Corey’s Story: HoopsHD interviews TCU legend Corey Santee

TCU had a year to remember in 2017: after upsetting Kansas in the Big 12 tourney last March they made the NIT and won 5 games in a row to clinch the title, then started this season 12-0 before losing by 1 PT to Oklahoma on December 30th.  Coach Jamie Dixon has received much of the credit for turning around a program that went 12-21 in 2016 before he showed up, but his staff has played a large role as well, including grad assistant Corey Santee.  He was originally recruited by Billy Tubbs to attend college at TCU back in the day and finished his career as the all-time AST leader and #2 career scorer in school history.  After graduating in 2005 he played professionally for several years but is now back in Fort Worth as he tries to help his alma mater make it to the NCAA tourney for the 1st time in 20 years.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Corey about single-handedly making life miserable for Marquette fans in the mid-2000s and whether it is a good thing to have multiple PGs on 1 team.

You grew up in Flint, MI and were rated as the #1 PG in the state as a senior: what made you choose the Horned Frogs instead of following the “Flintstones” (Mateen Cleaves/Morris Peterson/Charlie Bell) to East Lansing? They did not really start recruiting me at 1st so I kind of had a chip on my shoulder about that! I went to Coach Steve Fisher’s camps at Michigan for several years and really wanted to go there until he left in 1997.  An assistant coach at TCU wrote me a couple of letters and there were so many good coaches in their league at the time (Bob Huggins/Tom Crean/Rick Pitino/John Calipari/etc.) that I wanted to be a part of it and create a name for myself.

In 2002 you were named to the CUSA all-freshman team: how were you able to come in and contribute right from the start? They threw me into the fire but it was nice to have the ball in my hands and get to lead a run and gun offense. I could not have asked for a better situation because the veterans on the team trusted me to play PG.

In the 2004 CUSA tourney you scored 10 PTS including a 1-handed floater with 8 seconds left in a 2-PT win over Marquette and in the 2005 CUSA tourney you scored 8 PTS including a 3-PT shot with 11.8 seconds left in a 3-PT OT win over Marquette: how were you able to play your best when it mattered the most, and are you banned from ever setting foot on the Golden Eagles’ campus?! As a kid you are just playing outside in the driveway, counting down the clock (5-4-3-2-1), and then putting up a shot at the buzzer. I thrived on it and relished those moments…but it was crazy to do it 2 years in a row against the same team!

You remain #2 in school history in PTS and #1 in AST: what is the key to being a good PG? Those are very nice accomplishments. You need to be a vocal leader: even when you are hurt during practice you have to pick up your own level of play. You need to be a leader on and off the court: you can have fun in college but it is a brotherhood so you have to make sure that your teammates are making the right decisions and that everyone is trying to reach the same goal on the court.

After graduation you spent several years playing pro basketball in the D-League as well as several countries: what is the biggest difference between basketball in the US vs. basketball overseas? At that time the teams overseas viewed American players as cocky/arrogant so it was hard to get along with my teammates at 1st until they got to know me personally. There is much more physicality overseas and every single big man can shoot from outside on pick-and-pop plays. The fans there are really into it: painted faces/confetti/etc.! There are only 2 rounds in the NBA draft (unlike 7 in the NFL), so even though there are plenty of NBA-caliber players who just did not make it to the NBA, they all go overseas so there is a lot of great competition around the world.

Last October you were inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame: where does that rank among the highlights of your career? It is a blessing and right now is at the very top. I had goals of trying to make my family/city proud of me, so to be recognized as 1 of the best players to come here is amazing.  I could never have planned it working out so well and there is such a great atmosphere here.

You are in the middle of your 1st year as a grad assistant to Coach Jamie Dixon at your alma mater: what makes him such a great coach, and what is the most important thing that you have learned from him so far? He always stays level no matter what and is always positive/encouraging to everybody. He pays attention to the details and learns everyone’s strengths/weaknesses to get the best out of everyone. He is the captain of the ship and it is cool to watch him lead us.

Your roster has a pair of good PGs in Jaylen Fisher/Alex Robinson: does it make life easier (because there is always a backup who can take over in case of injury/foul trouble to the starter) or harder (because you can only have 1 guy running the offense at a time)? I think it is great. They still need to be more vocal but now that they see they are better with each other they just push each other so hard in practice to be the best they possibly can. They each bring a different dynamic so we are lucky to have both of them.

You began this season 12-0 thanks to 1 of the best offenses in the country but have lost 4 conference games since Christmas by a total of 11 PTS (including 2 in OT): what makes the Big 12 the best conference in the country, and what is the key to winning games that go down to the wire? The Big 12 is the toughest conference because we have great coaches, experienced teams, and fantastic fans. We just need to finish games when we are up by 6 PTS with 2 minutes to go by doing all the little things: huddling up, taking care of the ball, and making big shots down the stretch.

2 of those losses were to Oklahoma, whose star PG Trae Young averaged 41 PPG/7.5 RPG/10.5 APG against you, made 16 threes, and committed 16 TO: I know it is a small sample size but where does he rank among the greatest college basketball players that you have ever seen? He has to be up there.  I am usually hard on our opponents but he has been great in both games against us. I like past PGs like Allen Iverson/Kemba Walker but the offense runs through Trae because he takes chances and is great in the pick-and-roll due to his unlimited range. He has a great IQ and is 1 of the best PGs in the game right now.

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