Penn basketball leads off its season this Friday against Robert Morris, a team coached by none other than former Quakers guard Andy Toole (“03). Since winning two Ivy titles as a player at Penn, Toole’s career has taken off. After time as an assistant at both Lafayette and Robert Morris, Toole took over and has already eclipsed 100 career victories at the age of 35. He also led the Colonials to an NCAA Tournament bid and a victory in the First Four.
Before his squad opens its year against the Red and Blue, Toole took some time to talk about the matchup and his time at Penn with Ivy Hoops Online. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:
Ivy Hoops Online: First off, undeniable level of success in your time as Robert Morris’ head coach. While coach Mike Rice also brought the squad to the NCAA Tournament while you were an assistant, how have you continued to make RMU a powerhouse in the NEC?
Andy Toole: I think it’s obviously – we’ve had some talented players and we have some really good staff here that work each and every day. But I think a lot of it is we just try and keep it as simple as possible and try and take advantage of each opportunity to get together, whether it’s a practice, a lift, a film session, whatever, and we try to keep doing the things that made us successful and not forget what those are.
IHO: Next Friday’s matchup with Penn will be your first time facing an Ivy League school since 2011-12 (also against Penn). How do you think your squad, and the NEC in general, matches up with the Ancient Eight?
AT: Again, I think like all basketball games, it’s situational. I think there are certain things that we do well and hopefully we can use to our advantage and there are things that they do well that we try to negate. I think that’s where the coaching comes in and I think that’s where some of the scouting report and the preparation come in.
But I think if you look across the board, we’ve had a number of matchups, some of our New York schools have faced Columbia, some of our New England schools have matched up against Brown or people of that nature, so I think we’ve competed well. It’s just each and every year is different and each and every game is different thanks to the strengths and differences of the teams.
IHO: What made you and the program want to schedule Penn? How long has this matchup been in the making?
AT: There wasn’t really any desire on our part to schedule Penn, in all honesty. I didn’t enjoy playing the game the first time we did at the Palestra. You know, it’s hard. You want your alma mater to do well and you root for them and now you have to compete against them and sometimes it’s a lot easier to compete against a university that’s basically people you don’t know and respect and like. This was a game just with the way the dates worked out it became part of our schedule, but it’s definitely not – we were exhausting a lot of other options before we settled on playing Penn. Just because it’s a little bit difficult for me at times.
IHO:What does Penn/The Palestra mean to you? Also, how do you overcome that in a game like this and what do you tell the players about your experience at Penn?
AT: We don’t talk a ton about my experience there. I think the Palestra, to me, is the best place to play a basketball game and one thing that’s neat about it is that bringing a team in there as a head coach is an opportunity to play in one of the best buildings in college basketball. I think that will be hopefully a memory they take with them from their college basketball career. Obviously I don’t think I would be in the position I am today if I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to go to Penn and play at Penn, play for Fran Dunphy and all the positive things that come with that. So it’s a place that I have great admiration and respect for and I’m very appreciative about how it shaped me and my college career and obviously now my coaching career.
IHO: A lot of people connected your name with the Penn job this last March after coach Allen left. Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be Penn’s coach? What did you think about hearing your name thrown about in circles for the job?
AT: Obviously, it’s a compliment when you hear those sorts of things. But I’ve never for once thought about what it would be like to coach anywhere other than Robert Morris. That’s what my No. 1 focus is: Being the coach here and trying to do the best job I can for the university and for our team and our players and program and all that kind of stuff.
I think if you start thinking about being the coach somewhere else, you miss a lot of opportunities at your own place. This is where I’m the coach at and I’m proud to be the coach here. I love casino online what we’re doing, not only the success we’ve had but some of the success we can have moving forward. It’s a really exciting time to be the coach at Robert Morris University and that’s what I’m going to focus on.
IHO: Penn is a team with a completely new offense and system and they’ve also brought in new players. How do you prepare for a team that not only may not have tape on them in this system but on top of that, just season openers in general?
AT: Yeah, it’s hard. You try and piecemeal as much information together as you possibly can. You look at maybe some personnel stuff from some previous years even though you know guys are going to kind of be used in a different manner. You look at tendencies. You look at maybe some size and situational stuff. And then from an overall team standpoint, you try to read as much as you can. You try to look at some of the stuff that coach Donahue did at Cornell or BC and make an educated guess on how they might attack certain things. That’s kind of what you do. Obviously it’s not an exact science but you try and gather as much information as you can from a variety of sources and put it together to give your team an idea of what’s going to happen. But you’re going to have to be flexible because obviously, being the first game, there may be some changes necessary or some things you weren’t completely prepared for and now you have to hopefully be able to adjust and put your team in position to guard that or score against that.
IHO: I was about to say, this has to be one of those games you just have to adjust on the fly, right?
AT: Yeah. And you’re still trying to figure who your team is going to be as well. Not only are you looking at a new system and a new roster, some of the major minute guys at Penn are going to be new to college basketball, now you throw into the mix that you’re still adjusting to your guys and some of your guys, this will be their first experience. So there’s a lot of stuff that has to go into the decision-making process over the course of the games and hopefully you guess right.
IHO: Flash back to the turn of the century, you are a sophomore at Elon. Why did you decide to transfer and what made Penn appealing as a possible destination?
AT: After my sophomore year at Elon, I was frustrated with some of the direction of the basketball program there at that time and I was looking for maybe a more competitive situation. Obviously, from an academic standpoint, it’s a homerun. Geographically for me, it was a home run being able to be closer to New Jersey and my family. And then the basketball side of it was exactly what I hoped it would be.
Like we talked about, Penn and the Palestra, being able to play in the Big 5, competing for a championship each of the three years I was afforded the opportunity to play made it really exciting to me. At that time, there was a really strong nucleus of young players with Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong, Dave Klatsky, my classmates obviously. And with Jeff Schiffner, Adam Chubb and Tim Begley coming in the years behind us, I think the makings of a really good team were there, so you could kind of see all of that developing and obviously having the opportunity to play for coach Dunphy who, to me, is one of the most underrated guys in the country in terms of day-to-day operations of running a basketball program. It was something that excited me a great deal.
And actually it was coach Donahue who recruited me to Penn and about three weeks into me being there, took the Cornell job. It’s like everything in basketball: Everything comes full circle and it’s such a small world. So for me, as I came into the transfer situation, I never looked anywhere else because I felt that if I could go to Penn and play at Penn, what would be better that that? And it worked out incredibly well for me.
IHO: With your team coming into Philadelphia next week, is there any place where you definitely want to go for a meal?
AT: Well, we’re trying to arrange sandwiches from Koch’s Deli, which is something we did last time. We’ll have our pregame meal at Smoke’s, which is something that the Penn team does as well. I’d love to try to get a slice of pizza from Lorenzo’s on South Street. It’s my favorite pizza of all time. Those are just my starting points, so I’m not sure we’re going to be able to fit them all in, but we’re going to try our best.
Look for more from coach Toole’s transferring to Penn in a story about new Quakers transfer Matt MacDonald in the coming weeks.