Interview with Al Skinner from ’06


Importing interviews from to TSF.

Vying for a spot in the Elite Eight, The Boston College Eagles need to first get through former Big East rival Villanova, in a highly anticipated showdown. Coming off of two tourney wins which are clearly at diverse ends of the spectrum, Boston College is looking to build on the success that helped them make their historical mark in the ACC. Even though this is their first year of membership, they have made a tremendous impact in a talent laden conference which is always considered one of the best. Craig Smith is a senior man-child who will throw it down hard on anyone in his path as well as take the big shot when the shot clock is running down. Jared Dudley is another very capable junior scorer who also provides muscle and experience up front. Senior Louis Hinnant is an all around talented player who has a high intelligence for the game. Every team should have a player with Hinnant’s skills if they want to win late in March. They have a pair of 6’10 sophomore high flyers in John Oates and Sean Williams as well as 6’8 sophomore Akida McLain. A pair of confident freshman guards in Marquez Haynes and Tyrese Rice who has a deadly touch from outside. This is a team that will be perched at the top of the country for many years to come because of their cool and focused leader, Al Skinner. Coach Skinner is a legend in the making, whose impact on the team will contribute volumes to the impact this team will have on the national arena.

Michael Tillery: There may be a blue chip player or his parents reading this Q&A. What type of student athlete are you looking to represent Boston College?

Coach Skinner: We’re looking for a young man who is serious about his education. I just think that is extremely important. I’m not going to be foolish and say that basketball is not important, but he also has to broaden his scope a little bit and be a little better prepared on the academic side. His education is ultimately what’s going to serve him best. If he’s serious about his education and willing to work at it as hard as he works at his basketball, then I think he’s going to be successful here at Boston College. That’s what we’re looking for.

MT: Talk about your playing days and how its helped in shaping your coaching career.

Coach Skinner: It gave me a chance to relate a little bit better to what guys are going through and what the circumstances are. I try to explain to my players that everything they are experiencing, I’ve already done. Whether it’s injuries or other problems that are a distraction. I’ve already gone through. The fact of the matter is that you have to remain focused and you’ve got to work at it. You’re going to have to make some sacrifices if you really want to have a chance to be successful. Unfortunately, you can’t do everything. You have to make a decision on what you want to do. That being said, having experienced that, I think they appreciate my experiences whether it was in high school, at college, the pro level, or the international level. I’ve done it all. That’s how I can articulate to them how to do it the right way because I can relate because of my hard work when I played.

MT: Describe the difference in play between the Big East and the ACC?

Coach Skinner: Well you are still talking about playing at the highest level as far as college basketball is concerned. So there hasn’t been as much as a difference as far as that is concerned. The biggest thing was getting used to the new coaching styles, the differences in the coaches. The talent is there. The talent is tremendous in the ACC. Everyone has talented players. That’s the thing I’m most impressed with and the fact the guys are doing a good job coaching. We probably spent more time this year with film work than we ever had previously because we’re trying to get acquainted with opposing teams and what’s going to work for us.

MT: Is there a difference between fans in the North and those in South?

Coach Skinner: I’m not going to say there’s any difference. I think the fans are really supportive. I think there’s more of a commitment in the buildings where we’ve played in the ACC. Every night we’ve shown up they’ve had a full building. I think I’ve been quite impressed with that. They are very supportive of their teams, which is what college athletics are all about. So I don’t think there is a real difference in fans other than I think that in the South, initially there were few pro teams. People were totally involved in the college teams of the area. There were more professional teams in the Northeast so you had a little bit of a split fan base. In saying that, the people who showed up supported their teams.

MT: I recently interviewed John Chaney. Do you think he is one of the best coaches of all time? Does he get enough positive press? Does he compare to a John Wooden, a Bobby Knight, and coaches of that nature?

Coach Skinner: The only difference between Coach Chaney and the ones you mentioned are that they have won championships. If that’s the measuring stick, then that’s the only difference and that’s his only shortcoming. John was an outstanding coach. I don’t think anyone can question that. As far as what’s he’s done for the game, the quality of coaching, how he’s helped his players, he’s done everything that a college coach should do for his student athletes. He provided a positive environment. He’s extremely supportive. He helped guys get their education. He did everything you need to do. I don’t think the fact that he didn’t win a championship changes anything because he’s already in the Hall of Fame.

