Darren Hertz stepped into his new role as a Dayton Flyers assistant coach in mid-April after two seasons as a special assistant to head coach Anthony Grant. The move meant Hertz can now go out on the road recruiting, and he did that right away.
“That’s a time when you can be out a lot,” Hertz said. “I was kind of all over the place, but it was great. I didn’t mind being thrown into the fire.”
Hertz, 43, took over the job vacated by Donnie Jones, who left to become the head coach at Stetson. He and Grant, whose relationship goes back years to their days at Florida on Billy Donovan’s staff, have talked for a long time about Hertz moving into such a position. Hertz said the timing had to be right, and it this year it was.
“One of the goals I have and still do have is to be a head coach someday,” Hertz said. “If that opportunity ever presents itself, that’s great. In the meantime, I’m always more concerned with the job I’m doing and the people I’m with.”
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This is an exciting time for Hertz, his fellow UD coaches and the players. Dayton improved from 14-17 in Grant’s first season to 21-12 last season and will be one of the favorites in the Atlantic 10 Conference next season with a number of key pieces returning and high-profile transfers joining the rotation.
Hertz talked about the season ahead in an interview at his office Thursday:
Q: What are you general thoughts about next year’s team?
A: We’re excited. We’ve put a lot of time in over the last couple years to try to build something the right way, something that might not take place overnight. We feel like with the guys we’ve got coming back and the guys that were sitting out and a couple new guys that will be playing, we’re going to have a good mix. I think the guys know our system really well right now. Obviously, the one thing we’ll have this year that we haven’t had the previous two years is some depth. We should have a lot of depth on our bench, which I think will help us. Everybody saw that’s difficult sometimes if you’re playing a rotation with not a lot of guys. It can sometimes catch up to you at the end of games and certainly throughout the course of a season.”
Q: Do you think the depth will help on the defensive end? Will players who were maybe worried about fouling last season be able to be more aggressive?
A: I think we made strides defensively from the first year we were here. We were 238th in the country defensively, and we finished last year right around 100, which was a nice improvement. We’d like to take that and be a top-50 team defensively this year. We think we have the ability to do that, not only personnel-wise but also with some depth. Maybe you can be a little more physical because you’re not worried about foul trouble quite as much. We want to guard without fouling, but you’re going to foul sometimes if you’re a physical team and you’re making it difficult for the offenses to execute and score.
Q: Did you get a good feel for how good the newcomers will be on defense?
A: In practice every day, you see their habits. You see the kind of competitor they are. But it is different for them when the lights come on and they actually have to play this year. There’s always some unknown, but in terms of what we’ve seen every day, there’s no question (Chattanooga transfer) Rodney Chatman is a really talented defensive player. He’s really good on the ball. He’s got long arms. He can really cause some disruption on the defensive end.
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The other guys as well will help us defensively. (Michigan transfer) Ibi (Watson) is a system defensive guy. He knows where to be. He knows his positioning. He knows his responsibilities. With his size and athleticism, he’ll also help rebound from the guard wing spot as well. Then you talk about (Nebraska transfer) Jordy (Tshimanga) with his size and high basketball IQ. He knows what he’s doing out there. I think he provides a presence at the rim defensively and then certainly rebounding. He’s proven that in the Big Ten. He had some really impressive rebounding numbers. (Florida transfer) Chase (Johnson), who was also sitting out, is another guy who’s athletic. He can guard multiple positions. He’s somebody who can obviously can guard bigs but also he can also switch onto a guard and move his feet and athletically contain guys. I think he will also provide some help defensively.
A: What will having a true center like the 6-11 Tshimanga do for the team?
Q: I think the way we play is not going to change a whole lot, but Jordy looks a little different than most guys in the league. You don’t see too many guys his size. We can throw the ball into the low post. He’s got the ability to score. He can shoot the ball a little bit. He’s probably not going to shoot 3s, but he can make a 15-foot shot. Defensively, he causes problems at the rim with his size. He’s a good athlete, and he really has a knack for rebounding. That’s one of those numbers that no matter what level you’re at, it usually translates.
