Chatting with the Champ: HoopsHD interviews draft prospect Nate Britt

A lot of players in next week’s draft improved their stock with a memorable moment during the NCAA tourney but only a handful of them have a championship ring.  After watching his brother Kris Jenkins beat him to win the 2016 NCAA title for Villanova with the most clutch shot ever, Nate Britt won his own title last April as part of the Tar Heels.  He was known for playing tough defense and finished his career as 1 of the best free throw shooters in UNC history.  Earlier today HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to speak with Nate about his Hall of Fame coach and his family’s 2 titles.

You played for Coach Roy Williams at North Carolina: what makes him such a great coach, and what is the most important thing that you have ever learned from him? His preparation: of all the coaches I have ever played for he did the best job of preparing his team for any situation, so during games we were just acting on instinct and did not need to make a lot of adjustments. He taught me the importance of being a good person and treating people with respect. We had a “thought of the day” at each practice and the 1 that I remember the most was that you cannot control the winds but you can adjust the sails: if you cannot control something then you should not stress out or get off course.

As someone who has been right in the middle of the Duke-UNC rivalry for the past several years, how do you explain it to people who have never seen it before? It is hard to put into words the emotions that get going as we prepared for those games and then played them. It is the most exciting adrenaline rush leading up to the game, and then during the game there is so much excitement that it almost feels surreal. In most games the adrenaline wears off after a few moments, but in that game there each player has an adrenaline rush the entire time.

In the 2014 NCAA tourney DeAndre Kane made a layup in the final seconds and then you took the inbounds pass and sprinted up the court to call a timeout: what the heck happened with the clock, and do you feel that the referees should have put time back on the clock rather than just give Iowa State a 2-PT win? I do think that the refs should have put some time on the clock because it was obvious that we wanted a timeout and Coach Williams was signaling for it. I have never gone back to look back at the film and see if there was any time left when I signaled for a timeout, but I think the problem was that they started the clock late. As a player you always keep an eye on the clock so I thought that there was still time left.

After shooting jumpers left-handed as a freshman you switched to shooting them right-handed as a sophomore (while still shooting FTs from the left side): why did you do that, and how did it work out? I am naturally left-handed but did not shoot well from the 3-PT line as a freshman: my major issue was confidence. I talked to my father and Coach Williams about switching hands because I would sometimes do that during pickup games. I put in a lot of time during that summer to see if the switch would help. I took a whole lot of shots: it was looking pretty good by the time the season started and it has worked pretty well ever since then.

As a sophomore you made 60-68 FT (88.2%), which is 2nd-best in school history: what is the key to making FTs? I finished my career over 80% so I definitely did not want to switch hands and get away from that. It is just about practice: if you put in the time to get better then it will become routine. After I do a drill I try to make 5 FTs in a row before switching to another drill. It is an easy shot from the same distance that is not contested: it will ease your mind because shooting is mostly about confidence.

In the 2016 NCAA title game you scored 2 PTS and your adopted brother Kris Jenkins helped Villanova beat you with the game-winning 3-PT shot at the buzzer: did you think that he was going to make it, and how has that shot changed your relationship (if at all)? I definitely knew the shot was going in: I told people after the game that anyone who knows him knew the game was over as soon as he caught the pass. He did not give me a hard time about it because he knew how hard it was for me to lose that game. It did not change our relationship too much: it just gave him more of a reason to support me last spring when he got knocked out of the tourney early, but I think that he would have been there either way because that is how our family supports each other. We always played on the same team growing up and we still try to watch each other play as much as possible.

Take me through the magical 2017 NCAA tourney:
In the Elite 8 Malik Monk made a 3-PT shot with 2 defenders in his face to tie the game at 73 with 7.2 seconds left, then Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left to clinch a 2-PT win over Kentucky: how was your blood pressure doing by the end of that game?! It was definitely up and down. When Monk took his shot I thought there was no way it was going in, and then my heart definitely dropped because it was like our game against the Wildcats earlier that season where he made a 3 at the end of the game. It also reminded me of the 2016 title game in terms of each team making a big shot in the final seconds.

