Q&A with Men’s Basketball coach Bill Sall

Katie Bultman

The men’s basketball season ended in a 69-56 home loss to Michigan Tech on Thursday, Feb. 26.
The loss dropped the Wildcat season record to 4-18 in the GLIAC North Division, 5-21 overall.
The ’Cats finished eighth place in conference. Three NMU athletes averaged double digit points per game this season, including junior forward Justin Newell (12.5), freshman guard Marcus Hall (11.4) and junior guard Ethan Blackwell (10).

NMU graduates one senior, forward Michael Smith, who played 19 games this season and started three.
Sophomore guard Terry Nash, who started in 23 games this season and averaged 9.1 ppg, said the team chemistry will play a vital role in the 2014-15 season.

“At the beginning of this season, I barely knew any of the guys on this team,” Nash said. “It’s been new all year, but I feel like I’ve known these guys my whole life. They mean so much to me, and I know that next year we’re going to come back strong and ready to play.”

The North Wind also spoke with first-year NMU head coach Bill Sall about his thoughts on the season.

NW: What are your overall thoughts on your team’s first season at NMU?

Sall: I knew going into the season that it was going to be a challenge. From a record standpoint, we’re 5-21, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. From my standpoint, it’s disappointing, but this has been a tremendous year of growth. From the beginning of the season, we’ve begun to play harder and smarter. We’re not close to our goal yet, but I know I’ve seen an incredible amount of signals and signs for the future.
NW: What were your biggest questions at the beginning of the year, and how were they answered?

Sall: It was a big question of how many players on our roster were Division II capable. Through the course of the year, we saw them prove themselves capable of playing in this division and in this conference.

NW: Your team was able to compete with some of the best teams in the conference, but was not able to closeout. What was the difference between yourselves and those teams?

Sall: If you look at the top teams in the conference, they certainly had more experience. Those teams seem to understand what it took to win the game instead of just being in it. Overall, we were really hurt with the lack of depth and necessary post players on our roster, and it reared its ugly head in a lot of games.
We also struggled rebounding the ball late in games. We finished towards the bottom of the conference in that category, and it will definitely be an emphasis moving forward. We also need the players to find what it takes to go out and catch a rebound in the clutch.

NW: What is going to be the biggest focus toward improving?

Sall: I think the biggest key is continuing improvement of players’ development. You’re always going to measure your play by wins and losses, and as the years go by we will continue to do so, but we did a lot to come together and improve as a team. From where we were in November, and how we played at the end of the season, we turned into a much better team as the season progressed. It may not have equated to wins, but that goes with consistency. Hopefully our consistency of playing a full 40 minutes will get better.

NW: What is the biggest sign of optimism from this season?

Sall: We have a great group of guys that I enjoy coaching and that want to get better. It was very hard to have that many new guys, and it’s huge for all those guys to have a GLIAC season under their belt. The first few weeks of practice, there’s only so many times I can tell them to play harder before they play the games and realize how hard they really need to play in this conference. That was a wake-up call for the players more than anything else. The biggest thing is buying in, putting in and having pride in wearing the jersey.