One of the nice things about the NCAA Tournament is having the chance to talk to other coaches, perhaps even learn a few things about them and their personalities.
Sunday provided that with Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb, a Jersey girl who left Xavier 11 years ago to take the Commodores job and has helped preserve the presence the program has held in the SEC.
Balcomb, who once worked for Providence in Big East, was joking around about her Jersey accent and getting used to distinct Southern drawl that’s part of life in Nashville.
But she also had some serious things to say about a lot of things. Like the night in 1999 when her Xavier team lost to UConn at in the NCAA Tournament in 1999, 86-84.
“I don’t remember what I said to my team that night,” Balcomb said. “I was thinking about it, trying to recall what I said to prepare them mentally that night. What was the formula? Did I try to pass along a special confidence.
“I find myself comparing the team I had that night to the one I have now. Did UConn have a better team then or now? I don’;t have the answer. I was I did. I have to get a better feel for this team, where it’s at, like I had for that team [Xavier] and try to get into its head.”
Here’s what she had to say about conference realignment and the impact it might have on recruiting:
“I don’t recruit for the conference [SEC] so much. I get players from all over the nation because of the academics we have to offer. My team isn’t constructed primarily from players from the south.
“There is an element [to recruiting] that’s about rivalries and geography; whether a player is willing to leave home and how far they are willing to go. Geno can draw kids from everywhere, so I don’t believe he will see any impact.
“But I can already tell you I’ve noticed some players based in Atlanta that are canceling out teams based on conferences. A team like Maryland, no longer playing in the ACC and headed to the Big Ten, will make some kids decide if they want to go to a place where their parents won’t be able to see them play on a regular basis.”
And most interesting, her perception of how things have changed at Tennessee since Pat Summitt’s retirement after last year:
“I think it has already impacted Tennessee because Pat is a legend. She’s the John Wooden of our game. How could her absence not [have some sort of impact], but its over a long period of time when we’ll be able to determine what that will be. You’d have to by lying to say that Pat not being at Tennessee wouldn’t have an impact. Do you think Geno leaving UConn wouldn’t have an impact? Sure it would.
“Holly Warlick has done a great job at Tennessee. I am a huge fan of hers. What she did this year, winning the coach of the year [in the SEC] was phenomenal. But that’s not the question you asked.”