In the title game you scored 2 PTS in a 6-PT win over Gonzaga: what did it mean to you to win a title, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus? Awesome! It meant everything to me. We talked amongst ourselves that it was time for Carolina to win another title.  Being a part of our basketball program puts you in an elite group, but to win a championship makes it even more special. We feel that we finally have a seat at the table along with the other players who have left their mark on the university. It was electric when we returned to campus: we had a welcome party at the Dean Dome. The campus had been extremely dead the previous April after we lost, so to be able to experience that kind of energy with the rest of the student body was great.

You played 151 games during your college career: do you think NBA teams view that as an advantage (experience and spent 4 years learning all the fundamentals) or disadvantage (a 1-and-done guy might have less wear and tear on his body)? It depends. I do not think that anyone would see it as a disadvantage other than the fact that an 18-year old freshman might have a higher ceiling as a “project” based on his ability. It may not be the best option for some teams who want to make a guy into whoever they want but I see it as an advantage.

You wore #0 to prove people wrong who thought you were a “zero”: what # do you want to wear in the pros, and why? My next # will have to be 13: I was born on the 13th so that is my favorite #. I was also a big Steve Nash fan, which has a little bit to do with it as well. I told the UNC fans that I would never wear #0 again because there is no reason to wear it going forward due to all of the support that they gave me.

What would it mean to you to get drafted: a validation of your college career, the realization of a lifelong dream, or other? Almost every kid who plays basketball hopes to make it to the NBA, so being able to put on the hat of the team that picks you would be a dream come true. I have already had a few of my dreams come true: going to Carolina, playing for Coach Williams, winning a national championship, etc. As a 10-year old I just wanted to play for the Tar Heels, but hearing my name called at the draft would be like reaching the top of the mountain.

Finally the Finals: HoopsHD interviews Wes Unseld Jr. about his famous father

Since the Finals did not end in a sweep last Friday night and Father’s Day is right around the corner, what better time for an interview with the son of a former Finals MVP.  Wes Unseld won back-to-back Kentucky state high school championships before becoming a 2-time All-American at Louisville.  Drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in 1968, he won Rookie of the Year & MVP in 1969 and was named Finals MVP in 1978 after helping lead the Bullets to a Game 7 road win at Seattle.  In 1988 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and in 1996 he was named 1 of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with his son Wes Unseld Jr. about being a great rebounder at Louisville and winning an NBA title.  

Your father was a 2-time all-state performer at Seneca High School and won back-to-back Kentucky state titles in 1963/1964: what did it mean to him to win a pair of titles? I am sure it meant a lot to him: he has lasting memories of that.

He stayed in his hometown of Louisville for college, where he led the conference in rebounding for 3 straight years (1966-1968): how was he able to be so dominant throughout his college career? His mentality when he stepped on the floor, especially when it came to rebounding, was that every shot was a miss so he would always put himself in position to rebound the ball.

What are your memories of the 1968 NCAA tourney (he had 23 PTS/22 REB in a loss to Houston, who was led by Elvin Hayes with 35 PTS/24 REB)? He spoke of that occasionally because he and Elvin later became opponents and then teammates in the NBA. It was an important game because it was the culmination of his college career.

He was named an All-American in 1967/1968: what did it mean to him to win such outstanding  honors? Anytime you get recognized for something that you love to do it is a tremendous honor.

In the summer of 1968 he was drafted 2nd overall by Baltimore in the NBA draft (1 spot behind Hayes) and drafted by Kentucky in the ABA draft: did he see that as a validation of his college career, or the realization of a lifelong dream of reaching the NBA, or other? It was a little bit of both. He had a great support system while he was growing up but college was not an option for everyone in our extended family. I do not think that going pro was something he thought about early on in his life.

In 1969 he averaged 18.2 RPG and became the 2nd player ever to be named ROY & MVP in the same season (Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1960): how was he able to make such a smooth transition from college to the NBA? It was just his approach and the way he played hard. Some of it is about being in the right situation, having good teammates, etc., but rebounding is a skill that translates easily from college to the pros.

Take me though the 1971 playoffs:
In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals he scored 17 PTS in a 2-PT win at Madison Square Garden over the defending-champion Knicks: how important was it for the city of Baltimore after it had spent such a long time losing to New York teams in almost every sport? I am sure that it was huge. Baltimore is a blue-collar town with passionate fans who really support their teams.

Finals MVP Lew Alcindor had 49 PTS/13 REB/12 AST in Game 2 en route to a 4-game sweep by Milwaukee: where does Alcindor rank among the greatest players that you ever saw? I am unsure if my dad would agree with me but I would say top-5.

