Thanks to Coach Matt Figger for taking the time to chat with me about his career.
Q: Your first big job was on Frank Martin’s staff at Kansas State, you coached guys like Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, Denis Clemente, Jacob Pullen, Rodney McGruder and made an Elite Eight, what was your main takeaway from that job?
A: “We had a lot of good players, a lot of under-the-radar guys like, outside of Beasley and Bill Walker all-the-other guys who made it to the NBA were four-year guys who were there and developed and we had a really good college team at Kansas State. We had depth, we had older kids, being able to stay old allowed us to be really good at Kansas State.”
Q: Your next stop was at South Carolina and made a Final-Four with guys like Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice, P.J. Dozier, Raykm Felder, and younger guys like Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar.
A: “When we took over at South Carolina, they were 2-14 In the SEC the year Prior, and by year 4 we were able to break a school record for most wins in a season and year 5 was the Final-Four season. Once again we had guys who weren’t household names, but then you look at it and Sindarius Thornwell, P.J. Dozier, and Chris Silva have all played in the NBA, Hassani Gravett, who came off the bench is a G-League guy, Duane Notice plays in the G-League, and I think Kotsar will get a chance to play in NBA or G-League. Just evaluating and finding those type of players is kind of our trademark, and that’s carried onto Austin Peay.
Q: In that Final Four you guys lost to Gonzaga by 4, it is almost bitter-sweet knowing you guys as a program had done things South Carolina has never done but came so close to playing for a championship?
A: “It was bitter-sweet because, in the Gonzaga game, something that people don’t realize is that Sindarius Thornwell was sick that week and didn’t practice from Wednesday on and his first live reps were in the first half of that game. He was real fatigued and sluggish at the end of that first half, and we only really got one half out of him that we were used to. His first half against Gonzaga he was trying to catch his breath and he didn’t have any legs. It took him playing a half to get him going. We were down at the half, and then had the lead with 5 minutes to play after we had gone on a 16-2 run, and that’s what we had done the whole tournament and for a split-second, I thought this is playing script to the Marquette, Duke, Florida games, for a split-second we thought we might be playing for a National Championship. Then Zach Collins hits a three that knuckle-balled in, so we’re up 2 then we go down-one, we run a set play for Felder he breaks off a play to make a play, then Zach Collins made a great play on Defense, then they hit another 3 in transition and then it kind of slipped away from us. It was bitter-sweet to know you’re that close, but Gonzaga’s a great team who deserved to play for a National Championship.”
Q: You were on Frank Martin’s staff for a decade, are you guys close?
A: “We’re the best of friends, we talk multiple times a week and now we’re even closer now we depend on each other for advice because we’re both running a Program, and I learned a lot from Frank. lot of things I didn’t see as an Assistant I now get to see from his point-of-view, I’m constantly calling and asking for his advice, it’s more of the off-the-floor stuff rather than X’s and O’s stuff, like Scheduling and Players, that’s the stuff people don’t get when you’re a head coach, you take on so many different roles of management that you don’t do as an assistant and to experience it you need to do the job.”
Q: You’ve had 3 Winning seasons at Austin Peay and you won OVC Coach of the year in your first year, how much of a dream has it been for you to be a successful D-1 Basketball Head Coach.
A: “I wake up every morning enthused about my job and wake up feeling like the luckiest guy in the world, working a profession that so-few guys get to do, for me, it’s one of the dreams I’ve had since I was young, I’m living the American Dream right now.”
Q: We originally talked on twitter after I tweeted about how underrated Terry Taylor is, How do you find talent like him that’s so under-the-radar?
A: “Some kids don’t play in the EYBL or the Adidas circuit and they play for local AAU programs and through a life-long connection with people you get to develop the relationships with people and they tell you about players. Coach Luce originally recruited Terry and I had to re-recruit him to get him to come here, it’s close-to-home for him and ironically none of the other schools within an hour of Bowling Green, Terry’s home-town offered him a Scholarship, it’s one of those things that a lot of luck comes into play. I have a theory that when every player signs a D-1 College Basketball scholarship, all their press-clippings, and accolades go out-the-window, and it’s all about work, and I’ve been fortunate enough to Coach Mike Beasley so I know what Lottery Pick talent looks like. You have the Beasley’s of the-world who are super gifted, now I’ve had the privilege to coach the Terry Taylor’s, the Sindarius Thornwell’s, the Jacob Pullen’s, the Rodney McGruder’s who come through your door and they just have a desire and work ethic. Through work-ethic and God-given ability their ability to buy what you’re selling and get the best version of those kids every day. That’s what I’ve gotten from Terry and mine and his relationship, I feel like he’s been the perfect player for me and I’ve been the perfect coach to put him in positions to be successful, It’s been a really good-marriage between the two of us.”
Q: You return Terry Taylor, Jordyn Adams but lost a guy like Eli Abaev how do you plan on filling out-the-roster?
A: “First-of-all I feel like the reason we didn’t win the league this year, we were first going into the last game of the season and lost at Murray State. I felt like we had to increase our size and depth in the front-court we went out and signed a kid named Merdy Mongazi from South Georgia Tech who is a 6’10” forward, who was one of the top-shot-blockers in JUCO Basketball. We signed a kid named Ibrahim Jarjou who a 6’8″ 230-pound kid who played Core-Four academy and was one of the best front-court players in Prep Ball. Matheus Silveria who was a Redshirt Sophmore made leaps-bounds-strides at the end of the season, so we’ve addressed that to where we feel like we’ve upgraded at that position. Our system produces kids who put-up those kinds of numbers because I’m an inside coach, and that’s the biggest thing I wanted to address before-the-season. Reginald Gee, who was a grad-transfer got hurt and we were able to get his eligibility back. I also red-shirted Texas 4A Basketball, Devon McCain who also got injured. Last year we had two guys who had played in our program Terry and Antwuan Utler, everyone else was-new we figured out how to take a few steps, now this season we need to take another to be with Murray State and Belmont, I know we’re receiving a lot of love from people, but my goal is to put us at Murray State and Belmont’s level.”