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Twitter – @uwocoachlewis
Matt Lewis is the Men’s Basketball Head Coach at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Lewis guided the Titans to their first NCAA Division III National Title as interim head coach during the 2018-19 season before having the interim tag removed May 1, 2019.
Matt has compiled a 77-17 record in his first 4 seasons at UW-Oshkosh. Under his direction the Titans have made three trips to the Division III Championship, won the WIAC regular season title twice and secured two league postseason championships.
In 2019 Lewis collected Division III Coach of the Year honors from the NABC, D3hoops.com, DIII News and the Glenn Robinson Award committee. He was also named WIAC Coach of the Year and Division III Public Schools Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association.
Before accepting the head coaching position at UW-Oshkosh, Lewis served six seasons as the Titans’ top assistant. He began his coaching career as an assistant men’s basketball coach at Rhodes College (Tenn.) in 2010. Matt also had coaching internships with Cornell College (Iowa) and NCAA Division I Tulane University (La.), where he was the director of basketball operations from 2010-12.
Lewis played his college basketball at Cornell College in Iowa from 2005-10. He was an American Rivers Conference First Team selection in 2010 when he also received Cornell College’s Sportsman of the Year award.
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Have a notebook handy as you listen to this episode with Matt Lewis, Head Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
What We Discuss with Matt Lewis
- The local players he looked up to as a kid growing up in a small town in Illinois
- Having a key to the high school gym and being able to go shoot with his Dad
- Recruiting himself to Cornell College in Iowa
- The reason why he looks at every email a player, parent, or coach sends him
- How an injury during his junior year in college cemented the idea that he wanted to become a collge coach
- Building relationships as a young coach through working camps
- Getting his first coaching opportunity as the Director of Ops at D1 Tulane
- “You’d wake up and you had a list of things you had to get done.”
- “You may only get a few years to have success. And if you don’t, you could all be out of jobs.”
- “This is how it’s done at a high level. You work from the time you wake up until you go to bed. And hopefully good things happen.”
- Leaving Tulane, knowing he wanted to get out on the court and coach
- Getting hired by Pat Juckem at UW-Oshkosh as an assistant
- “If you do some of the administrative stuff at a championship level you can gain an advantage.”
- The value in empowering your assistants
- “Don’t tell people how to do something, let them surprise you.”
- “We want to operate at a championship level in everything that we do.”
- The keys to running good summer camp and their role in fundraising at the D3 level
- “We want to compete at a championship level, but it has to be fun because if it’s not fun, at some point it’s just not going to be worth the investment.”
- “Have fun in the process.”
- “I consider fun competing every second of every day.”
- Why he prefers to do foreign trips in the spring rather than the late summer
- “I want our guys to have something at Oshkosh they care about and they care about far beyond graduating.”
- “You don’t really build trust until you’re living your lives every single day together.”
- “You need to go through some bad things and then be standing on the other side of it together.”
- The differences when building a relationship with players as an assistant vs. as a head coach
- “We are going to compete and play as hard as possible.”
- “I want our guys to have complete autonomy and freedom. I just want them to play. And so I try and stay out of the way we teach them concepts and how to play with one another.”
- The need for selfless players in his offensive system
- “I’m not like trying to overanalyze every single possession offensively.”
- “I think the best teaching tool from the way we play apart from just playing is guys watching themselves on film.”
- One on one conversations vs calling a player out in front of the whole team at practice
- “I like standing on the sidelines to coach and being as prepared as I can possibly be.”
- “We’re hunting the high character, great teammate that can help win a national championship.”
- “Is he a high character kid? Is he a great teammate? He’s not? Okay on to the next kid.”
- “At every level of college basketball, in order to win at your level, you need guys that can play at the level above you.”
- “Just go to a place, have fun, build relationships, compete, continue to improve, win, graduate, and look back and go, man, I made the right choice.”
- Balancing the evaluation of a player between high school and AAU
- His #1 intangible in a recruit – high character
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THANKS, MATT LEWIS
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TRANSCRIPT FOR MATT LEWIS – UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-OSHKOSH MEN’S BASKETBALL HEAD COACH – EPISODE 613
[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: Hello and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here without my co-host Jason Sunkle this morning, but I am pleased to be joined by the Head Coach at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh Matt Lewis. Matt, welcome to the Hoop Heads Pod.
[00:00:11] Matt Lewis: Yeah, thanks for having me on. And I’m always excited to talk a little hoop, so I appreciate the invite.
[00:00:18] Mike Klinzing: No problem. It’s been a long time coming. I know that we’ve had your former assistant Casey Korn on a couple of times and excited to be able to dive in with you today. I want to start out by going back in time to when you were a kid, tell us a little bit about your introduction to the game of basketball and some of your first experiences that you remember.
[00:00:32] Matt Lewis: Yeah. First, thanks for having Casey on a couple of times, I listen, those are great episodes. I’m a little surprised you needed me talking to him. But yeah, I mean, I remember playing basketball way back as a little kid. My brother would, I have one older brother and he had opportunities to go and play, and I wasn’t quite old enough to, and so I remember going and hanging out and watching him play and growing up, we grew up in a part of Illinois, I’m a small town Illinois guy and where we grew up basketball was huge. And we grew up around some really good high school teams.
I remember watching those teams play as little kids and just, you had enough hoops around you. High-level hoops that you grew a love for the game pretty quickly. And so I just was fortunate to grow up in a community, looking back that really appreciated basketball and, and that really fed just my desire to play it.
I was never a very good player by any stretch. Our high school teams actually got worse as I had to play more. It was looking back. I think where I drew up had a huge impact on who I am today. I know it did from a basketball standpoint, from a personal standpoint. And so I’m very pleased with my experience with the game of basketball as a young kid.
[00:01:55] Mike Klinzing: Who are the players that you looked up to when you were younger, whether that was just local kids at the high school or college player or a pro player, who was it that you looked up to, or that you followed and paid attention to?
[00:02:06] Matt Lewis: Yeah, there was back in our little county that we grew up in or counties, I should say. When I was a real little kid, there was this guy named Merv Joseph. He was not from Illinois originally, but he had come to the states and ended up at a, at a junior college in the area, John Wood community college, and was a tremendous player.
But I remember sitting as like a third and fourth grader watching that guy. And it was like our first exposure to just an elite level basketball player and that, so that was really cool. I knew I was never going to be that, but it was a lot of fun to watch. And then there were some guys when you’re, when you’re an eighth, ninth, 10th grade, that that were more guys, you could probably see yourself becoming, and, and there was a guy by the name of Kellen Fornettie that was a terrific scorer. He played at Navu. There was a guy Wade Heisler that, that played at Warsaw. Who’s now a coach up in the Chicago area. Those guys were, were part of state championship teams. And so again, small town guy. Wow. Oh, they’re small town guys go and win state titles.
You know, you’re like, man, I hope one day I can be those guys. And cause they were really, really good. And then I was just fortunate to get to play kind of underneath some of those guys at, at Southeastern where I went to there’s some really good players, the bringer brothers there’s, there’s some guys in college that I played alongside some of my teammates that were just tremendous players.
And so I always had guys that were better than me, that I could kind of look to my art, how the heck can I try and do what they are doing? So getting fortunate to be around some really good basketball growing up.
[00:03:41] Mike Klinzing: What did that look like for you as you started to take the game more seriously and want it to really improve yourself and get better?
What did it look like for you? Let’s say your summers when you’re a ninth, 10th, 11th grader, what are you doing to improve your game at that point?
[00:03:55] Matt Lewis: Again, looking back, it was, this is the early two thousands. And so the AAU thing was not as big as it is now. We just played a ton of basketball with their high school team, whether it was on the JV or the varsity we would go and play 30 to 40 games with our high school team in the month of June.
And so that was our big month. We we’d play four or five nights a week at different leagues and shootouts. And so that’s how we got better as a team. And again, fortunately, we had some coaches that were very, very invested in it, invested in us. And then probably the thing I was luckiest to have was my dad was a farmer.
And so he had flexibility you know, given the specific time of year, some more than others. In my small community that I grew up in the, the high school principal just gave us a key to the gym. And so at, at 10 o’clock at night, all summer long I could go to the gym with my dad and, and shoot.
And it didn’t result in me being able to shoot very well. I could rebound cause I missed a lot and it was just he and I and the gym. But that was like, that’s probably one of my best memories of, of basketball in high school was anytime I wanted to shoot, I could just walk in the gym with my dad, shoot.
And now I didn’t really know what he was sacrificing at the time. But now my mom has made me aware of, especially in the spring when he’s, when he’s planting her in the fall, when he’s harvesting and I’m getting ready for a season, know, he’d be getting up at 5:00 AM and he’d be getting home just in time to take me to the gym and shoot, and then he’d go home and sleep for a few hours and you’d go right back to the field.
I was pretty lucky that, that I got that experience with my dad.
[00:05:39] Mike Klinzing: It’s kind of amazing when you look back on experiences like that as kids. So often we don’t necessarily recognize all the opportunities and sacrifices that our parents or coaches or people that are around us make in order for us to have those opportunities, I’ve talked to a bunch of coaches method, have a similar experience either with their parent or like you with having a key to the gym, be able to get in.