In the 1975 season finale he had a career-high 30 REB in a win over New Orleans to win season REB title over Dave Cowens by a margin of .01: did he make a concerted effort to lead the league or was it just a happy coincidence?! If I had to guess it was a combination of the 2. He would go after every single rebound he could get but he never did anything for personal acclaim or to break a record.

In the 1975 Finals his team was swept by Golden State: how big a deal was it for him to play in the 1st championship game or series in any of the 4 North American major pro sports leagues to feature 2 African-American head coaches or managers (Al Attles/KC Jones)? When you are in the playoffs you go into every series with the goal of winning. However, on a personal level, it was certainly of some significance for that to be an African-American milestone.

In Game 7 of the 1978 Finals he scored 15 PTS in a 6-PT win on the road to beat Seattle for the title en route to being named Finals MVP: where does that rank among the highlights of his career? That has got to be up there after getting so close a number of times before winning it. It was a sense of relief to finally lift the weight of the world off of his shoulders.

In Game 7 of the 1979 Eastern Conference Semifinals he scored 8 PTS in a 6-PT win over Atlanta: did he feel like the team was good enough to defend its title? I think so from my recollection…but I was only about 4 years old at the time! They did not have a great record in the regular season the previous year but they clicked in the postseason and came together as a team. Once you have the recipe in place it allows you to get a lot more confidence.

His career average of 14 RPG remains #6 all-time despite the fact that he only stood 6’7”: what was his secret for being a great rebounder? Tenacity: he had a hit-first old-school mentality. You still see a few guys like that today but his frame of mind is that he would not be outworked by anyone on the court.

Finally the Finals: HoopsHD interviews Jim Phelan about Larry Foust

The NBA Finals feature a pair of “super-teams” in Cleveland and Golden State but the concept actually dates back several decades on the college level.  The 1950 La Salle Explorers went 21-4 thanks to a trio of superstars: center Larry Foust (who became an 8-time NBA All-Star), forward Jim Phelan (who won 830 games as a coach at Mount St. Mary’s), and coach Ken Loeffler (who won the NCAA title in 1954 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame a decade after that).  Foust never won a ring in the NBA with any of the 3 teams he played for but made it to the Finals a whopping 5 times during a 7-year span from 1955-1961.  He passed away in 1984, but HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Coach Phelan about his former teammate’s remarkable rebounding skills and whether he should be in the Hall of Fame.

Foust began his career at South Catholic High School in Philadelphia where he scored a last-second basket to help win the 1945 city title over archrival Southern High School: how big a deal was it to have a local hero stay in town to attend La Salle? It was a big deal because Larry was 1 of the biggest guys in the East. Recruiting was not as heavy back then but it was still a great coup for La Salle. I remember when we played against Holy Cross the year after they won the 1947 NCAA title: Larry played great and Bob Cousy was almost a non-factor.

What are your memories of his final college game in the 1950 NIT for La Salle (Foust had a game-high 18 PTS in a 2-PT loss to Duquesne)? We probably let him down in other areas because they did not have the size to match up with Larry.

In the summer of 1950 he was drafted 5th overall by Chicago (2 spots behind Cousy), but after the Stags franchise folded before the start of the following season he joined Fort Wayne: what did it mean to him to get drafted, and how did feel about switching teams? Fort Wayne was the best team in basketball at the time and he fit in well with them right from the start. He played even better in the NBA than in college: he was a 6’10” hulk who weighed 280 pounds.

On November 22, 1950, he made a running hook shot over George Mikan for the winning basket in the final seconds of a 19-18 win over the Lakers, which remains the lowest-scoring game in NBA history: what did the players think of the slow-down strategy? I was a year behind Larry and still in college so I do not know much about that game. He had some great games against Bill Russell and might have even scored 40 PTS against him 1 time. He would bump into Russell so that Bill would not have room to block his shot.

In 1952 he led the NBA with 880 REB and in the 1954 All-Star Game he had a team-high 15 REB in a 5-PT OT loss to the East team: what was his secret for being a great rebounder? He had a huge body and went after the ball. He could play hard against good people, by backing them down and bumping them.

