Texas Tech basketball is on the rise and we are all excited about the future of our program. This last season has instilled hope for the future of the program amongst all our fans. It is a great feeling considering that for the past few seasons before last we were all scratching our heads wondering when we would see a change for the best.
Since the beginning of last season we have witnessed our new coaching staff guide our team to some incredible victories over some of the top teams in the Big 12. They have helped pump life back into the United Spirit Arena for our home games. We are now getting some excellent recruits looking to help keep the momentum up in this Texas Tech program. It all relies on the hard work and dedication that each individual on our coaching staff has been putting in every day and night.
I got a chance to ask a very special member of our Tech coaching staff about some of these things. We are lucky that during his unbelievably busy schedule Coach Joe Esposito carved time out to answer these questions with me.
Here we go…
Daniel - At Angelo State University you hold the honor of having the highest winning percentage of any head coach in school history. You won the Lone Star Conference Coach of the Year in 2001. Can you tell us a bit about how you managed to gain such accomplishments in your time at the school?
Coach Esposito - Well, Angelo State was a program that was way down and I was excited about the challenge to build a program as a head coach. Just like any rebuild that I have been a part of, you have to change the culture and it starts with the community and the administration. Recruiting is the life blood of any program so we had the 365/24/7 approach like we do here. Recruiting is a 365 day a year, 24 hours, 7 day a week job. We found our niche in California and signed 31 JUCO players from there in my career. My best season we did have some great Division I transfers. I could not have had the success without a great staff and great players. I am proud of what we did at ASU and we did build a monster there.
Daniel - You have always been deemed as an excellent recruiter in your coaching career. Fans have trouble keeping up with where you are at or where you'll be at any time of the year because of your tenacious recruiting dedication. Here at VTM our recruiting guru Mike has even created a part in some of his stories called the "Esposito Express" to try and keep track of where you have been and who you are recruiting. Where does your tremendous ambition to go on the trail of recruits come from, and how have you become so successful in this area?
Coach Esposito - I love recruiting. If you've seen my wife you know this must be true. So many people doubted I would be successful coaching when I first got in the business in 1986. I have a hockey last name, a football body, and I wanted to coach basketball. I wanted to prove them wrong; I have an all in attitude with everything I do. I never want to be average; average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top.
I understand what it takes to be a great recruiter. I do the little things that make a difference. I try to out work every other program I come in contact with recruiting. I am always recruiting, dropping notes, emails, and text messages; whatever it takes. I started the #buildingamonster to put a name on the process that would catch on with recruits. I try to be different. I still have an old school approach and handwrite notes every day. I've even been known to send family pets notes, whatever it takes.
Relationships are so important and I do all I can to build them each day. Everyday I look in the mirror and say "what have you done for Texas Tech basketball today". I usually have a long list of things so I know the day was a success. A great book called Good to Great is a must read for all, and I am trying to make our program great.
Daniel - But, is recruiting high school players to Minnesota very different than recruiting them to Texas Tech?
Coach Esposito - In some ways it is very different. Every school has plus and minuses when it comes to recruiting. Facilities, education, weather, coaching staff, community support, conference, housing, tradition, and TV exposure are all things that recruits seem to look at. Facilities have been the big issue as of late with schools and practice facilities going up every year across the country. Like they say you have to keep up with the Jones's and in this case the Smith's (hahaha)… We have a great sell at Texas Tech and we have a lot to be proud of. It is an honor for me to go out and sell Tech and I am not afraid to go against any school in the country for a player. We do things here the right way and we are proud to be at such a great school.
Daniel - Are there any differences from Big Ten basketball compared to Big 12 basketball that you have come across in your first year at Texas Tech from Minnesota?
Coach Esposito - They are both great conferences with great tradition. The coaches are all amazing. I am proud that the Big 12 is rated as the top conference in the country, but the Big Ten is not far behind.
When we were at Minnesota the Big Ten was rated the highest. Maybe it is where ever Tubby is that gets the highest ranking. (I wouldn't doubt it). The travel in the Big Ten is harder with the bad weather, but travel times are similar. I was so impressed with the Big 12 and the number of NBA players it has produced in the last few years, more than any league.
There were great arenas in the Big Ten, and there are in the Big 12, but none better than ours. The USA is awesome and I believe the best playing facility in the league. When we sold it out this year it was electric. We need to continue that and the fans need to know that their support is what builds a program. When anyone asks me how they can help us I say just come to the games.
Daniel - Over your time at Minnesota and Texas Tech you have been a humongous contributor on the staff to Tubby Smith and the basketball programs. What do you think makes Coach Smith such an excellent basketball head coach at these programs?
Coach Esposito - Tubby Smith is more than a coach, he is a great person. He is so genuine and cares about people. I have so many amazing stories about him and his love for his players is awesome. He will sign every autograph, answer every email or card, sign 3,000 Christmas cards a year, and take a photo with anyone no matter how his day is going. He is a great role model and for sure I would love for my sons to play for him.
