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Surveying the West Coast Conference: Chatting with Portland Pilots Head Coach Eric Reveno

Eric Reveno has instilled a winning attitude at the University of Portland and has them on the fast track to a hopeful NCAA Tournament berth.
Eric Reveno has instilled a winning attitude at the University of Portland and has them on the fast track to a hopeful NCAA Tournament berth.

Being that we are the only representative of the West Coast Conference on SB Nation and from what I can tell, the only team-specific WCC blog, we thought it would be great to look around the conference and chat with the coaching staff.  As we look towards the 2009-10 season, one of the teams to watch not only in the conference but on the entire West Coast is the Portland Pilots.  We were lucky enough to get an interview with Pilots head coach Eric Reveno today we asked him everything from his past experience at Stanford, to his current team at Portland, and what he thinks the future holds for him and his program.  It's definitely one of our best interviews on the blog so we hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed speaking with Coach Reveno.

The Slipper Still Fits: We'd love to talk about your journey to the University of Portland.  You obviously had great success as an assistant at Stanford before heading North.  What made Portland the right fit for you?

Eric Reveno:  Really the first thing was the commitment of the President and the Athletic Director to have a program that they want to see compete for championships.  You can lay out blueprints and five year plans and have the resources but it all changes and so in the end it was an investment in the relationship and was just based around good people.  Secondly, the conference is a very attractive conference and growing up around USF, Santa Clara and St. Mary's and playing with guys around the area, I always felt close to the WCC.  I even played with guys that wound up at Gonzaga in high school and I was just very comfortable with the conference and Portland was, I thought, well positioned to do well in the future.  I think many time people over-simplify the idea of a competitive niche.  One, they try and be Gonzaga or two, they think they have to be in Los Angeles for the media advantage but Portland is a great city and has a lot to offer and is sort of spaced away so we can create our own niche. 

TSSF:  The West Coast Conference has a lot of great academic schools with solid reputation.  Do you believe the conference is headed in the right direction and could turn into a premier college basketball conference?

Eric Reveno:  It's a tough question and one that I haven't spent the time to analyze but I think the answer lies in the fact that we are improving as a conference and we are continuing to improve as a program and I am excited about the conference leadership.  I'm excited about Gonzaga being the flagship basketball program of our conference.  Competitively, I want to get to where Gonzaga is and not have them have to come down a level to play the rest of the conference.  The other side of the coin is the macro-side of the tournament.  Actually looking at the number of at large bids is important and realizing what we are doing and how we can get those spots.  I know that big question is out there but I don't get too distracted by it and if that was the only component I feel like we are getting better and steps are being taken.  We hurt the conference a few years ago but last year we got to a point where we don't hurt it RPI-wise and the rest of the conference needs to get to a place where their worst year isn't like our worst years a while ago..  We really need to raise the bottom up higher and let guys like St. Mary's and Gonzaga do their thing. 

continue reading more with Coach Reveno after the jump...

TSSF:  In terms of recruiting and coaching, how much of an impact have your Stanford days had on the type of culture and recruit you are trying to bring to the Portland program?

Eric Reveno:  What I learned at Stanford is that most schools do not have the luxury of choosing players to play a certain style.  Basketball is a players game and we have to take the best players we can get and building this, say if I only like 6'3'' point guards that are long and create matchup issues, we wouldn't have TJ Campbell.  If you get stuck on one type of dream player you just get locked in and if I wanted a player that just fit a position perfectly like a pure 2 then we wouldn't have taken Nik Raivio.  I still don't know what spot he is but he can play everything and is a leading rebounder on our team and wants to guard the post; he even wanted to guard Josh Heytvelt when he went off on us.  We have to adapt and get the best player we can get and then worry about the rest.  We evaluate on three areas: Athleticism, skill and an intangible that we call toughness is what we base recruiting on.  They need to do 2/3 of those things at an exceptional level; at like all state or all conference.  If he's skilled and tough we can fit him somewhere and work on athleticism and vice versa.  Coaches need to put them in spots to be successful and that is how we evaluate.  Three for three is a no brainer, two of three we can work with but one/three is tough because it's hard to work with them in only four or five years. 

TSSF:  When you are recruiting, how much do you weigh how the recruit might match up against say a Patty Mills or Steven Gray?

Eric Reveno:  Yeah, the matchups are important and in addition, you think about your position needs like we need an athletic three man or if you don't like your size, you need to add size.  But we always look at that through a lens of who you are competing against.  Their was a kid in Canada a few years ago that I said "oh yeah he can match with Austin Daye" or something like that and we evaluate guys based on how we think they'd go against guys like Trasolini from Santa Clara or Rob Jones and ask "can they guard him" or post up on Jeremy Pargo.  Sometimes there are guys that you can't plan for and go around like Austin Daye.  I was embarrassed by Austin Daye because it took me way too long to figure out not to have TJ Campbell inbound the ball when Daye was in the game.

TSSF:  We understand that you went on a trip abroad with the team earlier this summer. Can you discuss that trip, and what type of benefit do you think it can provide for the team this year, and the program down the road?