In the decisive Game 3 of the 1953 Western Division Semifinals he scored a game-high 18 PTS in a 2-PT win on the road over Rochester: how was he able to play his best when it mattered the most? He was a solid performer and had just enough shots to make it hard for people to defend him. I never got to play against him in the NBA.

In 1955 he set a record by shooting 48.7 FG% that stood for 4 more years: what was his secret for being a great shooter? Getting close to the basket! He was not a great shooter from long range and was an inconsistent FT shooter but was a tough player who made do with what he had. He had a very soft touch around the basket.

In Game 7 of the 1955 Finals he scored a game-high 24 PTS but George King made a FT with 12 seconds left and then stole the ball from Hall of Famer Andy Phillip with 3 seconds left to clinch a 1-PT win by Syracuse: do you believe the allegations that some of the Pistons conspired with gamblers to blow a 17-PT lead and eventually throw the series? I have heard the same allegations but do not have the vaguest idea if they are true. Larry was a nice fellow and we were very good friends. His father died when he was very young so he was raised by his mother. His younger brother Kenny also died very young.

He is 1 of 5 players who was named to each of the NBA’s 1st 6 All-Star teams from 1951-1956 (Cousy/Dolph Schayes/Ed Macauley/Harry Gallatin), yet he is the only 1 of the 5 who has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame: was he considered 1 of the best players in the league, and why has he not yet been inducted? I do not have any idea: if his numbers were that good he probably should be. Besides Hall of Famer Tom Gola, a lot of La Salle guys have been ignored.

In 1961 he made it back to the Finals before losing to the Celtics for the 3rd straight year: do you consider his playoff career a success (due to making 5 Finals in a 7-year span) or a failure (due to losing all 5 times)? I would consider it a success. I do not know how the rest of his teammates played but Larry was a great player.

He Da Mon: HoopsHD interviews draft prospect Damon Lynn

9 years ago NJIT went 0-29 but only 5 years later they were winning a regular season title…in the Great West Conference.  Now they have a 2000-PT scorer who could be only weeks away from realizing his dream of making it to the NBA.  Damon Lynn proved that he can play with the big boys after leading his team to a 2-PT road upset of Michigan in December of 2014.  His college career came to a sudden end due to an Achilles injury in January of 2017, but not before the 5’11” PG had become 1 of the best 3-PT shooters in NCAA history.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Damon about being an All-American and breaking his school’s scoring record.

You are 5’11”: do you see your height as an advantage or disadvantage on the court? I feel that height is not in direct correlation with your basketball skills.  After all, 5’11” is an average height on the street.

You led NJIT with 17.2 PPG as a freshman: how were you able to come in and contribute right from the start? My coaching staff told me that the only difference between high school and college basketball was the speed. They always pressed me to stay confident and play my game.

In December of 2014 you scored 20 PTS including 6 3PM in an upset at Michigan: where does that rank among the biggest wins in your career/school history? It is probably #1 in school history. Michigan was my favorite team growing up: I remember them making it to the NCAA title game in 2013 before losing to Louisville. It was a lot of fun to play on that big stage in Ann Arbor: we put our school on the map.

In the 2015 CIT semifinals you had 16 PTS/4 STL in a 7-PT loss at NAU: how close did you come to making the title game? That was heartbreaking to get all the way to the semifinals and then lose. It was a challenge to play on the road at 7000’ elevation, but we proved a lot to ourselves and had a great season with some great memories.

You finished your sophomore season by being named AP honorable mention All-American: what did it mean to you to receive such an outstanding honor? It means a lot to be recognized because I was under-recruited coming out of high school. It is still motivation for me at the end of the day.

The following season you switched from an Independent to the Atlantic Sun Conference: what was the best part of joining a conference, and what was the worst part? The worst part was that we did not know how things would work during our 1st year. When you face an opponent 2-3 times you have to use your game plan to a T because each team knows what their opponent will be doing. The best part was taking a lot of trips to Florida, which helped bring us together.

On January 21st you tore your Achilles in a game at Florida Gulf Coast: did you think that your college career was over, and how is your health these days? My mind was racing 1000 miles/hour but I eventually told myself that I would be able to come back. I tried to keep a positive mindset and hope for the best. I just started jogging recently and expect to be 100% by August.

