Built on trust
New coach brings demanding style, and early returns show players are all in.
By Rick Waters '95
New coach Jim Christian has a rule: If a player is 99.9 percent sure he wants to be a part of his program, the coach would just assume not have that player. It's not enough.
"I want my players 100 percent invested. I'm 100 percent invested," Christian says. "I want my coaching staff 100 percent invested. That's the only way we can trust each other."
Trust. That's another important word for the 6-foot-3 head man, who joined the Frogs this spring from Kent State, where he compiled a 138-58 record in six seasons. He roams the floor at practice in a t-shirt that reads, "Trust the system."
"That means we have to believe in each other, believe in the way we run practice, believe in the scouting reports coaches put together, believe that we're all going to work hard every time we're together," he says. "That's what winning teams do."
The culture change is a welcome one, says senior post player John Ortiz, who debated whether to return to the Frogs after transferring last season.
"There is a whole new attitude in how we do everything," says Ortiz, who is expected to provide spurts of energy off the bench. "Practices feel a lot different. There's a lot of intensity and enthusiasm but not a lot of yelling. There's a lot of teaching. We talk about doing what we're capable of and doing it with maximum effort."
The team watches film of itself before every practice. In the spring and early fall, when there was no game tape to review, they watched their own workouts.
"It helped show some bad habits for some guys," says senior post Kevin Langford. "For everybody, it showed how much harder we had to work."
Hard work will have to carry the Frogs, who were 14-16 last season. The team welcomes seven new faces -- four junior college transfers and four freshmen -- but Christian likes to think everybody is new to each other.
"Our terminology is different, our routines are different, so everybody has to learn, evening the returning players," the coach says.
Even with one starter (Langford) and two part-time starters (Ortiz and junior Jason Ebie), it's really like an open tryout every day.
"Coach says that there are no guaranteed spots for anyone," Ortiz said. "Every player has to earn his spot every practice. Everybody has a chance to contribute to the team and have a role. It just depends on how hard we work."
Christian expects major contributions from two international players who transferred this season -- Zvonko Buljan, a bruising 6-8 rebounder from Croatia who did not speak any English two years ago but is fluent now, and Edvinas Ruzgas, a 6-6 swingman from Lithuania who will likely be the team's best outside shooter.
"I'm always optimistic. They've worked hard. Now we see how it pays off."
Comment on this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.