Coach gets so much out of his players and staff. He leads by example and wouldn't ask you to do anything he wouldn't do himself. He does things the right way and would never do anything outside the rules. The college basketball community has so much respect for him because he runs his program with class and integrity. We have the best coach in the nation and I hope in my career I can accomplish half of what he has.
Daniel - Here at Tech we know we are so lucky to have a guy like Tubby Smith as head coach. Can you describe your relationship with Coach Smith?
Coach Esposito - We have a great relationship and have been friends a long time. I always dreamed about being on his staff ever since I became a coach. I actually accepted a job for two days and left when Tubby called. We are a great combination because we see things differently at times. Coach likes that I look outside the box and loves my crazy ideas. He doesn't always say yes to them, but he loves the energy I bring.
I love working on his staff and have learned so much. He has made me a better coach, person, and father. I owe so much to him. He cares about me and my family, and that means so much to me. Someday I hope I can take over a program again and make him proud. There is no better person and coach in the business I would rather work for.
Daniel - This last season had some heartbreaking losses, but it also had some amazing victories over top Big 12 teams. With the roller coaster of emotions that you witnessed in the locker room, how would you describe the mentality of the Tech players and coaching staff throughout last season?
Coach Esposito - We went through a lot of highs and lows, but the team was great. Coach expects to win every game and we work towards that every day. We will never settle for any moral victories. We did have some great wins that we are proud of, but like you said some heartbreaking losses. Every season teams will go through some adversity and we will this year, but the key is how you get through that adversity. The mental part of the game is so important and you have to stay focused.
The season is a roller coaster every year, but the teams that stay on track will succeed. We never get too high or too low. We do all we can to understand the task at hand and do the best we can to get better every day. The best thing about basketball is you play a few games a week so you have no time dwell on a win or loss, you have to stay focused. This year with a new team we will have to really do a great job with the mental part of the game. We have a young inexperienced team.
Daniel - What are some of the focuses that the Tech coaching staff is trying to evaluate for next season?
Coach Esposito - Being such a young team with little experience we will have to focus on roles and who will do what for us. Coach Smith has so much experience with different type of teams; and I know he will lead us all in the right direction on getting the most out of this group. What he accomplished last season was incredible. Like the Chancellor told me when I got here... "Bring Tubby some potatoes because he can make the potato salad better than anyone." Dream no little dreams.
Daniel - Thanks to your incredible recruiting ability we have plenty of fresh faces coming into the program next season that many of our fans are eager to see play. Who should we keep our eyes on that you think can really be difference-makers for our squad?
Coach Esposito - All of them will contribute. We have a great mix of freshman and JUCO players to even out our roster. It will take some time with a bunch of new players, but with the new NCAA rules with summer workouts it will benefit our team. This summer will be important for our guys to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I can tell you that we added some needed size, quickness, and scoring. Even more important than that, we added some great guys who will make Texas Tech proud.
Daniel - Who on our team is destined to have a breakout season in your opinion?
Coach Esposito - Hard to say. You would hope the returning guys that have been in the system for a year will lead the way. We have a very talented recruiting class and we expect them to help us tremendously next year. Many of them are capable of having great seasons. We lost a big part of our team this year and the new guys know that there is a great opportunity to play. We need them to step in and play right away. I see this team being a team where one night one guy leads the way, and the next night someone else will. I promise you this; we will play hard and remember it’s a team game. We are playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back.
Daniel - You have coined the phrase "Building a Monster" for our basketball program. What is your overall goal to achieve, and where do you think the program stands currently in accomplishing that goal?
Coach Esposito - Building a monster was a term I came up with to put a label on our recruiting efforts. I thought it would be a catchy phrase and sure enough it has caught on. Our goal is to be the best we can be and make it to post season. At Minnesota we averaged 20 wins a season and went to 5 out of 6 post season tournaments. We are trying to do the same here. We want Texas Tech to be a household name in the NCAA Tournament. Nothing would be better than to see Coach win his second national title. Someone has to, why not us?
Daniel - Heck yes! Finally, our favorite question to ask here on VTM to our Texas Tech family. What does it mean to you to be a Red Raider?
Coach Esposito - I always wanted to be a Red Raider ever since I coached at Angelo State. I hope to retire here. Texas Tech has been my dream job forever and when Coach asked me to come it was a dream come true. It means to me more than being just a member of a team, but a member of a community.
I also coined the phrase #luvinlubbock and that is all part of it. It is very special to be part of such a great place, and I am so proud to wear the Red and Black. There is so much pride at Tech, and no matter where I may be someone will throw me the GUNS UP. Like they say "Ford is the best in Texas"... it should be "Tech is the best in Texas".
There’s no doubt that Coach Esposito is excited to be a Red Raider! We all are extremely happy to have him and his staff leading this basketball team. Great things to come are in store for Texas Tech next season, get ready!
On behalf of everyone here at Viva the Matadors, we would like to give a very special thank you to Coach Joe Esposito for taking the time to answer my questions. It is such a great experience for us fans to get information straight from the minds of the coaches about the Tech basketball program.
Please give him a follow on Twitter @Coach_JEsposito to get some more great insight on Tech basketball, and to follow him on his adventures on the recruiting trail.
Wreck ‘em Tech!