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An interview with Jim Lane.

I had a chance to speak with new Union County College head coach Jim Lane '92 yesterday afternoon. Lane takes over as head coach of the Owls after four seasons at Westfield High School in northern New Jersey. A transcript of our conversation follows. - JS



Tell me about what you've being doing before getting this job. What let up to this?

I've been coaching in the Westfield, New Jersey school system for the past four years. I was actually an assistant to my high school coach [Neil Horne, Jr.], who is not of Coach Carril's notoriety, but he's very well known in New Jersey. He won four state championships with a lot of guys who can't run and jump like me [laughs].

I had been doing that and got to the point where you're either going to step up and become a head coach or not coach. Once you've being coaching with someone who is that strong of a teacher, probably like many of the guys who coached directly for Coach Carril - at some point you've learned what you can learn, you buy into it but you want to put your own stamp on your own situation. Whereas Coach Carril's offensive brilliance, I learned so much from that when I played at Princeton because it enables guys like me that can't really run and jump to play and to compete against much better athletes, what I learned in high school and the last four years of coaching was very man to man defense-oriented. This is the opportunity for me to put those two things together.

I better do it well, because unlike the other people in Coach Carril's coaching tree, they were all really good players [laughs]. I was just a guy who worked really, really hard. Whether you're talking about Chris Mooney or Joe Scott or Howard Levy, these were guys who got a lot of playing time because they were very, very good basketball players. I knew going into Princeton that I was a borderline Division I player - if that - but I knew that in that system, that sort of brought me over the line. Our success in my new situation is going to be dependent on getting guys to buy into that, guys who were stars on their high school teams. I don't think it is going to be that hard to get them to buy in, because we're trying to get from the best basketball high schools in New Jersey, the fourth, fifth and sixth-best players.

You sound like you had a very good sense of your strengths and limitations as a player. Did that help prepare you for a back-up role at Princeton?

I had no idea I was going to play a back-up role for as long as I was going to play a back-up role. I had no idea, nor did I think anyone else had an idea what a great player Kit Mueller was going to be. Everyone knew he had potential. He had a very good freshman year. I had no idea, but I figured it out very quickly once I got there. I went to Princeton because my generation in my family was the first college generation. I couldn't tell who was telling the truth when coaches were recruiting me and who wasn't, so I decided to go to the best school I got into. My two criteria were - go to the best school you can get into. So you get into a bunch of Ivy League schools and then you say "so now what do you do?" I don't know how much I'm going to play, because I don't know how I'm going to compete at that level, so I better go play for the guy that during any four year span gives me the best chance to have an NCAA tournament experience.

You certainly got the best possible four years that you could play, then! [Princeton won the Ivy League in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992].

I never anticipated that. I don't think anyone anticipated that. No one anticipated how good Kit Mueller was. A couple of those years, for long stretches, he carried us. Like Coach Carril would say about [Kit], I have no idea who is going to show up at Union County College next year. I had my first team meeting today...

How did that go?

...I thought it went great. The administration folks that I invited came. The players and some candidate players showed up and had good questions. Like most situations where they haven't won in a while, they're craving leadership. The question is, will I provide that well? I'm working on our assistant coach, who was a great player at Westfield High School, and played at American University then was drafted in the second round, a guy named Russell Bowers.

I didn't know how the kids were going to respond. I actually used a Carril quote at the end of the meeting - it was a comment about all the difficult things it takes to win - sacrificing time away from your friends and doing a lot of other things that at the moment might seem appealing. I know that that's true and I know that nothing brings people together like competing.

If we win 50% or more of the games against teams that have better athletic talent than we do - and I won't know that until we get there - that would be a successful season. That's how we're going to measure success on the basketball court. Because, that means Jim Lane added some value. If we just beat the teams that we have the same physical attributes or better physical attributes, then the coaching didn't add a lot of value.

Union went 9-17 last year, correct?

A lot of those wins came in the first half of the year, because I think some of the stronger players may have had challenges in the second half of the year academically. So we had our first team meeting today, and we had it in the library.

Was a college coaching position something that you were actively looking for? Would you have been similarly interested in a a high school head coaching position?

