This past Tuesday, the Northeast Conference once again put on its annual NEC Basketball Social Media Day at the 40/40 club inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and once again the NEC did a tremendous job organizing and running this great event. It is always the fastest four or five hours of the year it seems.
At NEC Media Day, I along with other members of the media, got to once again speak with LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri as he gets set to begin his fourth season as the Blackbirds head man and also begins his second decade coaching at LIU as he begins year eleven as an both an assistant and head coach in Downtown Brooklyn.
This year, junior guard Iverson Fleming joined him for the festivities. Fleming in his first two years at LIU is averaging 4.3 points per game and is a career 35.6% field goal shooter.
Here is part of the conversation we had with both gentlemen.
Q: Jack, I know you don’t like to give a lot of credence to the coaches poll but your team was picked fourth this season, do you think it was fair or unfair in your opinion?
Jack Perri: Who knows. You can close your eyes and pick it this year I think and that is the reality of it. A lot of teams lose a lot of guys, a lot of new guys come in and will step into new roles for whichever program. Do I think Mount St. Mary’s (picked first in NEC coaches poll) has the most experience, yeah. After that, you can picked be picked tenth, you can be picked second, third or fourth, whatever. I think it is just who stays healthy, figures out what they are, who buys into their philosophy and who steps up. Yeah, fourth is fine.
Q: Is that next scorer’s role with Gerrell Martin gone still got to be determined? There is guys who can do it but we’re not sure who is going to be that guy who is going to fill that role yet?
JP: Yeah, I guess. We haven’t really looked at it that way. We were such a young group last year and even to the very end, we fought it a little bit with shot selection. I think this year is has just been a total different mindset and guys are just willing to make the extra pass and I haven’t even thought about it as who is going to have to place Gerrell. We just have guys that can spread the scoring around. That is clearly a possibility. We chart field goal attempts everyday and it seems to be different everyday who is getting the most shots which I think is fine with this group at this point. If some guys end up stepping up and start taking a little bit more shots than others, I’ll be fine with that. I think Martin Hermannsson is a guy that you’ll see take an added step. He can certainly score the ball and I think he didn’t shoot the ball great last year but he has shot the ball well in practice. So it could be potentially him. Joel Hernandez has the ability to get to the rim and get fouled a ton. Nura Zanna, I think is going to make a step up in his game. Jerome Frink, Iverson Fleming, right down the line, I think there is a lot more versatility than there was last year.
Q: What are your some of your team’s weaknesses if any?
JP: We don’t have any seniors so to have somebody that has that sense of urgency that this is their last year, we don’t have that. I will turn that into a positive and the guy that is sitting next to me (Fleming) has been one of the best leaders that I’ve seen in LIU since I’ve been here. The way he kind of taken it by being aggressive taking it over and that doesn’t mean by taking it over on the court with trying to do too much, everybody looks at him like what are we doing now and he knows he is an extension of the coaches. He has been great.
Q: Beside Iverson, who else on a team with no seniors has been trying to step up in terms trying to provide some veteran leadership?
JP: The competitiveness within practice, I think Martin Hermannsson and Jerome Frink have been probably the next two and Glenn Feidanga, those three guys a little bit more so than some of the others have kind of gone to. They can sense if practice has gotten off to a sluggish start and they see my demeanor change and my face get red, they notice that and they are like, ok, let’s step it up and change our mindset and all of those guys have done a really good job.
Q: You spoke highly of Martin Hermannsson when we sat here last year, can you talk about what he was able to do as a freshman last year. It sounds like you believe he can take a big step forward this year?
JP: I do. He has some really good experience this summer with the Icelandic national team, playing against some NBA players. It has been interesting because of that he did so much in July and August, I feel that I’m a little nervous he is going to get fatigued and a little burnout. He hasn’t gotten there yet and I tell him in practice to take more breaks, we need you to stay fresh. He is a talented kid, he makes the great decision a lot. He takes care of the basketball for the most part. He has been more aggressive to take his own shot this year which is good. I told him, I don’t want him taking four shots in a game ever again so he needs to be aggressive but I also know that his mindset is also to get other guys the ball and make the right play that way.
Q: Iverson, what has been your approach coming into this year, like coach said there are no seniors with you, Joel and others now kind of the veteran group?
Iverson Fleming: Noticing that there wouldn’t be any seniors this year, I spoke to (Coach Perri) over the summer just about me being much more of a leader, guys wanting to follow me and me just being the guy to step up and take that role, I felt that was really important to me and it can be something special towards our season. That was my approach, just coming in and having guys just follow me, get on my lead. Just be the guy to turn to if they need something, I’m willing to help anyone and was just much more my mindset to come in and distribute the ball a lot better and putting guys before me and stop putting myself in front of everyone and learning about my surroundings, being aware of who is lacking off or something. That is what I wanted to do coming in, like you said with no seniors and if we can develop that and for the next year and after that it just becomes clockwork, it is just moving down the line for the years to come at LIU.