And one of the questions I always ask is, did you realize at the time, how rare or how lucky that is just to be able to have a key to the gym and have 24 hour access. And typically everybody says now I didn’t really know it until long after that I found out and talked to other people that their high school gym was locked up all the time.
They couldn’t get in and being able to try to find a place to play. And I think it’s just something, as you’re talking, I’m sure with your players, and as you raise your own kids, it’s something I’ve learned as a parent, that you try to have those conversations to get them to understand some of the things that.
They have, and to make them aware that, Hey, you should take advantage of these opportunities, whether it’s, again with basketball or just schoolers, spending time with your kids. As a parent, to me, those things are really, really important. It’s something that as kids, we don’t always recognize. And I think it’s important for us as adults to be able to pass those lessons on to our, to our players or our children.
[00:06:53] Matt Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I had no idea what the, the luxuries I was given opportunities I had and, and I probably still don’t fully appreciate it. So yeah, that is something that we try and pass down and I’m in a place right now, or I have some guys that, that have a good amount of opportunities and things that have been given to them.
And I have some guys that have a little less, but all at all, we, we all come from pretty good backgrounds. And so I just, I want all of us at Oshkosh to be very appreciative of, of what we have.
[00:07:27] Mike Klinzing: When did you start to think that. Playing college basketball was going to be a realistic goal for you as a high school player.
[00:07:35] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I kind of grew midway through high school. I ended up being six four and, and I thought at six four, I’d be tall enough, big enough athletic enough where I could play somewhere. As, as a, as a kid fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade. I was like, all right, I’m gonna play at Kansas.
I had gone to a bunch of Kansas basketball camps. You know, I’d drive over there. My mom would toss me in the car and we’d go spend a week in Lawrence, Kansas, and go to those the week long camps back when you had week long camps. And like, that was, that was the dream. And it didn’t take me very long in high school to figure out I was nowhere near that level.
And so then we started figuring out, well, what other college basketball is out there? And, and we found this, this thing called division 3. You know, there’s a couple schools down by my, where I grew up, Monmouth and Knox and Illinois college. And so I sort of knew what it was, but not really.
And there were still, there was guys going to those, those programs. I was like, I’m not as good as those guys. And they’re going to play division three. And so there was still a little hesitancy, but eventually when I grew and I started having a little success in high school, I was like, I think I could play at a division three school.
And so that’s where I really started focusing my attention junior and that summer going into senior year was, was how can I find an opportunity at a division three school?
[00:09:05] Mike Klinzing: And so what did that look like? You finding that opportunity was that you reaching out to programs and coaches, was that them finding you? What did the process look like?
[00:09:15] Matt Lewis: I was 100% the guy filling out the questionnaire online and, and sending in my, my DVD. So it was right when they they’re making the VHS to DVD converter. And so we, we were getting a couple of tapes on, on DVD and mailing it into a couple of schools that I thought might be good fits.
And so I was, I was not good enough where people were calling me, wanting me to play. I just I’ve filled out the questionnaire online. And then a couple of coaches were, were kind enough to read, read the questionnaire. I found out that the, the one gentleman I chose to go and play for Mike DeGeorge he was at Cornell College oriented up.
He actually never watched the film that my, my mom’s so meticulously put together and mailed in. But he just, he took a shot on a six, four kid and it ended up being. A great experience for me, but yeah, I was as part of the reason that I, anytime I get an email from, from any kid there, I don’t care if it’s a mass email, a personalized email.
If I get an email from a kid we’re going to follow up on it. Cause I was that guy that, that filled out the questionnaire and was firing off emails. And I just, I want to take the time to make sure that, that we, we looked through all those people to take the time to reach out to us.
[00:10:33] Mike Klinzing: So when you show up on campus site on scene, after a coach, not having watched your film, and obviously you get down the road a little bit further, and I’m sure you had a lot more contact with the coaching staff as you’re in that recruiting process, but what do you remember about stepping on campus for the first time?
Both from a student standpoint, but also just from a basketball standpoint, the adjustment that you had to make.
[00:10:53] Matt Lewis: Yeah, the very first day we moved in Cornell is a small liberal arts college in Mount Vernon, Iowa. It’s a special, special place. Well, we had our introductory meeting that day is all the kids moved in and there were 16 freshmen on the basketball team.
And everybody’s looking around the room, like, what the heck are they doing? You know, 16 of us I’m sitting in the back going I’m just happy to be one of the 16 guys. And so I, I think I had a unique perspective. Like I just, I was happy to be on the team quite honestly, that first year. And I learned so much the Mike DeGeorge is now a head coach at Colorado Mesa division two.
They were they were in a regional final game this year. One game away from the elite eight. He’s a tremendous coach. And so I learned a ton starting with the very first day of practice, he started doing closeout drills and I came from a small high school with great coaches, but we never used the word close out.
Like we just, so he’s like, Hey, we’re going to do close outs. I’m like, what the heck is he talking about?
[00:12:00] Mike Klinzing: I went from my high school again. I had good coaches, we had a lot of success. And I went to, I showed up for my first day of practice at Kent State and they started talking about closeouts and I’m like, well, I guess this is something that I got to learn.
Not that once you just put in the term to the action, right?
[00:12:17] Matt Lewis: Oh yeah. Yeah. I we’ve played a decent amount of zone and man, and I’m like, okay, I think I’m supposed to get my hands up and probably get there. And so I, I quickly got to the end of the line and started following the other guys that knew what they were doing.
Which is still something I think about as a coach. I remember that extreme. All right. You didn’t know what you’re doing. So you got to the end of the line and you tried to get a visual. And so that’s something I try and get our young guys, like if they don’t know take, take a couple of reps on the baseline and watch and learn and then try and hop in there and do it.
So my, my first year was just all about trying to learn basketball at as high level as possible. Cause my, my high school coach was phenomenal. Like I think I learned more about just what it takes to be a great teammate and a leader from my high school coach, Greg Visher he did a phenomenal job.
And then in college I really started learning a lot from Mike DeGeorge in terms of motion and man to man. And so that freshman year it was a great year for me, just in terms of learning.
[00:13:19] Mike Klinzing: Going into school, what was your thought process in terms of where you wanted to go career wise at that point? Was coaching at all on your radar?
[00:13:26] Matt Lewis: Yeah, that’s what I went to college. I could think I was again naive. I was 18. I was still very naive now. I’m, I’m almost 35 and I’m probably still just as naive, but I was at 18. I was like, I’m going to be Roy Williams. I just, I had in my head, I was going to be Roy Williams. So I was going to college to be a college basketball coach.
And, and at some point early in my, early in my college career, I don’t know what year it was. I toyed with the idea of being something in business, possibly an insurance. Cause my parents had recently switched from farming to insurance. And so I’m like, okay, that may not be the worst thing in the world.
Just go sell insurance. And then I, my junior year, third year of college, I dislocated my ankle and I had to sit out the whole year. And during that year, I just spent a ton of time in the office with, with Coach DeGeorge. Just kind of learning what goes into coaching on a day-to-day basis. And after doing that for several months, I’m finally getting back healthy going into my fourth year of college, I was like, yeah, I’m going to coach college basketball.
Like, that’s what, that’s what I’m going to do. So I thought I was going to be a coach. I took a step back. I’m like, Nope, insurance. And then I quickly realized, Nope, that is not me. And now I’m coaching college basketball.
[00:14:50] Mike Klinzing: So when you got a chance due to injury to kind of step behind the curtain with your coaching staff and spend some more time with them, were there things that you were surprised that they did or had to do or spent time doing that maybe you didn’t realize from your player perspective?
[00:15:09] Matt Lewis: One part of it was the recruiting piece. Yeah, I wasn’t really actively recruited. I took a visit. But I wasn’t a guy receiving a ton of phone calls or mailing, so that sort of stuff. So I remember sitting in the office and DeGeorge would spend a good amount of time on our team, but the assistant would be in there doing a lot of recruiting stuff during the day.
And I had really no idea what that looked like. And so that was really good just to kind of be exposed to that because I think coach DeGeorge does a phenomenal job at building relationships with people during that process. And so just seeing how he was doing it and then the film aspect of things, like that’s when I first started seeing the early sports code that, that he was getting it on a Mac.
This would have been in 2007, eightish. And I’m like, what is this program? And so he started talking about that just a little bit. You know, again, just the, I don’t think players realize just what we do all day long. You know, I think some, I know I didn’t okay. We practice a 3:30, so DeGeorge is probably hanging with his kids in the morning, a little bit.
He had young kids and then he maybe he gets a workout in, and then he plans practice for 45 minutes and off we go I didn’t realize probably the amount of time he was putting in until I sat in that office for a couple months. And so it was just good exposure that year.
[00:16:33] Mike Klinzing: What was your process for maybe you didn’t even have one, but as you’re thinking about, I want to be a coach and you’re sitting in the office and you’re obviously learning things and you’re getting to observe.
Did you write things down? Did you commit stuff to memory? Was it just more you were absorbing just by being there or did you have a more formal system for sort of putting things together? Like, Hey, I could use this later as I become a coach.
[00:16:57] Matt Lewis: I was not that organized, no way. I learn best, I think from like reading and watching.