Despite your injury you still broke the school record by scoring 2153 PTS: what is the key to being a great scorer, and do you think that anyone will ever break your record? It is a little cliché but the key is just having a short-term memory and keeping an even keel. You need to have a lot of heart because when you are a scorer the defense will throw everything at you. You also need to be a good teammate otherwise your own teammates will not put you in a position to be great. I would love to see someone light it up and break my record someday, but it is hard to do in college.

Your 434 career 3PM is #5 in NCAA history: what is your secret for making shots from behind the arc? Repetition: you have to practice because it makes everything better. I had to play PG as a smaller guy and learn how to get my shot off faster, and I just excelled at it.

What is the next step in your journey, and what do you hope to do in the future? The next step is to find an agent: I have spoken to a few guys and hope to make a decision next week. My goal is to play in the NBA and now I have to plan the route to get there. I have dreamed about it my entire life so I want to chase that dream.

Finally the Finals: HoopsHD interviews Charleston coaching icon John Kresse

Most college coaches measure their success by how many games they win in March, but some of them are lucky enough to make the leap to pro basketball and try to win a championship in May/June.  1 who has achieved success at both levels is former coach John Kresse.  This month marks the 45th anniversary of Kresse making the ABA Finals as an assistant to Lou Carnesecca with the New York Nets.  After heading back to the amateur level as head coach at Charleston he won an NAIA national title in 1983 and made the postseason 6 straight years from 1994-1999.  He won more than 550 games in his Charleston career and eventually had the arena and court named in his honor.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Coach Kresse about playing for 1 Hall of Fame coach (Joe Lapchick) and working for another (Carnesecca).

You walked onto the St. John’s basketball team as a freshman, and earned a scholarship from Hall of Fame coach Joe Lapchick as a sophomore: what was it like to play for the legendary Lapchick? He was an “Original Celtic” from the 1930s who later coached both St. John’s and the Knicks.

When Lapchick retired in 1965, Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca hired you as his assistant coach: what made Carnesecca such a great coach? He is really my mentor as he helped me come to St. John’s and then get a job as a high school coach in 1964. I spent 11 years with him at St. John’s. He had great energy/enthusiasm and stressed the fundamentals of the game with his ABC’s. He was a player’s coach who did not have a big ego.

In 1970 you joined Carnesecca as assistant coach/director of player personnel/chief scout for the ABA’s New York Nets: what was the biggest difference between college and the ABA, and what are your memories of the 1972 ABA Finals (Roger Brown scored 32 PTS in a 3-PT win by Indiana in the decisive Game 6)? In the pros you had to deal more with individuals/personalities so relationships/motivation were very important. 1972 was 1 of our best teams and we made it to the Finals before losing to a great Pacers team. It was a great experience. We played 116 games that year including exhibitions/playoffs!

In 1979 you became head coach at Charleston: why did you take the job? We had a great run in the 1979 NCAA tourney before losing to Penn in the Elite 8 and a couple of weeks later I took the job at Charleston. I was in my mid-30s and had been an assistant for 15 years so I wanted to see if I could become a head coach. We had some great players and I ended up staying 23 years.

In 1983 you won the NAIA title after PG Stephen Yetman drew a charge in the final seconds to clinch a 4-PT win over West Virginia Wesleyan: what did it mean to you to win the title, and where does Yetman’s play rank among the best defensive plays that you have ever seen? It was the 1st year we had won the conference title and got to go to Kansas City for the national tourney. We played 5 games in 5 days, which was tough. We beat Chaminade in the semis after they had upset #1 Virginia earlier that season. Stephen was named tourney MVP: he was a great offensive PG and a great defender.

What are your memories of the 1994 NCAA tourney (freshman Tim Duncan had 16 PTS/13 REB/8 BLK in a 10-PT win by Wake Forest)? When we made the jump to D-1 we were not allowed to get an NCAA tourney bid for 7 years, which I thought was unfair. We gave them a good game and kept it close for most of the game. It was a great moment in our school’s history to finally have a chance to be a part of March Madness.

What are your memories of the 1997 NCAA tourney (Stacy Harris scored 22 PTS in a 9-PT upset of Maryland after Gary Williams benched Laron Profit/Terrell Stokes for being late to a team meeting, but tourney MOP Miles Simon scored 20 PTS in a 4-PT win by eventual national champion Arizona)? We were a #12 seed but had some great seniors like Thad Delaney/Anthony Johnson.  Arizona coach Lute Olson had a really good team despite only being a #4-seed. We were down by 2 PTS with 20 seconds left but Jermel President’s shot bounced off the rim. We finished 29-3 (#16 in the AP poll) with losses to Oklahoma State, Kentucky, and Arizona.