Q: You feel like in the practices as they have been going on and you feel like that approach has been taking place so far?
IF: Yes, absolutely. We have a lot of young guys. I see that they are willing to learn and I’m willing to lead. It is always great to have somebody that is willing to learn.
Q: Did the older guys at any point kind of sit down and say, hey normally it’s easy there are two seniors left and those are the guys that are going to lead the team, did you guys at any point say we have to figure this out, we have to do this or someone is got to step up here?
IF: Kinda of, sorta. My partner, Glenn Feidanga man. After me, I think he is a great leader. I spoke to him on us wanted it more and us taking that initiative to do more and be a little more extra with our voices. At the beginning of this year, he was here in the summer and he left, but I spoke to him before he left (to play with the Central African Republic national team), and just telling him when he comes back, it is going to be me and him are going to be the leaders of this squad to get us to where we want to go and he was all for it and he came back with that mindset. He has been great for us too.
Q: Jack, with all the rules changes this offseason, have there been any concerns so far in terms of the new 30-second shot clock or the defensive rules?
JP: The shot clock won’t be an issue. I have a little more familiarity being on the (NCAA Rules) committee. We always talk playing smart with discipline with fouling and things like that. It’s going to be interesting. We’ve had some referees come in and it didn’t seem like a lot of things changed. They were more concerned about the timeout and (the coaches) not being able to call it. So we’ve work on that in practice, having our guys being the ones that have to call timeout in play-in game situations. The physical play, with added depth I’m hoping that isn’t as much of an issue. But it is going to be an adjustment for everybody those first few weeks. If the referees do what they suppose to do and call all these tickey tack fouls and make the game a little bit more free flowing. It is going to muddy for a little bit and we have to understand that and hopefully we have enough guys that can step up and play minutes. There are going to be foul situations and guys are going to get a lot of fouls early in games.
Q: You just spoke on the depth, that is something you haven’t had the first couple of years and now it is something you do have. You have a lot of players on your roster this year, can you speak on the depth of your team with the added freshmen coming in and the veteran group you have back.
JP: The best part about it with the depth is we can get better in practice and you can compete more and is not like Iverson has to take every single rep and then when he takes every single rep there is fatigue and then the product becomes watered down a little bit. So now you have fourteen guys, you can rotate bodies in and you can get better and then there is the competition factor, now you have guys competing with each other and you don’t have an assistant coach on the court which we’ve had the last three years. It makes things a lot better. Will it translate to more wins this year, it remains to be seen but for it has been a lot more enjoyable, we can work on a lot more things that we weren’t able to work on in years past.
Q: Iverson, anyone that stands out so far to you in practice that makes you feel like that are ready for a really good season this year?
IF: Most definitely. I would say two guys, Martin Hermannsson and Jerome Frink. We lacked some areas last year not having Jerome but boy I’ll tell you, he picks that slack up in practice. With Martin, like coach said, he had a long summer and I’m surprised. He is always focused. He actually becoming a much better leader than last year, than what he was. Those two guys have really impressed me so far and I think they’re in for a special year.
Q: Is there one of the young guys, freshman or sophomore that you think the same about?
IF: Oh yeah, I think Julius van Sauers and Raul Frias. Raul can really shoot the ball. Julius, I think he might be one of those top freshman that come in with this class this year. He will be special for years to come.
Q: What do you think for yourself, in your opinion, the keys to the season?
IF: For myself, mostly is just keeping guys together. It’s a long season. Things will get hairy at times. I go with the mindset that an open fist is kinda weak then a strong fist and that is us staying together. I just want to keep us together when things get rough because it is going to happen. It’s basketball. We aren’t perfect but if we stay together, things will be great and we’ll have a special year.
Q: Jack, you are starting your second decade at LIU Brooklyn as both an assistant and head coach, how has the program changed from when you first got to LIU and how has it progressed?
JP: When I first got here, this whole area was so different. You start with the surroundings and you can see the transformation of Brooklyn. Wow, it has been awesome in a really positive way. Iverson has got no idea how lucky he has it. We didn’t have the facilities, we didn’t have the surrounding that we obviously have with Downtown Brooklyn now. That is probably the biggest change. As far as the basketball program, obviously (former head coach) Jim Ferry and I were from the same cloth and we always believed in the same things, that is why I came here in the first place because I trusted him with the way he was going to run his program. It was a constant grind, good and bad back then. We were constantly trying to figure out how do we get better players. How do we figure out how we get more disciplined. It’s the same. Every year is different. We had that great run obviously that was something special and now our objective is to get back there and I think we are in a good place with the group that we have. I think we have some really good pieces. And again, I will commend Iverson and it is well deserved, if he continues to do what he has been doing than we are in good hands. That is the ultimate objective is to have a culture that once has he has graduated that he can come back and say we are in good hands and the young guys are going to take on what he has done.