And so I know I was just kind of doing that a lot. But I still at that point as a, as a 20, 21 year old, you’re like, okay, I’m going to be a college basketball coach, but I probably didn’t fully realize what all I could have been doing in that year to log some of that stuff. I still have the program philosophy that DeGeorge used and several of the things that we had in our playbook.
Like I’ve still got that sitting in my office here at Oshkosh. So I kept some of that stuff that I thought would be valuable, but really, it was just kind of being around those guys day to day and seeing the interactions that I probably took away the most. And then they, they started prepping me for like, alright, what do you need to do these next couple of years to try and get yourself an opportunity?
And so that we spent a good amount of time talking about like, how to get your foot in the door somewhere.
[00:17:57] Mike Klinzing: And what was the advice they gave you in that area?
[00:17:59] Matt Lewis: One was, I mean, I just go work as many camps as you can. At that time that, that was one of the best avenues was just going and trying to get in front of people at camps.
And that still is a really good thing. If you, if you can get to a camp and work one and it’s like an in-person interview for a week or two weeks, however long you’re able to do it. So that’s legitimately where my opportunity at Tulane came from was Andy Fox who’s is now at Vanderbilt. Andy was at the Citadel back in the day and Andy had played at Cornell just prior to DeGeorge becoming the head coach there.
And so coach DeGeorge knew Andy and he called Andy up and just said, Hey, I’ve got a guy here that wants to coach college basketball. Is there any way he can work at camp, produce something with you guys? And he said, yeah, sure. You know, fly on down to Charleston and work can’t force. And I was able to fly to Charleston for two summers and work camp with them.
And I spent a couple of weeks on the couch in the team room. And that legitimately was how I got my first opportunity at Tulane. Cause those guys had seen me in person for a few weeks for some summers. And that, that eventually gained me enough trust with them that they, they took me to New Orleans.
Right after I graduated college, they got the job at Tulane. And so that camp experience allowed me to be somebody on their list of free help that they would take with.
[00:19:29] Mike Klinzing: So you were the director of ops, correct?
Matt Lewis: Yes. Yep.
Mike Klinzing: So what did that look like for you? Cause you can hear a lot of different descriptions of what.
The day-to-day operations are of somebody who’s that director of ops, what they do. So what do you remember? What was it that you did day to day? I know the answer is probably a million things, everything, but just tell us a little bit about what your day-to-day was like as the director of ops at Tulane.
[00:19:53] Matt Lewis: Yeah. The experience for those two years, I, again, I don’t think I appreciated what I was going through. Really until we, I was the head coach my first year here at Oshkosh and was juggling a million different things. And, and I looked back and I was like, okay, as a 23, 24 year old kid I had to juggle a million different things every single day.
And so I think I appreciated that experience once I became a head coach as I was going through it, there would be some days where I’m sure I was just cussing everybody around me, like just hating life. And then there’d be some days that were awesome. And it was just, I think it’s a tremendous experience. Legitimately, I probably shouldn’t have had that job, that Ed Conroy was the head coach and he was a young kind of up and coming guy. And he had ton of success at the Citadel which he just got rehired there again yesterday which is awesome to see him get to go back to his Alma mater and coach.
But you know, for him to hire a 23 year old guy who had no division one experience had been a division three player and he’s hiring me at a mid-major program as he’s trying to build it again. I don’t think I realized how lucky I was. And so my I’m very appreciative of the opportunity gave me, and it was just a ton of you’d wake up and you had a list of things you had to get done.
And, and by lunch there was a million other things you had to get done. And, and not very much of it with basketball as, as that position is much more of an administrative role, but again, I was exposed to basically everything else then went into a team except for the, the, on the court. And so I was able to take away a ton from that experience and apply it to everything you do as a head coach at our level currently.
And so I’m just very appreciative that Coach Conroy and the assistants there gave me the opportunity.
[00:21:49] Mike Klinzing: What was something that was eyeo pening different from your experience at Cornell and a division three program, two, you go to a division one staff, obviously you have more people on staff.
There’s a different level of play, but beyond that, what are some things that stood out to you that were different from the experience that you had at Cornell versus what you stepped into at Tulane?
[00:22:14] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I think we were very, very competitive that at Cornell, we had a group of guys that were wired to compete and I think it resulted in us having really good success for where we had started out at Cornell. But when I got to Tulane, there was there’s a different level of like heightened awareness of what you’re doing every second of every day, because you, you may only get a few years to have success. And if you don’t, you, you could all be out of jobs.
And so that, that was a little different shock for me. And, and maybe some guys at division three, feel that, but at our level, there’s not quite that on us. And at division one, there’s a pressure to win or possibly lose your job. And your family is out of a home type deal. And so I just think that was kind of a shock to me.
Cause you don’t really know it until you’re living in it or like, okay, we’ve got to start winning games or we’ve got to start finding a way to get kids in here that that can compete at a high level and win. And so that was a little bit of an eye-opener for me. But also I just think the level of knowledge I mean, Doug Novak was the assistant coach at the time, the top assistant.
And he was like the offensive guru. And he still is like, he’s very well known. He just did a year as the interim head coach at Mississippi state women’s basketball. And Doug knows the offensive side of the game better than probably anybody I’ve been around. And he would sit in his office and watch film 16 hours a day.
And just, I mean, it was crazy the amount he would consume and the amount of notes he would take. And I had just never seen that. And so I think just being around kind of the preparation that went into the basketball side of things. They had more personnel that allowed them to divvy up some of those non-basketball things.
But I think that was just great getting to be around those guys that, that they’d worked 16, 18 hour days and they set an example for me of like, alright, this is how this is how it’s done at a high level. You worked from the time you wake up until you go to bed. And hopefully good things happen.
[00:24:34] Mike Klinzing: Do you think that that work ethic/pressure that you mentioned, you got to win games or you could be out of a job. How did that pressure for lack of a better way of saying it? How did that manifest itself in terms of maybe conversations that coaches would have in the office or things that coaches had to do in order to make that happen?
Cause I think I’ve talked to several coaches that have mentioned the same thing. That it’s the first time, whether you’re thinking about it from a player perspective or a coach perspective, Where when you’re a high school player, even if you’re a high school coach, there’s obviously you want to win.
And coaches at the high school level can lose their job because they don’t win, but they’re losing an oftentimes their coaching job, right. They still have a teaching job. They’re still able to feed their family and those kinds of things. This is the first time where you’re an 18 year old kid and you’re under pressure to perform so that your head coach can continue to be employed.
So just when you think about that pressure that you mentioned, how did you see that maybe come out in terms of just the things, the urgency that it took in order to be successful?
[00:25:44] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I think there was probably just some, maybe more highs and lows. Like when you won, it was an awesome thing. When you lost it was bad.
It was there was just a roller coaster at times. At least that’s what I felt like personally you just, when you I remember beating Georgia Tech at home. You’re a ride and very high. And then you’d go on the road in conference and you lose it at Rice. And you’re just, you’re out of low because of it.
I think our head coach, Coach Conroy and the assistants did a really good job of managing it. They had all been around it now. They’re all being very successful at other places. And so I think they did a really good job of managing it as, as a 23 and 24 year old. You know, I was every single day I was there are days I was really happy.
There was days I was really down because of it. And I think I’ve gotten a little bit better at it as, as I’ve gotten older. But you can’t let yourself kind of ride that rollercoaster that sometimes pressure can, can put us in. And I was as a 23 and 24 year old, I was definitely riding the roller coaster
[00:26:50] Mike Klinzing: That experience at Tulane. How did that impact your career plans moving forward. In terms of you come up through the division three system, as a player, you get that behind the scenes, look at what it was like to be part of a division three coaching staff. When you’re sitting out injured. Now you’re at Tulane, you get the division one experience.
Did that impact your career decisions moving forward or was it more just, here’s where the opportunities ended up coming and that’s sort of how you ended up in division three?
[00:27:21] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I knew after two years that I wanted to be on the court. At Tulane we did everything by the book.
I was not on the court at all for anything. And at that time, that’s what ops guys. You weren’t supposed to be on the floor. And so we were by the book and after two years of that I want to coach, I want to be on the court. I want to truly get involved in the recruiting and get involved in film every single day and scouting report.
And so after two years I was searching for an opportunity. And I also knew I was pretty aware at that time of just how difficult division one assistant jobs were. And, and so I didn’t have like a pipe dream of, alright, next fall, I’m going to be a D one assistant. I just kinda realized that probably wasn’t the path for me.
I looked into it. But I also was very aware of, I loved my division three experience. Like there’s something unique about this level. And so I was very open to coaching at division three and going back and being a D three assistant to start. My family had all moved to Wisconsin.
And so I grew up in Illinois, they moved to Iowa, Minnesota, and then they lived in Nina, which is 15 minutes from Oshkosh. So as I was searching for an operative. I wound up in, in Nina as I was job hunting and Pat Juckem who was the guy I worked for six years at Oshkosh. He’s now the head coach at Wash U in St. Louis, one of the premier division three institutions. He called me up and said, Hey, I heard you’re a Nina and you want to coach D3? I said, absolutely. And he goes, well, I’m going off. Gosh. And I looked it up on a map and it was 15 minutes from Nina and I was okay, I guess I can do that. And so I think that experience of division one, I learned so much from it.
