Marty Simmons fielded questions from Missouri Valley Conference beat writers for about 10 minutes on Monday during the league’s media day teleconference. Here’s what he had to say:
Impressions of being picked fifth: “I guess I don’t put a lot of stock into preseason rankings. I think Creighton is very well-deserved. They’ve got a tremendous amount of players back and coming off a terrific season. I’m sure they have good players recruited as well. It’s just hard for each program to recognize the new players and the impact they’re going to have. I think more times than not, you look at where you finished the year before, guys you’ve back and so on and so forth. But it’s a start, and we’ll keep working at it.”
Do you feel like the MVC can be more than a one-bid league, and how does your team fit into that? “I certainly hope so…I look at last year, and I think had Illinois State won the tournament we probably would have had three teams in there. I think the league this year can be as good, if not better, than what it was last year. I just don’t look at – never have looked at – the Missouri Valley as a one-bid league. I just think with the coaches and players that are in this league and environments we play in, the competition that each school competes against and the success we’ve had in the non-conference that it warrants more than one bid.
How difficult is it to compete and win in the MVC with a young team? “It’s hard to compete and win with an old team. That’s just the nature of the beast with this league. It’s so well-recruited and well-coached, and again, I think the environments you play in night in and night out are tough. That’s some of the greatest selling points that we have in recruiting is, the competition and the atmospheres and everything are real difficult. I’d think having guys who have been through this more than others would help, but it just comes down to mentality, ability to execute and have guys step up in particular situations – all the things I’m sure each coach is talking to their team about right now.”
How is Egidijus Mockevicius doing? “He’s doing real well right now, and it’s been a slow transition in that he’s actually been in America 50 days now. So that part’s been kind of slow, just adapting to school work and terminology and things like that. He gets better every day, and he’s definitely somebody that as we move forward is going to make an impact on our team.”
Where would you like to see Colt Ryan take his game this year to get it to another level? “He’s really done that each and every year. He’s just a driven individual in that he has a passion for the game, loves living in the gym and works on different areas of his game. He’s always been able to raise that bar. He’s like a Peyton Manning. He loves to watch tape, learning about himself and his teammates and opponents. Leadership – I think every year he’s gotten better. If we’re to have any success at all it’s going to be because of our leadership, and he’s someone who takes great pride and tries to improve every part of his game. He’s as strong as he’s ever been. He’s as fit as he’s ever been. He obviously played very well the other night against Southern Indiana. He’s a driven young man.”
What kind of role do you expect for Jordan Nelson this year? “We’d like to see him in a more productive role. He’s an outstanding 3-point shooter, and he’s really working hard on his ball handling and his ability to run an offense from the point guard position. We look at him more as a combo guard that can get into position. We just need him to be more solid offensively and defensively, but he’s someone who we need to make an impact on our team.
Did the new practice facility show a need to invest in the program to keep up in the Valley? “Well, I think the big thing on that was just that when we played at Roberts Stadium, we really practiced out there at Roberts maybe 90 percent of the time. We didn’t really practice at the Carson Center a whole lot. Now with the Ford Center and the IceMen and hockey, they’ve done a great job of filling it and we don’t get the practice time in there. We felt like it would be something that not only in the future could enhance recruiting and things like that, but really from a space standpoint.”
How’s the makeup of the team change without Denver Holmes? “Denver and Kenny (Harris) both made big impacts on our team…Denver was a relentless cutter in our halfcourt offense, and his athletic ability allowed him to maybe create shots off catches that other players couldn’t do. He bought into being a guy who moved without the basketball. Defensively he was someone we counted on to be a stopper. We’re working on that now.”