Q&A with Towson coach Pat Kennedy
Pat Kennedy would be the first to admit Towson’s 2008-09 season fell short of expectations.
The Tigers finished 12-22, including 5-13 in Colonial Athletic Association play. But a strong finish that included a surprise run to the semifinals of the CAA tournament, coupled with a highly touted recruiting class, has Kennedy optimistic about the direction of his program.
Kennedy’s 2009 recruiting class includes John Carroll forward Isaiah Philmore, a Baltimore Sun All-Metro second-team selection, Caravel (Del.) Academy center Erique Gumbs and Guilford (N.C.) Technical Community College shooting guard RaShawn Polk, who averaged more than 24 points per game last season.
Kennedy spoke with Recruiting Report last week about Towson’s 2009 recruiting class.
You lose Junior Hairston, Rocky Coleman, Tony Durant and Tim Crossin, but you’re bringing in a highly touted class. How will this class fill the void and how will it help you move forward on the court?
Kennedy: Well the first kid we’ve got coming in is RaShawn Polk. RaShawn is a 6-2 off guard, very strong. He was the leading scorer in junior college basketball in the state of North Carolina. He had several games over 30 points. We felt we really needed to step up in the backcourt [in terms of] physical size. Our league’s got a lot of big, strong guards. We’ve got Troy [Franklin] and Josh [Thornton] coming back, which is a good group of guards. We think RaShawn coming in as a sophomore is going to be a very important addition.
In the freshman class, Erique Gumbs is a big, 6-10 youngster. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Delaware. We haven’t signed a freshman big player [of his caliber] since I’ve been here. I think he’s going to have a great career.
Isaiah Philmore is a 6-7 youngster who can be a real difference-maker for us. He was a Troy Franklin-like signing for us; very, very important. So we really like all three guys.
[We're excited about] those four new additions ... along with our guys coming back that gave us great production, especially towards the end of the year.
Philmore was a guy who had numerous high-major offers and chose Towson. What was your approach in recruiting him with such heavy competition?
Kennedy: Well the big thing is, I’ve done that before and it’s all relative. When I was at Florida State, they didn’t have a history of signing McDonald’s All-Americans. And we went in there and started recruiting guys above the level they had signed before. [My staff] has already taken a handful of guys above us before. You’ve got to be really, really calculated. [We have to find out] what’s important to this guy when we speak to him on the phone. Is it a lost cause? Is he going to the ACC, or would he consider staying home and playing in the CAA? But with Isaiah we really had good reason to hang in there. He’s very close to this family, he really likes our players and he wants to be an impact guy. Some of the high-majors, they backed off a little bit, so all of these indicators were developing. These things kept popping up, [so we thought], ‘if we stick with this guy, maybe we get him.’ Once we were able to convince Erique to sign, that certainly helped us sign Isaiah.
So Gumbs was a guy you had targeted early on?
Kennedy: He was on our list. Erique was one of our very top recruits. Then we found out how close he was to Isaiah. They played on the same AAU team, the same AAU team that Josh Thornton played on. So we had a lot of good ties in place.
Do you expect both Philmore and Gumbs to make immediate contributions?
Kennedy: Well I think that both are going to have a chance to have an impact right away. Isaiah might be a little more advanced than Erique right away. But over the years, you become a little cautious [of projecting freshmen to make immediate impacts]. The CAA is full of a lot of good players. A bunch of pro scouts have called me lately about Eric Maynor from VCU, [Larry] Sanders from VCU, Gary Neal when he was with us. There are a lot of high-level guys that [initially] went to the Big East or ACC, like a Braxton Dupree, who’s coming back to playing at this level. But what kind of impact [Isaiah and Erique have] remains to be seen.
Polk was your only late signee in this class. Was it your intent to take another player last fall, or did he just sort of burst onto your radar?
Kennedy: I’ve always done this. You have your target guys early and try to sign as many high-quality guys [in the fall]. We’ve been very successful early. But I got Sam Cassell [at Florida State] late, and he took us to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. Sam wasn’t on our radar screen [at first], but we were one great guard away from being a top 10, top 15 team in the country. We went out and found Sam, and Oklahoma and Arkansas had already been recruiting him. We got him to visit late and got him. So I’ve always found guys late that can make a difference.
RaShawn’s a quality player. He’s strong, gets to the rim and can shoot and score it. He’s terrific offensively because of his size. After the season, you [look back and say] ‘what are some things that hurt us?’ Lack of scoring hurt us, so you say, ‘OK, lets get a scorer.’ Now all of a sudden we get the young big kids, and lo and behold we get Braxton Dupree, and a guard that’s big and strong. That covers all the bases. So you go through your notes and develop another target list. Our assistants went to the California JUCOs, the Kansas JUCOs, the Florida JUCOs. Our guys went ahead and scoured the country a little bit. At the end, we ended up getting involved ... with RaShawn. [Recruiting that way is] not an uncommon practice.
Last week it was announced that Will Adams (a shooting guard from Philadelphia who picked Towson over several Atlantic 10 and CAA schools last fall) had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. What was your reaction when you received the news, and how has he been holding up?
Kennedy: Well it’s just a very difficult situation, but we’re looking at the situation through very optimistic glasses. We think he’s going to fully recover. He’s not going to be in condition to compete at the Division I level this year. So Will will be our first signing for next year’s class. Our commitment to him is 100 percent. We’re going to stay with that young man right through everything he’s going to do. He’s going through treatment right now and progressing as he should.
Will he be on campus this fall or will he stay in Philadelphia?
Kennedy: His treatment is going to keep him close to his doctors [in Philadelphia]. It’s not the type of thing where you want to change physicians. He’s got to stick with one scenario.
Dupree will obviously have to sit out a year due to transfer rules, but talk about your impressions of him at Maryland.
Kennedy: I just think Braxton’s a great kid. He had nothing but great things to say about Coach [Gary] Williams and the University of Maryland. He just felt it didn’t work out. But he’s big, strong, runs and catches the ball and he’s got a chance to come in our league and have two solid years to help us win. We’re very, very excited about Braxton. He’s a great kid.
Last year was obviously a tough one, but do you think there enough pieces in place now for a significant turnaround this year?
Kennedy: I made a tremendously calculated decision to go with our young guys. Rocky, Tim and Tony Durant didn’t play as much. What I thought was the right thing to do was to develop this group. Time will tell, no doubt about it. We finished up very strong, with the win against Delaware when it was a big game for them as well as us. We went to the [CAA] tournament and made history. An 11th seed never did what we did, being minutes away from being in the championship game. The last three weeks of the season were extremely important for us. We found ourselves and now we have to build on it for the future.
Associated Press photo / Nov. 28, 2008