And one of the, probably the biggest things I learned was I was open to coaching at any level. Cause I, I thought at that point, basketball is basketball. And so for me, I love D three and I didn’t care about levels anymore. It’s like, I’m just going to go find a coaching opportunity and it just wound up to be at, at UW Oshkosh.
And fast forward 10 years and I’m still at Oshkosh. So I was really lucky to get the start that I had.
[00:29:42] Mike Klinzing: It seems like you’ve found the right place.
[00:29:45] Matt Lewis: Yeah. I got a very, very lucky when, when Juckem called me and I, I found out now I’m, I’m still very close with Mike DeGeorge who coached me my first four years at, at Cornell Mike had called Juckem and said, Hey, Lewis is up in Nina and he’s searching for a coaching gig.
You should probably hire him on. And so that was the reason y’all come call me. So looking back, I got really lucky that that might picked up the phone call and picked up the phone and called the outcome.
[00:30:16] Mike Klinzing: So what was the experience like when you step into the assistant role at a division three?
Now you’re back on the floor. Did that part of it energize you? What it was it as enjoyable and fun as you hoped it would be to be able to get out on the floor and actually do some real coaching and not just be stuck behind the scenes, making copies and running around and doing all the administrative things that I’m sure you had to do at Tulane.
[00:30:38] Matt Lewis: Yeah, it was incredible. Like just getting to be out there now. It’s again, it’s a little different at D three, there from mid-October to hopefully March if you get to play in March otherwise you’re back in the office. And so I have found that I don’t mind the administrative stuff.
Cause I think if you do some of the administrative stuff at a, at a championship level you can gain an advantage within, within your program and our level. And so I, I don’t like short change the things I have to do on a daily basis from, from March until mid-October when we’re back in season.
Cause I do think that can be a big advantage for us and I know. A lot of that at a high level from my Tulane days. But being on the court was, was the special, like, and Juckem was phenomenal. Like he and I shared an office my first year. I was a part-time guy he paid me through camp a little bit.
And so we shared an office and that first year, just again, seeing what he does on a daily basis, the way he interacts with people I think he’s one of the best I’ve been around that and just human interaction. And so just watching his interpersonal skills was a great learning experience and then getting to be on the court where he fully trusted me to have a voice.
And part of this, we were not very good. When Pat got the job and he hired me on, they had gone, 0 and 16 the year prior in conference play. And, and the league that we’re in is one of the best D three leagues in the country. That first year, if, if I said the wrong thing, it probably didn’t matter.
And I’m sure I said a lot of things that were wrong, but Pat just let me speak and kind of find my voice. And he did that for six years while I was the assistant. So it was awesome to be on the court and then to be around the guy like Pat that let me speak freely and openly and confidently.
[00:32:33] Mike Klinzing: Did you take that lesson learned when you got the head job in terms of how you allowed your assistants to take control of things in practice and to be able to delegate? Cause I know that’s one of the things that when we talk to head coaches at any level, so many of them say that, especially in their initial opportunity as a head coach, that that delegation piece is really, really difficult because you just have had this vision in your head of what you want your program to look like and how you want to do things.
And that, to be able to see that control. It’s something that’s really difficult initially. And then coaches say the better I get at it, it actually turns out that the more success I have, because I’ve popped, empowered these people that I’ve brought in, because I believe in what they do and who they are and what they bring to the table.
But it’s oftentimes, especially early on hard. So did you learn that lesson right away? Or how difficult was it for you to delegate? Once you got the head job to allow your assistants to have that freedom that you felt like you got when you first got there?
[00:33:32] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I’m a control freak. And so I struggled with delegating.
No doubt. That was one of the pieces of advice I got from Coach Conroy. Back when I was a young guy trying to figure it out was he goes, you need to delegate and trust people. And cause I was trying to do everything and it led to me not sleeping very much. My first year as the head coach I knew I wanted to be what Pat had had done for me.
Like I wanted to be that trusting and, and just turn things over, give responsibility. And we had Casey Korn who you’ve had on the podcast, who is I’ve known him since, since he was 18. He was in that room of 16 with me at Cornell. We were in each other’s weddings. Like we know each other very, very well.
And when I became the head coach I hired him and I knew I was going to get a guy that I could absolutely trust. But it was a unique dynamic. Like you’re you hired a friend who sometimes when you hire a friend, you interact differently with one another. And, and so I know that that first year even though we had a magical year, like we lost three games all year there wasn’t much up and down to it. We had about as picture perfect year a you can have, I’m sure that I drove him crazy still that first year, because, he’s he was sitting in the chair. Now we’ve rearranged the office cause we had a, a second full-time assistant that year, Ben Stelzer, who’s now at Michigan Tech.
So Ben and Casey shared an office, but those guys are sitting in the office that I had for five years. And doing a lot of the tasks that I used to do. And I at the school that, that we’re still currently at. And so I did have a, this is how I used to do it and I need to not try and control it and make it look exactly like how I did it.
And, and there’s a, there’s a great quote. And I’ll forget who who said it, but it’s, it’s like, don’t tell people how to do something, let them surprise you essentially. I tried to, as I’ve gotten further, along in my head coaching career, I’ve tried to do that more and more.
We’re just like, ah, just let these guys do what I trust them to do. They don’t have to do it exactly the way you did it while you were the assistant.
[00:35:55] Mike Klinzing: What are some of those administrative things that you mentioned that you do that your assistants do, your staff does that you feel like can make a difference in the program beyond just what you do out on the floor?
How can you set yourself apart with some of those things that go on behind the scenes and then how does your staff fit into some of those things that give you an advantage?
[00:36:16] Matt Lewis: Yeah. I guess one last thing on that previous question I just want to hit on Chad Murray was my fifth year college coach. Mike DeGeorge left after my fourth year and I was a fifth year guy cause my injury and Chad Murray was the new coach that they hired and he was a young, successful assistant. And so I think being an older college player with that, that gentleman who was coaching for the first time and kind of growing through that together I love Chad Murray.
Like the guy pushed me and challenged me as a fifth year senior, and I loved it. And now he’s having a ton of success at Pacific Lutheran. They just made the or they just won conference for the first time in a long time. And so I remember being that 22 year old, 23 year old fifth year senior with a first time head coach and Chad gave me a great vision for how to do it.
And so that, that played a big role too, when I switched over to being a first-time head coach. But from an administrative standpoint, we try and be very organized. There are some things I’m not great at from an organizational standpoint, my assistants try and help. We just try and be very organized and on top of stuff.
So that, that things, don’t all of a sudden jump up and surprise us. You know, we didn’t forget to do this, that the other thing, like we just, we’ve got it very detailed and organized so that we can kind of stay on top of all the things that could come up and be a stressor in season. And at aplace like Oshkosh, we do have to fundraise like crazy.
And so I think we do a pretty good job of fundraising. I try and take a good amount of that burden, so it doesn’t stress our assistants out, but we want to operate at a championship level in everything that we do. So we have to fundraise a large amount of money each and every year to provide our guys with the experience that they have from a player perspective and that our players get involved in it.
Obviously the academic side of things is huge. And we just try and be as organized and on top of that as possible, because we want our guys to succeed. And again, we don’t, I don’t want our guys to be stressed out and, and if you’re, if you’re struggling academically, it can stress you out.
And so our, our assistants right now, Kyle Jones and Koji Vroom, who I hired this past summer and early fall, those two guys do a great job of, of kind of overseeing the academic side. And then I obviously take a overarching approach, just making sure we’re all on the same page as the expectations and the standards.
But I just want our assistants to know everything that’s gotta go into a championship level program, not. You know, Hey Koji, you’re in charge of scouting reports and some social media and a little bit of recruiting. Like, no, you get exposed to everything. Kyle, you get exposed to everything that way you’re ready to go when you get an opportunity.
[00:39:19] Mike Klinzing: Clearly that’s something that a lot of coaches sounds like yourself that prioritize not only allowing your staff to contribute to the program where they are now to your program, but also part of your responsibility is to be able to help them to develop so that they eventually can have an opportunity if they want to, to be able to move on and be a leader and be a head coach and head up their own program.
I think that’s something that as a head coach, if you can do that and you can give your assistance, as you said, that opportunity to spread their wings and have a hand in every single thing that you do in the program. That’s clearly one of the advantages when we talk to coaches, the division, the difference between being sort of on that division one track versus being on the division three track where.
Out of the visual one staff. If you’re a young guy, you may not have nearly the number of different responsibilities. You don’t necessarily get your hands, like your experience where you’re not on the floor. You’re not recruiting, you’re not writing scouting reports, you’re in the office. You’re getting somewhat exposed to those things, but you just don’t have the hands-on experience like you do at the division three level.
And I think that the best head coaches not only utilize the strengths that their staff has, but they also help the staff to be able to grow and sort of get out of their comfort zone so that then they’re ready for whatever their next opportunity may be. If they get a chance to move on and move up a level or go up to a head coaching position or move up from the second assistant to the first assistant, whatever it may be.
I want to go back to what you said though, about fundraising. When you’re talking about fundraising, give people an idea of what does that mean? Are you reaching out to alumni? Are you reaching out to local businesses? What does it look like fundraising for a division three basketball program?
