Preparing for the future

HOUGHTON – There’s still seven months to go before the 2013-14 Michigan Tech men’s basketball team begins its season.

Between then and now, coach Kevin Luke and his staff must adjust their personnel to a reality, particularly on offense, that is not channeled through Ali Haidar. In part two of his end-of-season interview with The Daily Mining Gazette, Luke focuses on what lies ahead.

Q: The NCAA allots you a few hours to practice with the team before school lets out, what do you work on in the next four or five weeks?

Luke: We are going to do more live stuff, meaning one-on-one, two-on-two, that type of thing. Because that is what these kids need. I mean, it is clear that they need to play and get better in that sense. They need to shoot too, but they can do that on their own. We need to help the toughness, attention to detail part during live situations.

Q: Is that a bit of a change from what you have done in years past then?

Luke: In the past, we would not have been so ‘let’s get after this.’ But when you play at this level, you need to excel in that. You need to.

Q: On the perimeter, you have joked this year that Ben Stelzer better strengthen his arms in the offseason because he will take ‘1,000,000 shots next season.’ What is the best way to go about implementing an offense like that? That is radically different from your primary shot-taker operating in the post.

Luke: The one thing we have to work with him is, Stelzer has to start being more selfish. He is way too unselfish. That is the first thing. He wants to pass more than he should. He needs to be more selfish with his shot selection. If he has an opening, he needs to put it up.

Q: This year, almost every play started with trying to get Haidar the ball, even if he didn’t take the final shot, it ran through him. How does that change for a more perimeter-based attack next year?

Luke: Well, depending upon if we have a post player to take the ball in there and score or get the ball to somebody else, it might not change. If we have a post guy who can do that and emerges, we will continue to run a similar type offense. There will be some different looks to free up Stelzer and give (Austin) Armga the freedom to make more decisions for his self as well.

Q: Armga was dynamite this year in spurts. How does that translate to a full season where he will be one of the primary scorers?

Luke: Obviously we have to get him healthy. That (ankle sprain), that was a bad injury. But he needs to have the freedom to be as good as he can be, because he is awfully good. He is really, really efficient. And he is going to make other kids better because he can draw a lot of attention.

Q: Tactically speaking, what adjustments need to be made when your top two scorers (Armga and Stelzer) operate from the perimeter and in? How do you get them the ball in the right spots without a Haidar to play through?

Luke: That is something I am still formulating. I don’t want it to be a box of four players standing around and Ben running off 1,000,000 screens. It is not going to be a Reggie Miller-type offense. Because both of those guys are unselfish enough to make a great pass to get a guy a layup. Stelzer’s strength is shooting, but he is also a very good passer.

Q: Did Alex Culy have a down-year offensively? He shot just 32 percent from three after hitting over 44 percent his first two years.

Luke: He had a down-year shooting, he did not have a down-year offensively. He played very well. I think he had an almost 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. I think he got worn out physically and mentally though, because he had the ball a lot. We will monitor that closely next year. Because you are right, he couldn’t buy a basket at the end of the season. I have to do a better job resting him at the beginning of the season.

Q: Early in the season, the team got out and ran a bit more and created some transition buckets. With scoring guards, will you look for that more next season? And will you look for it as a way to create open threes?

Luke: Yes. Open threes and easy baskets. Because I will tell you this, even if our bigs aren’t that skilled, they can run. They can all run. If nothing else, the opposition big is going to have to run.

Q: That would be a dramatically different approach from recent history, correct?

Luke: It would be very different. But those young kids, the one thing they can do is run. We are going to be fun to watch, because there is going to be a little different look. For all of those people who think we aren’t going to have a chance because Haidar is gone, we are going to surprise them.

Q: Luke Heller was the only true freshman to play this season, and even he got lost in the shuffle by the end of the year. What does he need to improve upon to solidify that playing time for next season?

Luke: One of his strengths is his mass, so I don’t know if he needs to get quicker, but he needs to learn to play at this level every day. He really has a great basketball I.Q. But he needs to go from being a freshman to a sophomore and get some things done. He has a chance, but mentally he needs to shift gears and start to move. He has a lot of good going for him, but it is not translating to the court yet.

Q: Is there anyone else from that freshman class that you envision stepping in to the rotation next year?

Luke: James (Wezensky) is going to be a great defender slash rebounder in the league. He is very rigid on offense though, he has to just play. He has to play and get somewhat comfortable with the ball between this year and next year. Then he will have a chance.

Q: Where does that stiffness with the ball come from and how do you overcome it?

Luke: I think it comes from a lack of confidence and a lack of repetition and lack of being taught early in his career. I mean, this is brand new to him. There is a lot being thrown at him, and it puts you in that stiff mode. Now he is getting it defensively, and that is great. He can bang and wear somebody out. Five good fouls.