MT: Who was your biggest coach as well as player influence?

Coach Skinner: I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had some good coaches throughout my career. I’ve had some great associations with some coaches. I’ve been very fortunate in that respect. No one in particular stands out, but they’ve all had an influence on some of the things that I’ve been able to do in cultivating how I wanted to handle myself as a coach. Coach Skinner: My game was a little different, so I didn’t pattern my game after any particular player. The one I respected the most was my college teammate, Julius Erving. We played together in the pros for a few years, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he accomplished. The way he handled his accomplishments. He really is a tremendous role model for I would like to handle things. The way he handled things and prepared himself to play and even after his career how he’s handled himself in such a professional manner so people can truly appreciate all the accomplishments that he’s had.

MT: What is your coaching philosophy?

Coach Skinner: My philosophy is really simple. I really would like for guys to try to get better every day. Let’s try to improve. Improvement is a slow process. It doesn’t happen rapidly. It’s a work in progress. You have to work at it everyday in order to improve and make some strides. I really try to get guys to focus on that. Let’s not lose today. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but you have to strive for perfection.

MT: Talk about your team and the coach or coaches you have on the floor.

Coach Skinner: I’m very fortunate that my staff has been with me for a very long time. Because of that it’s brought a lot of consistency. Because of that consistency, my players have been very comfortable here and I have been able to excel and take advantage of the environment here at Boston College.

MT: What players would you like to speak about on this present team?

Coach Skinner: Obviously, the first one you would speak of is Craig Smith. He’s a preseason first team All-American. Then we have Jared Dudley, who was a preseason John Wooden award nominee. A top fifty college player. We’re very fortunate to have those two individuals on our team. Our point guard, who is probably one of the most underrated players at least in our league, he’s solid and always does what we need him to do, Louis Hinnant. Sean Marshall has been an immediate starter for us as a junior; he’s a real good scorer. We really have a nice basketball team. Some of our younger players have really come along and done a nice job for us. John Oates is our starting center. Tyrese Rice comes off the bench and does a nice job. Marquez Haynes really gives us some energy. Sean Williams and Akida McLain really help us in our front court with our defense and running our offense. We have nine guys who’ve contributed to our success this year and hopefully to the success we’ll continue to have.

MT: How tight is the coaching fraternity? Is it different than that of professional athletes? You can sense, especially us in the media who follow you more closely that it’s a special relationship. That’s very encouraging as well as inspiring.

Coach Skinner: Once the games are over, I think everyone is very aware of the difficulties that exist in trying to be successful in this profession. Because of that, we’ve all had the same experiences. I think there’s a lot of compassion amongst the coaches in the way they handle their business. You have some sympathy for the guy on the opposite bench; there’s no question about it.

MT: What did your time at UMASS mean to you? Your number is retired there. You must have had a great time.

Coach Skinner: The thing I’m most happy about—obviously it brings some individual recognition for myself-I always think it’s an indication of how much success we had as a team. I hope—I’ve said this many times—that my teammates take as much pleasure and enjoyment in seeing my number there, cause it’s an indication of an era. They were part of that era. It’s clear to me that without them and the contributions they’ve made; I would not be able to have achieved as much success.

MT: Why the switch from Rhode Island?

Coach Skinner: Rhode Island was a beautiful time for me. It was a great environment. The community was very supportive. I was very happy to be there. It was a very nurturing environment. People cared about my players. I thought my players enjoyed themselves. The community embraced them. A number of players who played for me and graduated from Rhode Island have stayed there. I think that’s an indication of the compassion they’ve shown and that exists in that state.

MT: What do you think of our society and how it affects the climate of sports? Basketball in particular?

Coach Skinner: Basketball is a sport that everyone plays. Everyone has an opinion about it. I think there’s a lot of compassion for this sport. Other than soccer it may be the number one sport in the world. It may be the number one sport in the world because it’s played everywhere and everyone cares about it. There’s a tremendous amount of opinions about the game.