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Q: How will Chatman, an experienced point guard, help lessen the load for Jalen Crutcher, the returning starter?
A: I think everybody knows Jalen had to play a lot of minutes, and the ball had to be in his hands a lot, and this year it still will be, but Rodney provides another guy you can put the ball in his hands. He’s another playmaker that can make a play for himself but can also get his teammates shots. Having somebody like that on the floor at all times will allow us to play a little faster and also get each other better shots.
Q: The offense had a lot of success last season (43rd in the country in efficiency) but played at a slow tempo (287th in the country). Does that matter?
A: We want to play fast. I think a lot of people say that. But we really do. It’s hard with the lack of depth. Sometimes over the course of a game and over the course of a season, it’s hard to (play fast) when you’re playing six or seven guys. With a deeper roster, we’d like to play fast certainly on offense. It doesn’t mean we’re going to come down and just hoist the first shot, but we were pretty good the last couple years in transition. We also think we can play a little faster on defense. I think with some depth, we might be able to press a little more. We’ve not only got depth, we’ve got athleticism. I think you’ll see us press. I don’t think we’ll press for 40 minutes, but I think it’ll be more of our defensive identity than it’s been in the past.
Q: Will you use the depth? How deep can the rotation be?
A: It’s hard to put a number on it. We’re looking forward to practice starting and guys competing and earning whatever they’ve earned. I think that we’re not going to put a number on it right now, but I’ve been part of teams with 10 or 11 guys who can really contribute and help. I’ve seen that work firsthand. But, at the same time, we’re not going to play 10 or 11 guys just to play 10 or 11 guys. They’re going to have to earn it. If that’s the best thing for our team, that’s what we’ll do.
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Q: Some players might not see as many minutes as they saw last season. How do the coaches keep everyone happy with playing time?
A: That’s a good challenge to have. What you want is a competitive environment every single day. I think that can only help you when you have that every day in practice. Sometimes the games seem even a little easier when you have that every day. At the same time, we’ll find out rather quickly. We like who we have. We think they’re a competitive bunch. In the past couple years, I think some guys, if they weren’t playing or competing at the level they needed to, I think unfortunately for the team sometimes they were still able to play because we really didn’t have a lot of depth. I think they know it’s time to compete and earn every minute they get.
Q: How much better do you need to be at shooting the 3?
A: I think we’ve added some good pieces in terms of shooting with some of the guys have been sitting out. I think the guys who come back will hopefully continue to get better and become more reliable shooters, but the other piece of that is playmaking. When you have more playmakers out on the floor, sometimes you get guys better wide-open shots. I don’t know if we were getting a lot of wide-open shots last year. That was hard for us. If we can get higher-percentage shots, I think we’ll shoot better as a team from the 3-point line.
Q: What’s the offseason plan for this team?
A: We’ll have some of our guys back to start (the first summer session) on Monday. Some of the other guys will be coming back the first or second week of June. We’re just giving them a little time away. I don’t think they had a chance to go home much last summer, so you’re talking about two full seasons and a summer in between where we’ve been going pretty hard. We wanted to let them re-energize and come back in June. Then we get (six) weeks in the (second summer session), where we can use three hours a week on the court. They’ll also be spending a lot of time with Ed in the weight room.
Q: What kind of senior year did incoming freshman Moulaye Sissoko have, and when do you expect him on campus?
A: Moulaye should be getting here in the first or second week of June as well. He did very well. He’s a strength coach’s dream. He’s going to certainly look the part and fill the jersey very well from the get-go. We’re excited about him. At the same time, with what we’ve built here and the way we want to build our program is to not necessarily rely on freshmen. There’s going to be a learning curve for Moulaye. He knows that, and hopefully, he comes in with a great attitude and ready to learn every single day and push the other guys. If he’s ready to perform and play and help our team, he’ll do that.