What are your memories of the 1998 NCAA tourney in Chicago (Mark Madsen had 16 PTS/17 REB in a 10-PT win by Stanford)? That was another close game. We took the lead with 4 minutes left but could not hold on.

What are your memories of the 1999 NCAA tourney (your team made a 25-1 run but fell short in a 9-PT loss to Tulsa to end your 25-game winning streak)? Bill Self was Tulsa’s coach. We fell behind 25 PTS in the 1st half but our conference POY Sedric Webber helped us make a run in the 2nd half by making four 3-PT shots. We finished #16 in the AP poll: we had some great teams during the 1990s.

Your career 79.7 W-L% remains 1 of the highest of any D-1 coach in history: what made you so successful? Great players make the coach and I was very lucky to have a great run for a long period of time. I stressed defense which helped us won a lot of close games. It was great to see the program grow both on and off the court. After retiring I remained at the college to teach some classes and do a couple of games as a TV analyst. I owe it all to Lapchick/Carnesecca.

The John Kresse Arena is named after you, and in 2008 Charleston moved to the Carolina First Arena where the playing surface is named John Kresse Court: what was your reaction like when you heard that the school would be doing this, and what does it feel like to walk into an arena and see your name on the court? When they told me that they were doing that I was baffled/excited. To have something named after you while you are still kicking is extremely special. Now we are at the TD Arena where the court is named after me. We even got to host St. John’s in a game on ESPN, which was beyond my wildest dreams.

When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most? I want to be remembered as a teacher/coach who valued his student-athletes. I waved the flag at Charleston and tried to get people engaged in our program. I will say “Go Cougars” for the rest of my life!

A Matter of Basketball and Death: HoopsHD interviews “Disgraced” director Pat Kondelis

College basketball has had small scandals and big scandals but it has never had anything quite as mind-blowing as the 2003 murder of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson.  In March SHOWTIME premiered its feature-length documentary “Disgraced”, which examines both the murder itself as well as the resulting accusations against both the school and Coach Dave Bliss.  The impact of the film was rather immediate, as Coach Bliss resigned from his job as coach at Southwestern Christian University in early April.  Hoops HD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with award-winning director Pat Kondelis about the crime and the cover-up.

This documentary revisits the 2003 murder of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy by his teammate Carlton Dotson: why do you think Dotson did it, and why make a documentary about it 14 years later? I do not know why Dotson did it, which was a big motivator in making the film. Once you begin to look at the details and examine the evidence you see that there is way more to this story than what has been reported so far. My goal was to get closer to the truth in what happened in Waco in 2003 and figure out why this happened.

In October 2004 Dotson was declared incompetent to stand trial and sent to a state mental hospital, where psychiatrists said that he appeared to be suffering from hallucinations/psychosis including a belief that people were trying to kill him because he was Jesus: do you think that he was insane at the time of the murder? I really do not know. Dotson had a history of hallucinations and showed signs of paranoia while he was at Baylor. The school even took the step of sending him to a therapist. It is unclear if he was insane at the time of the alleged action, but the steps he took immediately following those alleged actions suggest that he knew right from wrong and was intentionally hiding evidence.

In June 2005 Dotson pled guilty right before his trial and was sentenced to 35 years in prison: do you think that it was a fair sentence? No I do not. IF Dotson pulled the trigger in cold blood then I think he should have received a life sentence. If there is evidence to suggest that he was not alone or that there is more to this, which I think there is, then the trial is where that could come out…but unfortunately that never happened.

Baylor instituted some self-imposed punishments but the NCAA took it up a notch by extending their probation through 2010, eliminating 1 year of non-conference play, and issuing a 10-year show-cause penalty against Coach Dave Bliss (1 of the harshest penalties ever imposed on a D-1 program that did not include a “death penalty”): how do you think the Baylor violations compared to those at SMU almost 2 decades earlier, and how much credit does the school deserve for taking action once the violations came to light (which SMU administrators failed to do after learning of its own school’s violations)? I do not think that Baylor deserves any credit. I think that all of their actions were specifically motivated to avoid the death penalty, which according to inside sources was seriously being considered in this case. You have to look at the history of major athletic scandals at Baylor: it is second to none. The federal prosecution of the entire Baylor men’s basketball coaching staff in 1994 for federal conspiracy/wire fraud/mail fraud, the tennis team scandal in 2000 concerning financial aid/improper benefits, and Bliss in 2003. That is 3 major athletic scandals in a 10-year period.  SMU was more blatant about their pay-for-play scandal and refused to cooperate with the NCAA investigation, but at this point Baylor has far exceeded SMU in the realm of college scandals. The issues at Baylor are far more serious than simply paying students to play sports.

