Hawaii coach Benjy Taylor made his first guest appearance at the Honolulu Quarterback Club on Monday. He was a hit.
There were about 50 people at the Maple Garden Restaurant, the usual site of the weekly QB Club meetings. Open seats were few. Two of the local TV networks turned up.
“Unbelievable. They tell me they don’t usually get crowds like this so it was an unbelievable experience,” Taylor said afterward. “It was just a tribute to the kind of season we had, and a tribute to the players, really. It was a lot of fun. Great group. Great location, great food. I’ll be back here again, just to eat.”
The interim coach was well received, earning applause as he described the 2014-15 season and what he hoped to accomplish if he is retained, not replaced, after the current coaching search.
He was asked some tough questions about his future and other matters from the crowd during his post-speech question-and-answer period.
“Tough group … Those guys, they don’t hold any punches with the questions,” Taylor said. “But they want to know what they want to know. It was a lot of fun, though.”
Taylor leaves Tuesday for the Final Four in Indianapolis. There, he will be honored at the CollegeInsider.com awards banquet on Friday for his midseason Hugh Durham Award. Besides that, he hopes to make strides on the schedule for 2015-16.
“The Final Four’s always busy. Catching up with old friends, going to the different conventions and meetings,” he said. “I’ve already been getting emails on scheduling, I want to get together on scheduling. It’s just easier to do it face-to-face. I need to do a big jump on scheduling when I get there; that’s going to be a lot of my time spent.
“We got about two or three more home games to get. Trying to stay away from the home-and-homes, so trying to strike (stand-alone home games) while the iron is hot. So we’ll see what happens. … Of course, I’ve got to sit down with (new athletic director) David Matlin and see what his scheduling thoughts are. We’ve done a lot of work on it already. We’re close. We’ve made good headway.”
Upon his return, he said he plans to bring in some recruits for official visits the weekend of April 17.
“Hopefully we can get those guys done,” Taylor said.
One thing of interest Taylor mentioned at the QB Club podium was his recruiting targeting. He said he felt good about his needs for a guard — you can take that to mean North Idaho College sophomore Austin Pope — while he’s still going after a back-to-the-basket big man. With his last two available scholarships, he said he’d like to find a transfer (likely a Division I player who can sit out a year) and a freshman 3-point shooting specialist, ala Bo Barnes from Gib Arnold‘s first season.
“If the NCAA decides to take scholarships, we’ll be fine,” he said, alluding to the still-unresolved possible sanctions hanging over the program. “We got a great team coming back, we’ll fill a couple of holes, and we’ll go from there.”
Taylor has handled the spotlight well most of the just-concluded season. However, he conceded in a one-on-one interview just after his QB Club appearance that all the job speculation, day-to-day intrigue and off-court questions about team discipline are wearing on him a bit.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s tough. Really, really tough,” Taylor said. “I understand the process. I think it just goes to show that, I think when everything happened (with Arnold’s dismissal), there was a game plan in place. But the fact that we had such a successful year is a little confusing to some people. And you know, I’m just really shocked at the backlash of some people, in terms of the student-athletes and what we’ve accomplished in general. … We’re under such a microscope, it’s really ridiculous the kind of microscope that we’re under. And with that being said, we still were able to figure out a way to win. So that’s why I know whatever comes down the road with the sanctions, this group, if they stay together, we can find a way. We’re built for that. But yeah, it’s tough.”
Taylor was candid in his responses to questions asked by QB Club members, as well.
Here’s a transcript of some of them:
Q: Have you gotten any calls from the mainland (other schools)?
A: Wow. … Let’s just say, my only focus right now is being the head basketball coach here. And I’m going to see that through until somebody tells me differently. And then I’ll pursue whatever options are left out there after that. But I was a good basketball coach before I got here. I had a reputation before I got here. I’ve been blessed prior to getting here, and I’ve been blessed even more since staying here. This last five months have been a life-changing experience for me, on and off the floor. I’m very, very grateful for that. So whatever happens in the next couple of weeks, I’m a blessed man, and my family’s blessed. I think those players have been blessed. But it wouldn’t be right for me to pursue something that my heart’s not into, because my heart’s in the game here. And that wouldn’t be fair to the other schools. A lot of people do that, though. A lot of people who are going to apply for this job, don’t really want this job. Don’t really know about this job. It just sounds good. Hawaii? Sounds great! But this is a place, in order to be successful, you’ve got to coach from your heart here. And my heart’s here, and until somebody breaks it, I don’t really see a need to pursue anything else yet. We had a good year, let’s just put it that way. And I’m in a good place.
Q: From my point of view, the NCAA violations appear to be really manini. Is that true from your perspective as well?
A: Boy, you guys are tough, man. … Wow. (Pauses). Look, I will just have to say no comment to that right now. But I will say that, whatever happens, this group can still be very successful. I really believe that. Young men are resilient. They really are. As long as it’s nothing that would prohibit them from following their dreams and playing at the highest level, we can get through this. This group can get through this. I believe that. The NCAA is going all over the country, in a lot of different schools, and they’ve got a tough job. University has a tough job. They’ll get it worked out. But 10 years from now, it really will be manini, I think.
Q: I thought your team lost some leads this season when it got careless. Was that your observation, or is that just the way the players play?
A: That is definitely my observation. You know, the way we play is a game of runs. It takes a lot of discipline to play your best every night. And I think we played our best (almost) every night. We never got blown out. We fought as hard as we could every night. That takes a lot of discipline and a lot of focus. So we started off every game for the most part pretty good, and sometimes we’d go to the bench and lose leads. Fatigue would set in. But you know, when you watch the NCAA Tournament, it happens to Rick Pitino. It happens to everybody. Not just us. But you know, we won our share of close games and lost our share of leads. But we got better at that as the season progressed. And I think next year we’ll win even more close games like that. (This season we had) one returning starter, one senior, nobody on the roster who played more than nine minutes a game of Division I basketball. So, no team in the country was that inexperienced. … Not even close. And they made mistakes. I made mistakes. Call a timeout here, call a timeout there, sub a different guy, not sub a guy. I watched the film after the games, I’m the first one to say, ‘well, I shouldn’t have did that.’ But shoot, just the players gotta get better, I gotta get better. And I think it takes a good coach to understand that. We’re all in it together, and we’ll improve. Next year we’ll hold onto that lead and stretch it out, stretch it out. And I think next year can be another special year for us. I really do, but it’s a great observation, and yes, I certainly noticed it.
Q: Are any players leaving early?
A: As far as I know, everyone’s returning. … It’s interesting, every time I look at my phone (for Twitter), somebody’s transferring. Guys from Xavier, a guy leaving Louisville. They went to the Elite Eight. So, kids are naturally unhappy. But I don’t foresee us losing anyone currently on the team.