[00:40:54] Matt Lewis: Yeah. Everything, anything. I mean folders, like are I don’t know how transparent I’m supposed to be. Our operating budget is not great. It just kind of you know, it, doesn’t get you in nearly what you need at our level. And I want to be able to operate where you basically, if you think you need something to be successful, you don’t have to say no to it.
If our assistant tells me that, that we need this new film thing, or we need to do this for recruiting or Hey coach, we need to haul off and go to this spot and I need a rental car and a hotel for two nights. Like if we need to do something, I want to be able to do it. So we try and fundraise 80 to a hundred thousand dollars a year, which is a significantly larger sum than our operating budget.
And so we try and run massive camps in the summer. And there’s a lot of pressure to have really good camps. One, I want to put a product of camp out there that kids really enjoy because as I noted earlier, me going into the Kansas camp that, that formed my dream for myself to be Roy Williams, but I want the campers to come here and love basketball.
But I also realized that that running really good camps can help our program in January when we’ve got kind of a war chest of money that we can draw from. We run a huge steak fry in the fall that Pat Juckem brought with him from co and it’s kind of a Wisconsin tradition.
I still don’t know why he called a steak fry. Somebody can explain that to me, maybe this from Wisconsin, but yeah, we’d run that in October and it’s a huge event and we get 250 plus people and we get friends, family alone. People from campus, people from the community. We run a youth tournament on a Sunday, in the middle of our season with 50 teams.
And so you don’t sleep a lot the few weeks leading up to that, but, but that helps get you ready for hopefully a national tournament. When you’ve got a little extra money to prepare for taking extra people on the national tournament trips, the NCAA only gives you a per diem for 15 players and, and five other staff members.
And we want to travel everybody in our program, which is when you add everybody together, it’s more like 27 or 28 people. So you got to have money to take people international national tournament trip. We, we sell t-shirts we, we ask alumns for money. We just redid a locker room and you’re asking alums to donate money to cover the cost of a locker room.
Basically any fundraising idea you can come up with, we’re willing to try. And it so you can imagine the last two years in the pandemic, when you have no camps, you can’t run in person fundraisers. The stress that lack of finances can cause, and that’s, again, that’s one of the things I want our assistants to know what we need to do financially, but I don’t want the burden to be on them.
Cause it can cause stress. And I want them to not have to deal with that until their head coach.
[00:43:57] Mike Klinzing: All right, let’s talk. Happy thoughts, camp. What makes a good camp in your mind when you’re thinking about putting together a plan to run a camp where a kids are going to have fun and B they’re going to learn something.
What in your mind, and then the keys to running a successful camp?
[00:44:12] Matt Lewis: I think you just, you used the biggest word is fun. Like it has to be fun and that’s, that’s something that is true. For us right now with our college program, it’s like, if we want to compete at a championship level, but it has to be fun because if it’s not fun, at some point it’s, it’s just not going to be worth the investment.
That’s got to go into it. And so I think camp each summer is a reminder of that. Like, we need to create an environment for kids that is fun and, and is if they are having a ton of fun, then they’re probably going to be open to learning something. If they’re not having fun at camp, then they’re probably not going to take much home with them.
And so we, we try and make sure that it’s a really fun environment. Casey up at Lawrence, Casey was phenomenal at it. He just, I think that dude is a fifth grader.
[00:45:05] Mike Klinzing: That’s an important part of the mentality. There’s no question about that. Yeah.
[00:45:09] Matt Lewis: So I think that’s number one. And then, then, okay.
We’ve created a safe & fun environment. And now what can we teach them that sticks? And they can take home with them and, and hopefully continue to grow. And we face that that wide range at camp where you’ve got some kids that have played absolutely zero basketball, they’re showing up for the first time ever, or they’ve played a ton.
And that could be within the same age group of the same basket. You know, you just have no idea. And so we, we really try and keep it simple, but allow that simple teaching points to be expanded upon, depending on the skill level of the hoop. And we really work with our, our players who coached the baskets, like, Hey, you need to make sure each kid you’ve got at your basket is learning the appropriate skill level.
Like if we’re working on shooting and this young man or young woman has not shot a basketball before, then, then you need to work with them on, on smaller, simple things that they can take. If this kid over here has, has two hoops at home has been shooting since he was three. Well, then you need to crank it up for that kid, but you’re going to have to do it at the exact same time.
And so I really, that’s probably pretty similar to a college basketball practice. Like we just described, I didn’t know what a closeout was, but my, my best friend in college who ended up being our all time leading scorer, he sure as heck knew what it was. So he could probably be taught at a little faster, higher level than I could on.
And so I think it’s all applicable. No matter the age level of basketball have fun and teach something that, that people can take with them.
[00:46:45] Mike Klinzing: Do the majority of your players stick around for at least a couple of weeks of camp? Or how does that work?
[00:46:50] Matt Lewis: Yeah, we’ll, we’ll run a big team camp in June where it’s high school teams and, and all of our team will come back from work that that’s a fundraiser.
Our guys don’t get paid, they just got to come back, but they spend 72 hours together running that thing. And then we run camp in July and August and we’ll get a good amount of our guys. That we’ll come back and work that camp. And then I’m the fortunate thing we got going in Oshkosh is we have a lot of kids from within a couple hours of Oshkosh.
And so some of those kids, they live close enough or they’re just always around in the summer or some of those guys get jobs in Oshkosh. We live in a great area, Northeastern Wisconsin, the Fox valley is, is special. And so they’ll just choose to live here. And so we, we’ve got over the summer, a lot of guys around and then those camp weeks, we get even more of those incoming freshmen will come and work camp and get exposed to kind of what we do.
Get exposed to campus, built, start building relationships with their teammates. So those camp settings, apart from building relationships with kids and teaching the game fundraising, it also just helps you just from a building your, your next year team. You, you can really hit the ground running if you run good camps in the summer.
[00:48:08] Mike Klinzing: Absolutely. You’ve mentioned a couple of times providing your guys with an experience as part of your program that that’s, I get the sense from talking to you that that’s a big part of what means a lot to you is you want to win, but you also want to have your guys look back when they’re finished or in the midst of their career and say, Hey, this is, this is the right place for me.
This is a great experience. And you said that one of the things that you try to do is balance out. It has to be fun. And yet at the same time, you have to have that championship expectation that you guys have built. So as a head coach, what does that look like? Whether it’s philosophically or actually what you do day to day, how do you balance that idea of fun with championship expectations?
Because sometimes people hear fond. They’re like, oh, it’s just kind of loosey goosey and guys are playing around and set. And so you, and I know the difference, but just explain to us what, how you. How you get to that point or what that looks like philosophically in your mind, fun and also championship expectations being balanced?
[00:49:10] Matt Lewis: Yeah. It’s for us. And this is a credit toPat it’s a credit Pat and Mike DeGeorge. And it really goes back to John Thorpe when he was at Lawrence, which is a kind of a cool thing that, that you know, Casey now one of my best friends and worked at Oshkosh with us, he’s kind of in this coaching tree that is now back in charge of Lawrence university, where we all kind of started with John Thorpe.
But anyways, that’s probably a full podcast in itself. So those guys all started building this program philosophy and we’ve all tweaked it. There’s several of us that are in coaching and we’re going to see a lot of each other at the final four in New Orleans here in eight or nine days.
Those guys built a philosophy and the last piece of it is have fun in the process. And so when, when pat got to Oshkosh and he’s like, Hey, this, this is what I worked the program to be about. And we, we sat down and we looked at it. And so that’s really simple. Like that’s, that’s what DeGeorge had at Cornell.
Like I can bind to that very easily. And the last piece of the mission statement was have fun in the process. And a part of that is, is you have to define what fun is. Cause there’s, there’s everybody’s got a different perception of what fun is to some people fun is just kind of horsing around all the time, which is great.
We need that. Like, we need a loosey goosey atmosphere at times. When you get into the national tournament, you probably actually need a little bit more of that than you do in that. You know, it just, depending on the time of the year, determines how much of that kind of looseness you need, but you need, you need guys that are enjoying it every single day.
There’s also, there’s people that like myself, I consider fun competing every second of every day. Like to me, that is fun. It’s stressful, but it’s fun. And I gotta sometimes taper myself back and realize that’s not everybody’s definition of fun, but it’s, it’s helpful when guys understand that competing and winning can be fun.
Because that’s a big part of what we’re doing too, is winning is fun. And so we try and win and enjoy our wins. And then you just try and you try and do things that, that guys remember and take away as fun. You know, we go and play a very competitive schedule and take fun trips like next year we’re going to Aberdeen. Northern State is hosting for the best and NAIA programs in the same building for two days. And we’re going to play two really, really good teams. And our guys are gonna love that trip. Now we’re going to spend four days together, probably three or four nights in a hotel play two really good teams.
They’re going to love that. We go on foreign trips. We’re going to go on a foreign trip in May of 2023. We do it right after the season, rather than some schools, a lot of division ones, a lot of scholarship programs take those trips in August to kind of get a jumpstart on the upcoming year.
