect from him this season?
I expect what I always expect from Jave, extremely intelligent unselfish play that makes everyone around him better. What I canít expect is for him to put this team on his back either from a scoring or leadership standpoint. Others have to emerge to help him in both areas.
8. In the last few seasons, Holy Cross has shown great dependence on its front court players. What should we look for this season?
Good offense and good defense always starts in the middle and we will always try to establish that.
9. One difference between this yearís team and past teams seems to be better overall team speed. Does this factor into your pre-season planning at all?
We want to be more uptempo on both ends of the floor since we are quicker than in the past. But that wonít change the fact that we will, as always, emphasize valuing the ball and defending the basket.
10. Lafayette returns four starters, and some magazines are picking the Leopards as pre-season favorites. Who do you see as the principal contenders in the Patriot League in 2003-2004?
As I mentioned earlier, teams with experience are tough to beat. Both Lafayette and Colgate have experienced teams with at least two "go to" players they can depend on every night. Right now I think this separates them from everyone else, including us. It is what separated us last year from the rest of the league. Our challenge as always is to keep getting our team better and make the whole better than the sum of the parts.
11. Have you accomplished all that you hoped to build support for Holy Cross basketball from the student body, alumni and greater Worcester community?
I am proud of what we have accomplished, but am far from satisfied. Pride in the program is back. Interest is back. Recognition is back (see 3 games in MSG). I do, however, feel our school has much more potential, but I donít know if we can reach that potential in our current venue. That being said, we are going to continue working to build the program in a way we all can be proud of. So letís ALL take pride in where our students have taken the program.
12. Is there anything you would like to say to supporters of Holy Cross basketball as we look forward to the new season?
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