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Published: Thursday, 4/1/2010

New UT coach Kowalczyk says rebuilding will take time, talent

Hiring a new coach is sort of like announcing a recruiting class. It always looks good on paper. In truth, only time will tell.

So I can't predict if Tod Kowalczyk and Toledo basketball will be a good marriage or a bumpy ride.

But I can tell you this. There's no B.S. with T.K. He's a straight shooter. He made no attempt to insult my intelligence during a conversation yesterday, nor will he make any attempt to insult yours.

He is inheriting one of the worst college basketball programs in America. UT fans may not like hearing it put in such stark terms, but 11 wins in two seasons supports that. The RPI supports that. Anybody who watched the Rockets struggle to a 4-28 record last year, who objectively examined the talent on the court, will agree that the naked eye supports that.

And Kowalczyk's own initial observations support it.

This is the time of year the NCAA allows two hours per week for team coaching activities. So Kowalczyk held his first short practice Tuesday night, mere hours after being introduced as UT's coach, and another yesterday morning.

"I saw guys who are eager to learn," he said. "But I saw a team that lacks confidence. I'm delighted with the personalities; they're good kids. But they're not real talented."

And what can he do, short of changing all the nameplates above the lockers, to change that?

"They need to buy into playing harder on defense," Kowalczyk said. "On the tapes I saw, they didn't guard real well."

I suggested that answer might surprise UT fans who would have surrendered their souls for a few more field goals last season.

"Well," said Kowalczyk, "defense is a matter of desire and concentration. That we can change. Offense? I'm very aware they scored 54 points a game last year and I'm aware they had 130-some more turnovers than theiropponents. But, truthfully,

that's more a lack of talent than anything."

So, what the last coach tried to sell as a by-product of youth the new coach recognizes as a crisis of ability.

"Face it," Kowalczyk said. "Last year was an all-time low. We can get better by work ethic, by playing hard, and playing together. We can get better by implementing a different style. But next year is not going to be so much about wins and losses. It's going to be about being tougher, about buying in, and about laying the foundation for two, three, four years from now."

UT didn't just need a new coach. It needs somebody with a crash cart and a defibrillator.

Kowalczyk might be that guy. And that may be determined by how soon and to what extent he can provide a talent transfusion.

Jake Barnett, last season's leading scorer, requested and was granted a release from his grant-in-aid. Whether he leaves or stays is still up in the air, although Kowalczyk is not going to let him use UT as a fall-back position. It's either all in from the get-go or all out, which is the right approach by the new coach.

Other players may leave as well. It happens with coaching changes. The more the merrier, in this case, because Kowalczyk's recruiting hands would otherwise be tied with so many current freshmen and sophomores on the roster.

If there are indeed vacancies, Kowalczyk says he "won't panic just to fill the roster. I will be very cautious because we can't afford mistakes. Players will have to be talented enough and they'll have to be our kind of guys. It's not about next year anyway. That's going to be a rebuilding year. It's all about the future."

One of Kowalczyk's former bosses, and a coach he admires as much as any, Tom Crean, has gone through a similarly tough building job at Indiana, which was racked by NCAA sanctions at the same time he arrived two years ago. Kowalczyk has Crean on speed dial.

"He had more severe issues with the NCAA problems, but certainly our situations are similar as far as starting at ground zero," Kowalczyk said. "I will be talking to him regularly about the experience he's going through and what I'm heading into. I know one thing he'll preach is patience, both with others and with myself. But, you know, coaches aren't patient people by nature."

The same could be said of fans.

Kowalczyk is already convinced he has the best job in the Mid-American Conference.

If and when that translates into having the best team in the MAC, Rocket fans won't need me to tell them if this was a good hire.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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