There is a certain energy and charisma that Lawrence University men’s basketball coach John Tharp exhibits. One might compare his behavior in his office to the way he acts on the sideline – energetic, engaged, and always multitasking.
Tharp is extremely busy at this time of year, with the Midwest Conference Tournament quickly approaching. Nonetheless, he was able to take the time to sit down and comment on the philosophy of his team, the possibility of LU hosting a regional final, and his coaching future.Mouse Braun: Twelve years ago, did you ever think you would take this program to the level that it’s at?
John Tharp: It’s interesting. When I first took over, I had dreams of doing stuff like this. I was 24, 25 years old. Now, you get more wrapped up in the day-to-day, and not what’s happening in our season. To answer your question, no, I didn’t think there was a chance that we would do what we are doing now.
MB: Is that the approach your team takes, then? Day-to-day?
JT: They’ve been pretty levelheaded, and pretty loose about [being ranked No. 1 in the nation], which has been what we need to do to get better as a basketball team. They’ve been very mature, something that comes from our leaders. They realize [our success] doesn’t affect what has to be done on a daily basis, going to class and how we perform on the basketball court and in practice. It’s really one of the strengths of this team.
MB: What makes this team different from years past? How is this team undefeated?
JT: We have great leaders, first and foremost – Chris Braier, Kyle MacGillis, and Keven Bradley. We have great chemistry. We rely on Braier and MacGillis to make plays down the stretch for us, which they have. We wouldn’t be in the position we are if it wasn’t for players like Ben Rosenblatt. Even guys that people don’t see on floor, guys like Jayce Apelgren and George Hogen. When we’re going through our scout stuff, they’re doing a great job getting us ready. It’s all those small factors that have added up to get us where we are right now.
MB: Is Chris Braier’s groin improving?
JT: Braier’s groin is not getting better, but I would say it’s not getting worse. The situation that we are in is that we have to maintain his cardio. It’s a fine line – he’s a competitor and hates to sit out of practice. He’s just not real healthy right now.
MB: How do you prepare for this weekend? Is there a fear of looking past Knox to the showdown with Carroll?
JT: Our philosophy all year, with regard to weekend doubleheader games, has been to focus on the first team. That’s what we have to get first and foremost. The positive is that we have just played Carroll, so the philosophy has not changed. We’ve worked on things that we did not do well against Carroll. At this point in the season, we have to rely on what we’ve done the past 70 days in practice will carry you through. These guys know [Carroll’s Nate] Drury. They know what needs to be done. They know that [Knox’s Jason] Maclin and [Jeff] Zick can go off on Friday night. That’s an advantage we have – we have smart kids that can figure that stuff out.
MB: How has recruiting changed since Lawrence has become a powerhouse?
JT: The caliber of kids we’re talking to right now is much higher. The group of young guys we have now, we think, allows us to have a bright future. [Chris] Page shows us every day in practice what he is capable of, and Tommy Schmidt is another guy that will have an impact down the road. We have so many other guys that can be impact players in the future. We need to complement them with a few more recruits.
MB: Should Kyle MacGillis be an all-American?
JT: He should. In my opinion, he should. You look at the year he’s had and it’s been every bit as good as Braier’s. He has to guard the best player on the other team. He’s held that player to below their season average or they’re shooting a really low percentage. He makes great plays and he sets the table for other players. We’ll push like heck to get him in there. He loves big games, he loves making big plays.
MB: Is it possible for Alexander Gym to host a super regional?
JT: Yes, absolutely, if not this year, then whenever. These kids deserve it. We’ve done a lot of research, and most of the super regional games had crowds of 1,400 rather than 2,500. So I think we have a good chance at getting it.
MB: Do you think that Alex will host the super regional this year, provided that LU wins out?
JT: Yes, I think we will host it.
MB: Where will John Tharp be coaching in five years?
JT: I’ll put it this way – my wife asked me a very similar question. I said we’re happy. My mentality is that we’re going to be here for 20 years. I can’t say for sure that I will be here in 5 years – I don’t want to be the guy who promises to be around then jumps ship. Loyalty is important to me. I have loyalty to this school, my coaches, and the players that I recruit.