GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - One year ago today, Brian Wardle became a 30-year old head basketball coach at the NCAA Division I level after displaying a fiery passion and intensity for five years as an assistant coach that impressed Green Bay Director of Athletics Ken Bothof.
Wardle hit the ground running last April, adding a number of talented players to his roster that included Horizon League All-Newcomer team selection Alec Brown (Winona, Minn.).
On the court, Wardle led the young Phoenix squad through an up-and-down season with a 14-18 record, including a 7-9 record in Horizon League play. He challenged his team immediately, playing a schedule that included nine games against the nation's RPI top-50. Despite losing a number of heartbreakers, Green Bay ended the season with a 6-5 record in games decided by five points or less.
Aside from Brown, who was the lone player to start all 32 games for the Phoenix, Wardle will return three other players who started a combined 63 games. Jarvis Williams (Milwaukee, Wis.) and Steve Baker (St. Paul, Minn.) will transition from junior college newcomers into senior leaders while Daniel Turner (McCordsville, Ind.) will look to build on a solid freshman season alongside Brown on the frontline.
365 days into his new gig, Wardle reflects on his first year at the helm and
looks forward to the future of Green Bay Basketball.
You have officially ended year number one on the job here at Green Bay. Did
time fly for you in the past year?
A: "Absolutely, it went by very quickly. I think there is just so much on your plate. When I got the job we had to sign four guys and get four games scheduled, and that alone took up my whole spring and whole summer. So it was busy, and by that point the season was kicking in and the next thing you know the season is over. It flew by and I think the next years to come I will enjoy it even more because the first year is playing catch up to get everything done."
When you reflect back on the first year, was the job similar to what you
expected? What were the biggest differences between being a head coach and an
A: "It was similar to what I expected. I think the biggest different no doubt about it are the non-basketball activities and balancing your time between your family and your team and raising money and being in the community marketing your program. All the non-basketball activities are by far what separates the two positions."
You talked at your introductory news conference about connecting with the
community and making the program visible in Northeast Wisconsin. You certainly
have made that a priority by doing numerous media interviews, holding a weekly
coaches show at The Bar, speaking at local functions and getting your team
involved in community service events. Have you enjoyed that part of being a
head coach and how do you think the community has embraced you?
A: "I love being out in the community and being around people. I am a people person, and I think I did a pretty good job of that, but I think I will do a better job my second year because I will not be so overwhelmed with everything. I think the community has embraced this young team. I think they are still looking to see what we are made of, but I think after next season with our youth and how hard we play and how competitive we are I think people are really going to be excited about coming out to see us play."
You have mentioned that you take notes throughout the year that you will go
back and look at down the line. Have you had a chance to do that? What are some
of the things you learned this season?
A: "I definitely looked back already at my basketball notes. I took a lot of notes about what we did offensively and defensively, when we put certain things in and our practice plans. Just looking to tweak different things that I think can make our program better. We have gone over that stuff as a staff. I also take notes on myself personally and things I can do better. No doubt about it that includes continuing to balance my time and spend extra time with my players on the floor. That is something I am really focusing on next year."
Two things that you stressed from the beginning to your players were defense
and rebounding. Your team had a rebounding margin of plus-1.7 and had at least
as many rebounds as its opponents in 21 of 32 games. After a slow start on the
defensive end, it was a Phoenix strength late in the season. In Horizon League
play, you ranked third in the conference in field goal percentage defense at
43.8 percent. Access your team's play and progress in those areas?
A: "Great progress. We finished top three in our league play in field goal percentage defense which is a first time we have done that since I have been here, and we only got outrebounded six out of 19 times in league play. Those things have to become our identity, and I think if you ask anyone in our program right now, 'what is going to get you on the floor?' and 'what does coach Wardle preach?,' they are going to say we have to guard and we have to rebound. That foundation was laid."
You had numerous newcomers make solid contributions this season to compliment
A: "I think the guys that we brought into our program as freshmen and junior college guys had outstanding years. They were a little inconsistent, but that is normal with first-year guys, and I think that might be why we are a team were inconsistent with offense. Defensively, rebounding and our effort got pretty consistent, but offensively we were up and down a little bit, and that just comes with incorporating a lot of new guys."
Recruiting is a major part of building a program. What have you been telling
recruits over the past year about Green Bay Basketball?
A: "The nice thing about the class we signed in 2011 is that now I do not have to tell people a lot about Green Bay Basketball because we have a nice buzz going on about our staff, the type of people we are and how hard we work, the type of kids we have in our program, and the young talent we have. When you have young talent and you are going to play in the Horizon League, which is such a huge selling point now, recruiting kind of takes care of itself in a way. Now our goal is just to get them up to Green Bay, because once they get to Green Bay we can get it done. We are confident in the facilities we have and what we have to offer that recruits will enjoy. We talk about the league, the schedule we play, the youth and the sports crazy city of Green Bay."
What characteristics are you looking for in a future Phoenix player?
A: "Number one, I like competitors. I like guys that not only play hard but compete, have intangibles and that have high motors. In every class you look for something new and what is going to make your team better, and obviously in 2012 we are looking for some guys that can shoot the ball with a high skill level."
What are you most excited about moving forward into season number two?
A: "I am excited about coaching this young team. We are going to have a lot of freshmen and sophomores. I'm looking forward to seeing how steps up as a leader and how develops. Having those two guys as a foundation of the program is something people in Green Bay should be excited about, and something that I am excited about moving forward."