Eric Reveno:  I think that this years team perspective, one is basketball X and O's and that is what I tend to focus on as opposed to the intangibles.  The second thing is  the intangibles like bonding and I'm a little more curious to see where it affected more.  But I think it will make us tougher on the road like when we are in the Kennel down 8 at half and they go on a run and we call a timeout and the place is going crazy, I want to see how we respond.  Or if it impacts us running our offensive sets because we have more game experience with one another.  The third thing is that it was a lot of  fun to be with guys you enjoy.  As far as long term, we are building our program as a first class experience that is big time and does things like that.  Their will be a page in our press guide just talking about it. 

TSSF:  Going along with the last question, you have obviously got people excited about Portland basketball again.  Have you noticed a pretty big culture change around the campus about your program?

Eric Reveno:  Yeah I don't know what extent but there is two camps at this point.  The die hards are pumped and "all-in" excited to the point that almost makes me nervous and then there are others that have just heard of us and are still checking us out.  We haven't crossed a point where ticket sales are through the roof but our students section is solid.  I think we've made a good move but we haven't finished anything yet.  It's something but it is not the result quite yet; and it's important to notice the progress we've made, but at the same time, there is more out there and we have to think going forward.  The good thing is that we are very well positioned and that is exciting. 

TSSF:  Next season you have a very experience team returning with guys like TJ Campbell and Nik Raivio leading the charge. You had a great year last year and nearly put yourself in NCAA Tournament contention.  What are the expectations for your squad this season?

Eric Reveno:  You know, I think we should be at the top competing for a league championship.  I say that to you, knowing it will be broadcast to Gonzaga fans, with hesitancy.  We were third last year and it depends on how others progress.  We are a veteran team and should be able to handle the pressure that comes with competing for a title.  My focus as a coach is on the regular season and I'm trying to direct my players into that mindset too.  That is the test, not the NCAA or the conference tourney and if we do well during the season, we will be in a great position and that will be the judgment of us.

TSSF:  What was your goal with the 2009-10 schedule? Can you walk us through it and highlight the nonconference games you are looking forward to?

Eric Reveno:  Theoretically, we want a schedule that tests us and helps us grow and preps us for the WCC and is something that will be a good mix of home and away.  In reality, we don't have that.  We don't have the leverage.  We are a bad team to play because word has gotten out that we are pretty good but our public perception hasn't changed.  Gonzaga has gotten over the hump where their reputation is good enough and if you lose to Gonzaga, it wasn't a bad thing.  We aren't there yet and still having trouble getting games.   What happens is we play a tougher schedule than we want.  We can't get home and homes so we end up with games that are, travel wise, a bit tougher.  We open up the Anaheim tournament thing with UCLA.  Then we've got possible games with teams like Minnesota, Butler, Clemson, and West Virginia.  The loser of our game plays either Minnesota or Butler so it is difficult.  We've also got games with Washington, Oregon, and at Nevada.  One thing that we do thought is a West Coast schedule.  We want to get big on the West Coast and not so much national because with the Internet and the great ESPN package, we think we can get enough national publicity.

TSSF:  Talk about the impact that Gonzaga has on recruiting and the perception of the program. Is it difficult to sell  Portland or any other WCC program to a perspective recruit when it seems like Gonzaga is the dominant program in the conference?

Eric Reveno:  Good question; Gonzaga is great for the conference.  Their success is undoubtedly great for the conference.  And it makes the league better at what it does.  Recruiting wise it is an interesting conversation because it is good because we are trying to show that we are on the rise.  Personally, I don't get all dreamy eyed and say we are the next Gonzaga but what Gonzaga allows us is that our games are on national TV and we have a great tourney.  And St. Mary's deserves a lot of credit too.  I wear both hats where I really want to beat them every time but I also respect and appreciate them.  Bill Grier told me when he was at Gonzaga that I would become a Gonzaga-hater but I can't because I like the coaches and respect the program.

TSSF:  Have you taken any cues or ideas from the path that Gonzaga took to go from WCC contender, to a nationally recognized program? Do you feel there is a formula for that type of success, or was Gonzaga simply a combination of everything coming together at the right time?

I think Gonzaga proves you can do it but the trick is doing it at your school so that it can work for you.  The coaching continuity is a huge thing and with the coaching family they created is huge and the second thing that is often overlooked is Spokane and what perfect sized city it is.  It's a nice city with a good downtown with things to do and the coaches that go there like it there and it is small enough so that Gonzaga is the only show in town, well maybe not the only show but it's a big splash in the community.  Their is something to be said about the city you are in and I think Portland is a great basketball town.  Their is also something to be said about guys like John Stockton and the fact that he wants to come back and work with the guys and run drills and help the program.  Those are the things that are hard to duplicate.  At Stanford, their was great coaching continuity but it didn't happen til a guy like Brevin Knight came in with no other scholarship offers and elevate our program.  Brevin went to Seton Hall Prep and didn't even get offered by Seton Hall.  We don't know when and where that kind of thing is going to happen to us but I think it will.  Every Gonzaga fan can think of players like Casey Calvary where schools said when they graduated "why didn't we recruit him" and that is the kind of thing we are hoping happens here.