Highlights from Monday's MAC Men's Basketball Teleconference with John Cooper

-Unlike football, the Mid-American conference holds its teleconference for basketball once a month instead of every week. The following is what Miami coach John Cooper had to say about his team entering conference play. The RedHawks (5-7) open MAC play at home against Northern Illinois (2-10) Wednesday at Millett Hall. Game time is 7 p.m.

Q: Talk about your first go around with the RedHawks and your 5-7 non-conference record. What did you learn about your team and how do you look to build on that heading into conference play?

Cooper: One of the things that sticks out with the group we have here is this is still a team that is evolving. We suffered injuries early in the season against James Madison. We loose Bill Edwards for the year and so that certainly has affected us as far as what we are trying to do as a program. But I think we've gone through various starting lineups and just really trying to discover who we are and how we have to play. We have to understand that for us to be able to be successful.

We are probably at a point now where this group is starting to come to grips with who we are, which I think is extremely important. We are not the biggest team, obviously. If you take a look at the past three games, we've started at least four guys who are 6-foot-3 or smaller and one young man who is 6-foot-7. It's also been evident, if you look at our rebounding numbers, we have not been able to rebound the ball particularly well and it's an area that has affected us throughout the season. ... I'm happy with where the group is from the standpoint that we're starting to figure out what it takes to compete on a night-in and night-out basis.

Q: The game you lost to UMass by one point, was that an omen or a game where you could see how your team has progressed (since the start of the season against N.C. State)?

Cooper: Certainly, we are a better team than when we opened the season against N.C. State and that can probably be said for most teams around the country. The difference is that we understand who we are a little bit better. We understand the system even better. But as I told the group, we played well enough to win that game (vs. UMass), but understanding when the guts of the game - as I call it the plays that have to be made to be successful - there were some areas where we had some letdowns down the stretch. But I'm happy with where we are. Although we didn't want to loose that game, I liked our effort. So, that gave me a sense of, I guess, peace as we head into NIU against a team that always competes extremely hard. We have to play well. We are not a team that cannot play well and just got out and beat teams just on our sheer talent because that's just not who we are.

Q: Coach it's always tough to loose a player. You were mentioning the rebounding and when you say Miami the last couple of years Julian Mavunga (comes to mind). Who has been the player that has tried to nail down the boards for you this season?

Cooper: That's a good question. I'm still looking for him (coach said jokingly). Jon Harris and Will Felder have led us in rebounding, but we have not rebounded well. We may be the only team in the country that the two leading rebounders both average only five rebounds a game. What's interesting is that we've had Will Sullivan playing and he's 6-foot-3 and he's brought a competitive nature to our group, and he led us in rebounding against UMass with seven rebounds. So, we have to do it as a team. We don't have a guy like Julian who can give us 10 boards. Unfortunately, the rebounding aspect has affected us this season.

Q: How about Sullivan... Do you like to have him starting or coming off the bench?

Cooper: He has started the past three games and has brought a sense of toughness to our program. He's obviously overmatched at times as far as styles, but I think every coach, sometimes, you have those guys that get everything you say, they try to execute it, they try to do it exactly the way you want it done and they always seem to be in the right place, and when they get there they bring a competitive nature. He's one of those kinds of kids.

Q: Your thoughts on heading into your first season of MAC play, starting Wednesday with Northern Illinois?

Cooper: Obviously, the MAC is a tremendous league and we have to play unbelievably well even to have a solid year through MAC play. But there is certainly a sense of excitement as we head into this. I think for every team your record is 0-0 and it's an opportunity to get on a run and put some things together. The thing about basketball that's so funny is it's about confidence. A team may win three or four in a row and they may not be the most talented team, but all of a sudden they might look like a different group. And so, every coach is hoping that they can catch that fire and get their group going and we're no different.

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