MT: What is this “what have you done for me lately “ complex that has taken over sports? Especially with coaches, you can be in the Final Four one year and fired the next.

Coach Skinner: That’s the unfortunate part. It is what have you done for me lately. Television has done that. Instant gratification has done that. You really have to be grounded not to get caught up in that. You really have to make an attempt to educate your players not to get caught up in that. It’s not going to serve you well, it’s very short term and it doesn’t serve you well to think in those terms. You can not let your environment dictate how you respond to that. It’s instant gratification from television, radio and the media that has created the tremendous duty for the fans. The fans has increased to watch to pay and people are looking for success right away. As a coach you have to do it the old fashion way, take your time and do it properly.

MT: In a perfect world, what advice would you give college football regarding its abysmal minority hiring practices?

Coach Skinner: That’s a question for those who do the hiring. It’s unfortunate that it exists. I’m sure you can very easily explain it away but that doesn’t make it right. That question is probably best presented to those who do the hiring. For me to discuss it, in all honesty, has no impact. Because I’m not a decision-maker in that particular field. Those people need understand that it’s ridiculous that’s its not more minority coaches in football. They really need to be shown that’s its overtly obvious.

MT: Who was your initial recruit? Where is he now?

Coach Skinner: He’s the head coach of women’s basketball at Rhode Island.

MT: Do you ever envision someone like Pat Summit coaching men’s basketball?

Coach Skinner: I’m sure it can happen. If she was driven to do that I’m sure she could. X’s and O’s are X’s and O’s. It all depends on what you want to do. What motivates you. I think that’s clear. If you understand the game, you understand the game. It doesn’t matter who is playing men or women; it all depends on whom you want to address and whom you want to motivate.

MT: Who is the best college basketball player?

Coach Skinner: There’s a lot to be said, I can’t pick one. There are a lot of outstanding players in college basketball. In every league there’s some outstanding talent. That’s the one nice thing about college athletics is that there is some parity here and it allows you to compete, there are some individuals who are very very good and it’s nice to see there’s some opportunities for them after college.

MT: Has the defection of high school athletes to the pros affected the college game? Or has it always been a large talent pool?

Coach Skinner: It definitely has affected the game because that outstanding individual that went to the pros has helped college basketball achieve a sense of parity that you can plainly see during March Madness. Now that the athlete is coming back because of the NBA’s rules and there’s going to be certain schools that are going to reap the benefits. Because of that you are going to see a real division between universities that you haven’t seen in the past few years. That said player is going to be dominant. There are only certain schools who are going to be able to handle that and there’s only going to be certain schools that he’s attracted to.

MT: Who is the best NBA player of all time?

Coach Skinner: It’s hard to say. Obviously in this era, people talk about Magic and Michael and Julius Erving before that. Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Bill Russell. Every era had their outstanding player. Every ten years had a great player. Mikan before all the other guys I mentioned. I would never point to one individual and say he was the greatest of all time. That’s because there’s some shortcomings there. There’s always going to be some shortcomings. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the greatest players you are going to see. Wilt was a tremendous scorer. The argument will go on forever. If you go every ten years it really allows you to focus on a couple of individuals. Greatness is measured by longevity. That’s why I will never say that Bill Walton was a great player in the NBA. He was certainly a great player in college. His UCLA career obviously speaks for itself. There were other guys that played much longer than him and had much more significant careers. I was disappointed that he was named one of the Top Fifty because I don’t think his career warranted that. I’m not saying he wasn’t a great player because he was, but injuries prevented him from being an outstanding player. Connie Hawkins was a great player. He had an individual style and flair and he was outstanding. Did he get it done consistently year in and year out? I wouldn’t say so.

MT: Coach Skinner thanks for blessing us with your intelligence. You’ve provided our readers with some knowledge not readily available because of the mainstream media’s lack of originality. Good luck in the tournament. We wish you much success. You are one of the best.

Coach Skinner: Thanks to you Michael for the encouraging words. I look forward to hearing from you soon

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