Bliss had reached the limits on team scholarships so he secretly paid a portion of the tuition for Dennehy/teammate Corey Herring that was not covered by financial aid, then later attempted to convince his players to lie to school officials/NCAA investigators by saying that Dennehy was a drug dealer to create reasonable doubt about why Dennehy had received extra cash: is this just a prime example of the adage that “the cover-up is always worse than the crime”? No: the crime is terrible and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the money Bliss used to pay the tuitions was not his own but in fact came from booster payments. These details are laid out in in amazing detail in the public NCAA report. Bliss had created a basketball booster program called “The Fast Break Club” which he took sole control of, removing it from the standard accounting procedures/oversight of the Athletic Department, and had checks made out to himself personally. According to the NCAA report, Bliss gave 1 AAU team (The Houston Superstars) over $87,000 in 1 year to get their players to sign letters of intent with Baylor. The NCAA found that over $100,000 was given to different AAU teams in a single year. It is my belief that Bliss used money from boosters to pay tuitions.

Bliss also allegedly threatened to fire assistant coach Abar Rouse if he did not go along with the scheme, but Rouse turned whistleblower after recording some conversations on tape: do you feel that the secret recordings are the juiciest part of the film?  There are so many crazy things that happened in this story that it is hard to nail down one as the most important/salacious. The biggest benefit of having the tapes is that they put the audience in the room as the cover-up/conspiracy is unfolding. You get to hear something that most people would have dismissed had they only been told by a witness that Bliss said those things. It is hard to believe without hearing the actual tapes.

There were further allegations about widespread abuse of marijuana/alcohol among players that were ignored by Coach Bliss and his staff, as well as recruiting violations when Bliss/assistant coach Rodney Belcher were present during a pickup game involving recruit Harvey Thomas during his official visit to Baylor (which constitutes an “illegal tryout” under NCAA rules): murder is obviously an uncommon occurrence at a college basketball program, but do you feel that the other stuff has become “standard operating procedure” at a majority of D-1 programs around the country? I think they are more common than not. Violations occur at most schools but what happened at Baylor is remarkable. I think this story highlights the pitfalls of a “win at all costs” attitude that most D-1 programs subscribe to.

Toward the end of the film Bliss stands up during an on-camera interview and keeps talking while he thinks the camera is turned off: were you surprised by his admissions during this segment, and does he honestly believe that others are to blame? I was shocked. That was very early on in our filming so I did not know if what he was saying was true or not. We had not interviewed the police yet so when he says that the police knew everything yet did not charge him, he is basically saying that there was a police cover-up. He is also saying that Bill Underwood (the head of the Baylor internal investigative committee) was the source of his lie. Bliss does not think that the camera is off and I never told the crew to stop at all: he just kept talking. I decided to use that because he repeated that statement in the second interview we did and made it clear that it was on the record. It was very important to show that he would say one thing and then completely contradict that to deflect any blame.

Coach Scott Drew had the Bears ranked #1 in the nation last season and reached the Sweet 16 before losing to South Carolina: why did the school choose him to replace Bliss, and how has he been able to turn things around 180 degrees? Coach Drew has done a great job of resurrecting the program but has also been busted for major recruiting violations and just wrapped up a 3-year probation by the NCAA.

In 2015 Baylor again made headlines due to a football sexual assault scandal and announced that it chose not to comment on your film: how have things changed in Waco since 2003, and how much more disgrace is yet to come? I have no clue. I really hope that Baylor steps up and commits to full transparency. Maybe the Texas Rangers law enforcement agency will get that result.

*DISGRACED can be seen on all of Showtime’s video-on-demand services including SHOWTIME ANYTIME, SHOWTIME ON DEMAND, and the SHOWTIME stand-alone streaming service.