My number one priority was walking into a situation where I got to teach in the gym. High school coaches are generally very embedded in their systems. I looked at a couple of junior college positions that I heard where open. I thought that if I were to coach at the high school level, I would have had to start at the freshman or JV level initially, just because of how the system works in New Jersey - people that teach in a district get first priority. There are a lot of great coaches out there and I'm trying to reach out to as many as possible right now of the great programs in New Jersey. Getting a teaching job in one of those districts would have required waiting around for one of those vacancies at the varsity level, and I wish I had more patience, but I probably would not have had the patience for that.

This situation, it is ideal. It is five minutes from my house. We have a nice campus, we have a good facility. The other thing that was very appealing about Union County College is that they have an outstanding women's program that has gone very far, if you look at Coach Bell and what she has done there with that program. I know the support and infrastructure is there to get it done. It is just, am I going to deliver and are they players going to keep the drama down off the court and in the classroom so we can really focus on what we need to get done?

What's your coaching philosophy? With Westfield were you running similar stuff offensively to what you ran in college?

Very different actually. It is a team defense that is very help-oriented with a lot of pressure on the ball. It wasn't the traditional 1-2-2 by any means, although after a few cuts that Princeton defense used to turn into a man to man at some point because people would be cutting all over the place against us trying to outthink it. The defensive philosophy is assuming that you're going to be smaller than most other teams, so you're going to put tremendous pressure on the basketball and try to use the defense to force turnovers. The default defense is picking up at half court. It is trying to get the ball out of the best ball handler's hands while fronting every post player and making sure people are on the help site. We're successful if we take four or five charges a game. I wouldn't say it is inconsistent [with Princeton], but I would say it is quite different because it is very much of a pure man to man philosophy.

As a member of Region XIX you'll be playing Coach Levy and Mercer. Have you spoken with him about what you should expect from this level?

I just looked at our schedule for next year and I didn't see them on there, actually.

[goes to check the conference schedule again]

Knowing Howie's intelligence, I certainly know that his wouldn't be a team we wouldn't want to play early in the season.

[continues to check schedule]

For some reason, it doesn't look like we actually play them. You may see a scrimmage there. We'd love to scrimmage the Princeton JV.

Have you and Coach Levy talked at all?

Not really. I know Howard pretty well and I haven't talked to him too much on that front. We probably speak or email once a month and like him I have a passion for this. Certainly, no one's doing it for the money [laughs]. I think our teams will be fairly comparable. I haven't talked to him too much about it.

Our games are all in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, so I think it will be a pretty rigorous couple of months, but one where you can go 110% because it is so local and you can really focus on things. For a first head coaching job, I think it is going to be tough - I don't know what kind of players we have yet - but I think it is going to be manageable.

I've seen you at a number of Princeton games over the last handful of years. What is your connection to the team these days? What do you think about what you see?

This year I was fortunate enough, I went down with Rich Simkus to see the Princeton/Penn game at the Palestra. I just was really impressed with some pretty long stretches of that team and their defense. I was at the Army game at Army and the massive difference between the first half and the second half was that Army was playing with handcuffs the second half of that game. The mental toughness, and I'm assuming some of that comes from the coaching staff - but the mental toughness that they showed down at Penn it was just impressive and it was fun to watch.

The team this year reminded me a little bit of the team my senior year, because you have these stretches where you don't score. Your defense has to be there. I even told my team that. The way we're going to play basketball on the offensive end, I don't want to see it, but if we go stretches where we can't score, we're going to rely on our team defense.

Year in and year out, I'm a fan, but I do have to say I wrote Sydney a couple notes this year during the season - I was just excited about the level of intensity I was seeing.

With a job like Union, I would imagine there's a "day job" worked into your schedule. What are you balancing along with coaching?

Up until last spring I was actually running an investment strategy for a firm in Boston. I was traveling back and forth to Boston every week. Since that time I've been managing my own money and doing some investment consulting through a couple of funds. I think that is probably going to continue unless I decide to launch my own, which may be the case. It is a skill I developed after college and I have a fairly successful investment track record. I may do that again. It has been crazy times, the last year or so in the business. Since the firm I worked for in Boston closed down, it has actually been a good time to be away from it. Right now I am focused on this and I've been talking to some people about potentially launching another small investment fund but that's kind of where things stand right now.

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