And I know if I did that, if I took a team in August, I would not be fun to be around because I’d be so concerned about the upcoming year. If I, if I go in may, I can kind of block out the 15 turnovers versus an Italian team that’s pressing us and not worry about it. Cause I know that the next day we’re going to go check out some.
And that’s really what the trip’s about. So those trips are a blast. I think it’s just an overall approach. We want our guys to enjoy being around each other, being around us, our program each and every day, while they’re here. And there’s going to be some moments that aren’t fun. And hopefully if you’re not having fun, there are teammates that are, and they can, they can give you a little bit of juice, a little bit of passion.
Cause ultimately like we’ve got a philosophy. I can take you through two hours of our program philosophy and, and our guys get bored with me when I do it. But, but ultimately that’s what I want. Like you used the word care back at the beginning of your question. Like I want, I want our guys to have something Oshkosh they care about and they care about far beyond graduating 30 years from now when we’re hanging out together reminiscing, it still means something.
And I think in order for that to occur, we’ve got to have great relationships and they have to have had fun and enjoyed their time at Oshkosh.
[00:53:34] Mike Klinzing: What does that relationship building look like for you as a head coach? Because obviously it’s different for a head coach than it is for an assistant coach as an assistant coach, it’s much easier to be that sounding board.
Whereas when you’re the head coach, everybody knows you’re the guy that ultimately determines whether or not a player gets on the floor. And sometimes that can make that relationship piece of it a little bit more challenging. So what do you do day to day to make sure that you’re building that relationship with your players so that you can have that experience in the moment during the four years the players with you, but also you can have that moment five years later, 10 years later, 20 years later.
So that relationship is solidified and the player knows it’s about more than what they can produce for you on the basketball team.
[00:54:24] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I think it starts in the recruiting process. And I think that’s one of the special things about our level is, is typically we are recruiting young men from very early in a division one, division two, you start recruiting kids usually early in their high school career.
But sometimes they’re finding guys like a kid shot really well at one of the new June live periods and they offer a kid and then the kid commits two months later. Like when we’re in the recruiting process, we’re still recruiting kids right now that I’ve known since early in their junior year.
And I’ve been able to, because there are very limited rules on contact. I can go and watch a kid play 12 times in person and interact with them a ton. And so I think when you can, when you can see a kid that much in-person or recruiting process and help start building that relationship. And we talk a lot about trust and that was a big thing for Mike DeGeorge at Cornell.
We broke every huddle at Cornell with the word trust, and it’s not just the ability to create, develop trust is, is paramount. But it’s a difficult thing because as much as you want to build trust during recruiting, you don’t really build trust until you’re living your lives every single day together.
When the, when the young man gets to campus and then when you start going through some good times and some bad times together if everything’s always good it’s, you do have a relationship, but you probably need your relationship tested. At some point, you need to go through some bad things and then be standing on the other side of it together.
And you’ve probably got a strong relationship than if everything was just a great, easy going relationship. We try and just honestly have an open door policy where we’re I am, I am available 24/7. And we can have any type of conversation the guy wants to have or needs to have needs to hear like we’re yes, we’re going to have great fun conversations.
Or we’re going to have challenging heart to heart, open, honest conversations where we just look each other in the eye and we tell each other the truth. And sometimes that’s the guy’s telling me things sometimes that’s me telling it to the guys and having those types of conversations.
But it’s just a day to day approach where we’re trying to invest in one another. And it is different you transitioned from head coach or from assistant coach to head coach those assistant coaches. And I was fortunate enough to be on here at Oshkosh. You do get sometimes like a behind the curtains look with the players.
Like they’ll, they’ll be a little more open, a little more loose around you. I actually, I try and like we have film sessions basically every day. And I don’t show up to the film session until right at the start of it, or maybe a couple of minutes late, because I know that when they’re in there with the assistants, they just horse around, like the players are just joking and cracking making fun of each other and making fun of the assistants.
They’re making fun of me. They’re talking about things that are going on in their day-to-day life as a group, as soon as I walked in the door it’s, it’s a little bit more all business type approach. And so I’ll find out Hey, you should have heard the thing that so-and-so said before you walked in the room.
Like, why don’t I get to hear any of these things? So you just, you try and create an environment where we’re guys feel open and comfortable to have honest conversations with, with whoever, whoever it is in the program. And then hopefully at our level, we can retain those guys for, for four years and over the course of four years, and a lot of that, that type of interaction, you’ve got something pretty special when the kids walk away.
[00:58:07] Mike Klinzing: Let’s talk a little bit about on the court philosophy and style of play and how you have evolved as a coach. When you think about just the way you want your teams to play, where are you as far as being a head coach and nailing down the way you want to play? Obviously there’s some year to year adjustment, obviously the game evolves and changes over time.
But when you think about the ideal way that you want to play, or you want to put your program together, where do you feel like you are on that timeline of your evolution as a coach in terms of having a really good handle on what you want to do out on the basketball floor?
[00:58:49] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I’m, I’m pretty comfortable with where we’re at.
We’ve had a good amount of success doing it the way we’ve. And obviously year to year, it looks slightly different. But I learned from some really good guys in high school and college at Tulane and then with Juckem here I’ve learned from some really good teachers of the game.
And then when you start having success with what you’re doing, it enhances the buy-in from you personally, it gives you confidence in your approach, but also from the program as a whole. And so when guys come into our program, they know that we have one doing it the way we’ve done it and what we do at we’re we’re man to man defensive team that prides itself on competing every single possession.
And, and so like overall philosophy defensively is we are going to compete and play as hard as possible. As hard as possible defensively and the on ball screen coverage will look different depending on our personnel, the other team’s personnel. Maybe as the year goes from October to hopefully March some of the small things that you emphasize within that man to man it, it may change or, or you may just make art.
We found a ton of success, really emphasizing these two things. So we just keep emphasizing those. And next year, the emphasis might be slightly different depending on what you’re having success with. But we’ve had a lot, a lot of success with just play in competitive man demand. And then the older guys can teach that to the younger guys as they come into the program and then authenticity we’re emotion team and we try and relinquish control.
And again, I said, I’m a control freak, and I control a lot of things or I’ve gotten better at it. In terms of what we do day to day administrative stuff that sort of. On the court. I want our guys to have complete autonomy and freedom. I just want them to play. And so I try and stay out of the way we teach them concepts and how to play with one another, how to create advantages, how to play off advantages, what a, what a great shot is that sort of thing.
But when we play, just go play. And so I think we called in, in the last two months of the season, outside of baseline out of bounds, we may have called five plays. Otherwise the guys just play. And we spent coaches, we spend more time like focused on how’s the team guarding us. What can we talk about in timeouts about how to possibly like, Hey guys, this is what they’re doing on off ball screens.
This is how they’re defending a ball screen. This is how they’re defending the post. And we can spend a ton of time how are they trying to attack us on the defensive end, That’s it, it’s a style of basketball that I think is really fun for our players to play. And that’s really fun to coach.
And I think it’s difficult to prepare for if your opponents, cause it’s just guys out there making decisions with and for one another, and then it requires guys to be selfless, great teammates. Cause if, if guys aren’t willing to help each other, create advantages and play off of advantages.
If, if they’re no selfish dudes motion doesn’t work very well. You need a bunch of guys that are selfless.
[01:02:05] Mike Klinzing: All right. So when you’re in a game situation, obviously as a coach, you are seeding a tremendous amount of control over the game to your players, which in reality, even if you’re a coach that tries to control everything, you probably have a lot less control over what goes on in a game anyway, but philosophically you’re turning that game over to your players.
So that leads back to. The preparation that you have to do in practice in order to help your players to understand how to make the right decisions in the dynamic environment, that is any basketball game. So what do you do in terms of practice design to help your players to make good decisions, too? You mentioned about understanding what’s a good shot.
What’s not a good shot. And in the course of doing that, how do you balance them making mistakes, maybe not reading the situation the way you would want it to be read in practice, allowing those mistakes to be made and not constantly having to be talking and correcting every little thing. So I think all those things kind of go together in, you have to seek control to the players in the games and let them play.
You have to rely on the fact that. You’ve taught them and you’ve given them opportunities to be in those situations in practice. And then you, as a coach, you have to let them work through mistakes. And yet at the same time, you have to be able to coach them to help them through and understand decision-making and taking good shots.
So just maybe take me through, I thought it’s a long winded question, but just kind of take me through the practice philosophy and how that translates into what you see from them in games.
[01:03:43] Matt Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. In practice, we, we try and play a ton and I know that’s a popular thing and continues to grow.
So it is just playing as much as possible. And I think that’s huge when you’re trying to get guys just to make decisions and, and you know, read and react to one another. So we, we try and play a ton of two on two, three on three, four and four, five on five. We try and play a ton of late game situation stuff.
And now it stinks this year. We were 23 and four. And I think our, our four losses, we, it was, it was a combined like nine points or less or something like that. And so we, we lost some really close games. But we won a lot of really close games too. And so we, we try to in practice, put our guys in those situations as much as possible, just play a ton of late game situations.
And then ultimately like when our guys are playing in practice, when they’re playing often, specifically, I try not to speak a ton to them. If, if there’s something I feel like is a good teaching point, I’ll mention it. If we’re turning it over too much, I’ll mention it, but I’m not like trying to overanalyze every single possession offensively.
