Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Interview with Kyle Whelliston

The Mid Majority is a site that all college basketball fans should be aware of. Kyle Whelliston is the man behind the site and The Mirror talked with him about his site, Fairfield hoops, MAAC basketball, and college basketball in general.

Hope you enjoy!

The Mirror:
How did you become so involved with mid-major basketball? What do
you like about smaller schools?

Kyle Whelliston: I saw a lot of small-school ball growing up, we had something called "SportsChannel" that beamed in random college games, and I watched for the novelty of it... "Wow, I wonder how many other people are watching this Idaho State game." Then I went to the U. of Oregon, and we beat the crap out of little schools all the time. It wasn't until I transferred to Drexel when I really learned to appreciate the struggles these teams go through for respect. Every one of the 341 Division I teams has a theoretical shot at the National Championship, and I find that fascinating.

TM: When did you get the idea for Mid Majority?

KW: I was sitting in the west stands of the Palestra in Philly one day during the 03-04 season, counting up all the games I'd been to... it ended up being 82. "Wow, I should make a website about this stuff," I thought. So I did. The 100 Games Project in 04-05 was a gimmick designed to make people come back every day. I have been victimized by that success ever since.

TM: You travel a lot, including the amazing 100 games adventure in
2004, what is your best experience on the road at a mid-major game?

KW: I was at Creighton a couple years ago and they let me sit practically on the bench with Dana Altman and the team, and they let me touch the ball for luck before the tip-off. That was the closest I'll ever come to playing college ball.

TM: What do you think about the job Ed Cooley has done at Fairfield in
a year and a half. What do you think about the Stags chances this

KW: I say give Cooley a flyer on last year, this is going to be a very different and -- in my opinion -- very improved squad in 2007-08. That's taking nothing away from Michael Van Schaick, who was a solid ballplayer who did anything you asked him to. The Stags were just so weak inside last year. That won't be a problem now with the addition of Evanovich from Iowa State... there are a lot of smaller teams in the MAAC that he'll just monsterize, just you watch. I'm writing this with the luxury of one game in the books, and he really handled himself well against a very decent Wake team. If they can get anything resembling outside shooting and decent play from the freshmen, they'll finish in the top half of the league.

TM: You said you have been to Stags games in the past...first of all,
did you go to the Arena at Harbor Yard? And if so (or if you know
about it) what advantage do you think Fairfield has in having a large
arena that is on par with many major schools arenas? Based on other
places you have been, do you think it is better to play in an old gym
on campus or at an up-scale arena?

If you've got a great facility like that, you have to use it. I was at the AHY for the MAAC tourney this past March, and it's a fantastic place to see a game when full. I haven't been to a Stags game there since January 2006, so I don't know if this has been rectified since then, but that black voting-booth curtain behind the basket has to go if it's still there. What an embarrassment. String those banners under the luxury boxes, anything. It said "Hello, we're Fairfield, we can't draw fans" to anyone who comes in there. Let the students sit back there and be obnoxious to the other team, get some atmosphere going. After a couple 20-win seasons and an NCAA bid or two, maybe they can turn the heat on in there too. It's cold.

TM:) What do you think about the state of the MAAC and mid-major
basketball in the Northeast in general?

I don't think you can understate the impact of the explosion of new Division I teams in the past couple of decades, look at places like Sacred Heart, CCSU and The Q. A lot more coaches now can go out on the recruiting trail and say, "Hey, kid, wanna play D-I ball?" The result's been a more even distribution of talent, and yeah, more struggling among those used to being able to stockpile players. The good side of the expansion is that any on MAAC team, any NEC team, there's at least one or two guys who can fill it. I saw my share of those teams growing up, and they'd have had trouble hanging in the NYC Catholic prep leagues.

TM: Who do you think is the favorite to win the MAAC?

KW: I see a really tough two-team race between Loyola and Siena. For everything that's been lost through graduation and transfer, Coach McCaffery's really put together a talented team up there in Albany this year. The Greyhounds are the best story in the league: 1 win a few years ago, totally rebuilt under Patsos, poised to win the auto-bid.

TM: What mid-major school do you see making the jump to the next level
and making a big splash a la Gonzaga or George Mason?

KW: Well, Gonzaga and George Mason are very different stories. To pull a "George Mason" is to have a team with three or four offensive options and total 100% unselfishness. It took the Zags a decade to get the national respect they have and to get their pick of four-star recruits. You have to do it over and over, make it to the tournament every year and -- most importantly -- win when you're there. That they've done it on an athletic budget roughly comparable to Fairfield's is nothing short of astounding.

But to answer your question, that "next Gonzaga" really isn't out there right now. Southern Illinois, maybe. George Mason is definitely a candidate, what with all the great recruits they've picked up as a result of the 2006 run. Check back in a couple of years, we'll see how it shakes out.

TM: Midmajors are your speciality, but what team is your early favorite
to win it all in 2008?

KW: I'm going to say Clemson. Why? Because there's a pretty redhead in a Clemson sweatshirt here in the Panera Bread restaurant I'm typing this up in. If the Tigers can overcome their considerable weaknesses and shock the world at 5000-to-1 odds, I'll be a college basketball genius. If they fulfill their destiny as an 8th-place ACC team, this will be just another worthless preseason pick that's forgotten, like the rest of them.

Thanks again Kyle and once again check out his