Cause I just want guys to be able to play and not second guess themselves and look over and like, all right, what is coach gonna do after this possession over? So I just want them to be able to play. It’s something you gotta keep reminding yourself as a coach is to shut up. But I ultimately, I just spent so much more of my time focused while the ball is in play focused on the defensive side, that way I’m not worried about what’s going on offensively.
And then I think the best teaching tool from, from the way we play apart from just playing is, is guys watching themselves. And so watching we filmed no majority of practice. We can go back and watch that practice film with guys. We can watch authentic clips from, from games, no doubt.
And if there’s things that need to be addressed, like if a guy is taking shots that we don’t like there, there are very few guys that, that I will call out in front of a group. Cause very few guys respond to that. You know, it’s much more of a, Hey let’s let’s meet one-on-one and let’s discuss shot selection. And usually when we have that type of conversation, there’s going to be statistical evidence that, that backs it up. And, and if, if this shot’s not great for us, we’ll, we’ll, what’s a better option. Well, man, you’ve got a crazy assistant turnover ratio. Let’s let’s have even more assists or so-and-so, who’s over here is shooting 43% from three let’s.
Let’s get that guy another look. Or if you put the ball in the lane, this is the type of things that happen to us. A few passes later, or no, this, this, so we try and have those types of conversations that are more constructive in a one-on-one setting. And I think when you have those types of conversations that are you know, one-on-one open honest conversations, it helps with the end game stuff.
Cause now all of a sudden in a game I can just look to a guy and go, Hey, that, that was a great decision. That’s what we had talked about. Hey let’s, let’s tell them to balance right there. Hey in the post you need to be a little bit stronger because they’re, they’re guarding you this way, which we talked about yesterday.
And so I think that helps with the end game communication when you have those constructive conversations in a non-threatening environment. Because so few people respond to the public challenging. Some guys love it, but, but not a lot of people do.
[01:07:25] Mike Klinzing: That’s one of the biggest changes, I think over the last 35 or 40 years in coaching, right.
It’s just the philosophy across the board. It used to be that challenging somebody in public. That was, I was a huge piece of coaching when I was a kid. And now that has basically been, I don’t want to say completely eliminated from the game, but certainly what you just described is what most of the coaches that we talked to when they talk about trying to help their players get better.
They’re not talking about blasting them in practice in the middle of a 15 player practice. They’re talking about again, pulling them to the side or getting them in the film room or talking to him in the office or having a side conversation where the players are gonna more likely to be receptive to it.
And also they’re going to listen more and they’re going to focus on the message as opposed to, Hey, I’m being embarrassed here. And so it’s just interesting how coaching has changed and shifted. And you mentioned being able to use film with your players. How much film do you use with how much time are the players.
Formerly watching film. Obviously players can go and grab stuff on their own, which is clearly one of the benefits of not having it all on the old school, VHS tapes and DVDs. Like we talked about earlier that they can access it anywhere at any time they want. But how much film do you guys watch together as a team?
And then how much time do you have those little small individual meetings where you might pull a guy in and show them two or three clips that, Hey, these are things that you’re doing well, or these are some things that we’d like to see improve on.
[01:08:56] Matt Lewis: Yeah. We watch film every day as a group. You know, we’ll literally, if we have practice even game days or, or watching film there are some days where it’s no longer I may go 45 minutes.
There are some days where it’s really short. You may go 10 minutes. We try and be mindful of, of what the team needs. At that moment as we get deeper into. We watch more film because we’re on the court less. We try and be very mindful of where they’re at physically. And so we spend more time probably on, on the mental Hey, here’s you, if you guys know what that other team does and, and what they’re going to try and do to us, how we can attack them, that sort of thing.
Like then, then physically, we just need you to, we needed to be ready to roll on, on race day. And so we, we try and tailor those film sessions, the length of them, the content of them to what the team needs, what time of year is it? That sort of thing? We, we watch, I try and do individual sessions. I’ve say Ken do it with every guy every day, but I try and have a few guys in my office every day.
And then we try and have like, all right, I walk into practice and I got three clips for a guy do some of that sort of stuff. Cause I learn best by reading, by writing, I don’t learn well when somebody tries to say something to me like in a game, if my assistant tells me how many fouls a guy has, there’s a 50/50 chance that I actually process how many fouls they have.
I’ll usually I just walk over and I look at the guy’s sheet and then I’ve got it. And you know, we went to this thing a few years back where we’ve got timeout cards, where we, we put timeout cards on the floor it’s, it’s one of our, our volunteer assistants, Greg Janke, who’s incredible.
He’s been with us for 10 years. It’s probably our best recruit ever was getting Greg Janke. So he, he can’t hear very well or speak very loudly and, and I can’t hear it all. And so he came up with these timeout cards where if we have six timeouts, which at our level, we don’t have media. As in the regular season, you get six timeouts.
He just has a big six on the floor and he just points at the sits. Well, that, that helps me because I just see it. And I know it. And so I think. I realized how I learn. And I think a lot of our guys learn better when they can just see themselves, as opposed to me trying to go out on the court and talk them through what occurred.
And so we, we try and use the film as much as possible in a group setting in an individual setting. I think it just helps us with that learning process. And then hopefully guys by March, they’re their understanding their knowledge of the game, their application of the game is at as high level as possible
[01:11:46] Mike Klinzing: To follow up on that.
How much film are you watching on a, let’s say a weekly basis during the season. So how much are you watching your practice film and then how much film are you watching on an upcoming opponent?
[01:12:02] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I try and watch. I don’t know, every, every two
[01:12:10] Mike Klinzing: Too much?
[01:12:11] Matt Lewis: That would be what my wife says so I mean, I’m, it’s pretty much what I do during the day, while I’m in the office, I’m watching film.
And then you go to practice and then we go to a lot of in-person recruiting and then I just stay up every night I’m up till really late at night. And you just don’t sleep very much, but it’s, I think it it’s what you gotta do to be successful. Or at least the way we found to do it is you watch a ton of film.
And I like standing on the sidelines to coach and being as, as prepared as I can possibly be. I don’t want. I don’t like going into a game and not knowing what is this. Okay. My assistant watched all the baseline out of bounds, but I didn’t watch any of them. And I actually, I don’t know what they’re going to do.
He’s kind of told me what they’re going to do, but I haven’t physically seen it. And so while he knows it and he is taught the team, and he’s probably got some calls I want to physically see every baseline out of bounds that they’re going to run. So I’ve got to go and spend time doing it.
I want to see tendencies of the players that we’re playing against. Not just have somebody tell me that he really prefers his right hand, left shoulder. I want to see it. Cause then I know it and I can better, I think, communicate it to our team. So I think you just gotta watch a ton of film and some guys may need more than others, but ultimately I think you just got to invest a lot of time in it.
And I know our assistants do a tremendous job at it. They don’t have kids yet. And so they basically are consumed by it. Unfortunately I’ve got some assistance in Kyle and Koji and then the last few years with, with Casey Ben, Dylan, those guys, they just ate up film.
And it’s really helped us.
[01:14:02] Mike Klinzing: And I’m sure that goes along with the same thing, jumping over to the recruiting side of it, especially during COVID where it was difficult at times to be able to get out and see players in person. What’s been your process for recruiting. Maybe take us back to the very beginning.
How do you identify the players initially? How do you put together that first list of guys that you think would be a good fit at Oshkosh?
[01:14:23] Matt Lewis: Yeah, really getting any means available to us. You know, there are kids that you just know about, that are local kids, that you’ve, you’ve heard about, or you’ve seen while recruiting other players, or they’ve been at team camp all sorts of those ways that kids get into the pipeline.
There are kids that get recommended to you, emails, phone calls and their kids, you you go and you watch at, at AAU events, like we’ll, we’ll start going to some, a few events here in the next week or two. And those kids start getting on your 2023 lists. And so we’re open to really any avenue in terms of finding kids and we’re hunting the high character, great teammate that can help win a national championship.
I don’t think that’s a, a shock to anybody that knows our program. The type of kid that we’re looking for. And that’s what we’re our, the kid can really play. They can help you win all. Is he a high character kid? Is he a great teammate? He’s not? okay on to the next kid.
And so we, we really try and do our homework and sort through that through the spring, through the summer, into the. And we spend a lot of time identifying kids and then going and getting to know those kids and really that, again, that’s what it takes. Like you have to invest a ton of time into it.
I’m not a big work smarter, not harder thing like that doesn’t really apply. Like if you want to, if you wanna win and you want to do it for year after year after year, you gotta have both, like, you’ve gotta be creative in your approach. And then you’ve got to spend a ton of time on it.
If you’re trying to find ways not to do quite as much than somebody, probably out there doing it smarter than you and, and doing it harder than you. So we just, we try and invest a ton of time in the recruiting process. And getting to know those kids, getting to know their families. Hopefully we get a kid to buy into what we’re doing at Oshkosh and pick us.
And then usually it’s this time of year, we’re waiting on kids to decide and you’re already like, all right, I got to start on 2023’s and I’m still waiting on the 2022’s. So it’s a never ending process, but it’s, it’s what you gotta do, and so we embrace it.
[01:16:46] Mike Klinzing: Do you find yourself recruiting kids who are being recruited also at levels division two division one that they’re kind of waiting to hear?
Maybe I’m going to get that last scholarship if somebody transfers or just the type of player that you’re looking for, when you identify them early on and get in your head, you’re building these relationships with them. Are you looking for those borderline kids who maybe fall through the cracks at those higher levels?
And now they can really help you again, provided that they have the high character, the tangibles, and the things that you’re looking.
[01:17:18] Matt Lewis: Yeah, no, no doubt. It’s true that every level of college basketball you need in order to win at your level, you need guys that can play at the level above you. In quotes, like we’re, when, when we go and recruit kids, we oftentimes are recruiting kids that have D two scholarship offers.
And that’s fine if a kid’s got a scholarship offer. Great. That just means it’s probably the type of kid that we need to get at Oshkosh. And there are kids that have D two scholarship offers that we don’t think are good enough. There are kids that don’t get any offers that we think are unbelievable, and we’re not sure why they don’t have offers.
You know, it’s in the eyes of the holder a little bit on some of that stuff. And so we don’t shy away from if a kid’s getting recruited by division two, like that’s to us. It’s all right. Let’s go win some of these battles and that’s you look across our roster and we’ve got a number of guys that had scholarship offers out of high school and passed on them or, or we’ve had guys transfer back from division two and are very good players.
And ultimately we’ve just got to find kids that are competitive. They love it. And they continue to improve because receiving a scholarship offer, going and playing college basketball that’s literally just the beginning of it. And nobody cares once you start, like, if you commit to Oshkosh all your friends are going to be fired up for you.
And then nobody’s going to care three weeks later because it’s summer break. Same thing. I got a scholarship. I committed to a scholarship school. All of a sudden you graduate high school and no one cares because your high school is moving on to the next. And it’s really all about what you do when you get to the school you’re going to, and the experience that you have personally you, you, you’re not it’s, it’s something I battle and I’m probably going off on a tangent here, but like a lot of us are like trying to prove something to someone else.
I think that’s a big thing when you’re, when, when you’re getting offers or you’re committing to a place and there’s all that excitement. We’re all trying to prove to other people besides ourselves that we’re worthy of it, or we’re this good when really it’s just go to a place, have fun, build relationships, compete, continue to improve, win, graduate, and look back and go, man, I made the right choice.
That was the place for me. I had an unbelievable experience and it doesn’t matter where it was the level, it was the name of the school. So we just, we want guys that, that just want to come and do those things and. You oftentimes end up recruiting against scholarship schools because of the talent aspect of things, but yeah.
Sorry, long answer there.
[01:20:09] Mike Klinzing: Oh no. How do you balance when you’re evaluating a player, what you see from them with their high school team versus what you see with them in an, in an AAU environment, do you look for different things depending on the environment? Is there one of those two situations that you weigh more heavily in terms of trying to figure out whether or not a guy’s going to be able to help you to compete for a national championship at Oshkosh?
Just how do you balance the AAU versus high school environments when you’re recruiting a player?
[01:20:37] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I think it, it depends every situation is a little different, so it depends on each kid and the situation there, there are some kids that you know, legitimately have never won at the high school level.
Like their, their team just hasn’t been very good. And so you might go watch them play in high school. And, and their team just gets, gets rocked game after game. And it’s hard to tell if the kid can contribute to winning. And then he goes, and he plays AAU and his team wins you know, or, or they, they go to the high school and we’ve recruited kids from, from high schools where the role was, was like you know, they’re like the fourth best guy on their high school team.
And then they go play for an AAU team where they’re a little bit more of a prominent feature or the other route they’re the best player at their high school. And now they’re the fifth best player on their AAU team and see a see kids and all these different dynamics. And how do they handle these different dynamics?
How do they handle high level games? And sometimes you’re able to see those high level games when they play high school. Sometimes you’re able to see those high level games when they play you. What, how do they react at an 8:00 AM game in, in July when they played at 8:00 PM the night before those kids motors run hot at all times, are they competing.
So I think, again, we’re lucky where we’re at because we recruit so many kids from Wisconsin and the surrounding states in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan. Like we can see kids in, in a variety of settings and it really allows us to get a full picture of, of who they are or as full as we can get without actually coaching them.
Cause I just don’t think one setting one weekend, I just don’t think that’s enough to truly judge a person.
[01:22:21] Mike Klinzing: You had to narrow it down to one intangible that you’re looking for in a recruit that this is one thing it’s not negotiable. This kid has to have this. There may be some other things that we’d like to have that we can work around, but they have to have this one thing.
What’s your number one and tangible you look for in a recruit.
[01:22:38] Matt Lewis: Yeah, I think he’s gotta be a high character kid. If he’s a high character kid that I think a lot of the other things that we look for probably. Like he just, the way he treats people, the decisions that he makes it needs to be at a very, very high level and likely that’ll lead kids to being the other things that we want or at least giving them a good base to build those other things.
And usually your high character kids are gonna go and compete and be selfless guys. Cause they wanna help their teammates be successful and they know that they needed to compete and be selfless on the court in order to help the team. And so they gotta be a high character kid and that’s tough to tell just by watching one game, like you gotta watch a lot of them and then you gotta talk to people around them.
But usually if you see some kids doing some of those other things, and then you watch the way they interact, you talk with them, you talk with their families, their high school, their AAU coach. And everybody just keeps saying how good a kid the person is. Well, then that checks that box. But we will not compromise the high character piece.
[01:23:47] Mike Klinzing: Absolutely. I think that when you find those kids that, as you said that if the kid has high character, that you’re going to be able to work with them in a lot of different areas and their coachability is going to be high. And when they have that, that’s really, what’s going to allow you to put together the type of program that you’ve been able to build and that you continue to want to grow and sustain your success.
We’re coming up here on an hour and a half, and that’s all I want to wrap it up with one final question, two parter. First part, when you look ahead over the next couple of years, what’s the biggest challenge that you see ahead of you. And then number two, when you wake up everyday in the morning, what’s your biggest joy about being the head coach at Wisconsin?
[01:24:26] Matt Lewis: Yeah. Biggest challenge I’m as think we’ve risen the, the expectations to a very, very high level. And it’s the expectations now are to compete for conference championships every year and one of the best leagues in the country and make it to March and then try and make a run. And I don’t apologize for those expectations because that’s been what we want.
We want people to expect us to compete at a championship level every year. Well, you’ve got those expectations, te challenge is to keep them there because everybody that everybody’s coming to knock you off and put themselves in that position. And we’ve got a great league great coaches players that, that are very, very talented across our league.
And it seems to just get better and better every year. And so I’d say that’s the challenge is let’s see. Sustain what we built and then find a way to continue to raise the level of what we’re doing. Biggest joy would just be, I get to do it. I’m not from here. I’ve been here for 10 years, but, but nobody in my family’s from this area this was a foreign place to us before we moved here.
But now it’s my wife loves it here. I’ve got two twins that we adopted from this area. My mom and dad live 15 minutes from here. My mom works a mile from, from Oshkosh campus. I’ve got a brother and a sister-in-law and three nieces that live a mile from my parents. My mother-in-law moved here from Florida.
My brother-in-law moved here from Florida and has two kids. I’ve got friends that I coach with. I’ve got a friend that lives two miles from me that now is a head coach at Lawrence. I wound up in a place that, that despite not being. That feels like home, which I think is a pretty awesome thing to wake up to everyday.
[01:26:14] Mike Klinzing: I think the opportunity to feel like you’re in the right place, both from a professional standpoint, but also the fact that your entire family has relocated there, I think speaks highly of what you’ve been able to build both professionally and personally in that area up there in Wisconsin.
So before we get out, I want to give you one chance to share. People can reach out to you, where can they find out more about your programs? So if you want to share social media website, email, whatever you feel comfortable with, and then after you do that, I’ll jump back in and wrap things up.
[01:26:49] Matt Lewis: Sounds good.
Yeah. Thank you very much for the time. I know we went long, but I appreciate it. It’s been a lot of fun. I mean you can reach me via email and, and fall and all that stuff’s listed on our website. So if you just go to titans.com, you can find my email, my phone. I’m on Twitter. I’m at @UWOCoachLewis.
I’m fairly active on Twitter. I’m not like an extreme basketball content guy. I’m not tweeting boats and thoughts and concepts all day long. Like I likely in the next couple of weeks in between a lot about food, cause we’re going to new Orleans for the final four. So but you can interact there.
And I mean, I just, the other thing I’ll toss out is like, if, if people are out there and they want to interact with our dyes at all, they’re our guys are very interactive right now on, on LinkedIn for some reason. That’s a big thing right now with the college kids on our campus. So we’ve got unbelievable dudes at Oshkosh.
We’re, we’re very, very fortunate to get the coach, the type of guys that we get to coach. And those guys have a lot of fun with connecting with people on LinkedIn. So if you looked up a roster and started adding some of those kids they’re going to do special things. And, and a lot of them enjoy connecting with people like.
[01:27:59] Mike Klinzing: Matt cannot thank you enough for taking the time out of your schedule today. To jump on with me, spent a lot of fun, learning more about you and your basketball journey. To have one out there, we appreciate you listening and we will catch you on our next episode. Thanks!