Since taking the head coaching reigns of the Alcorn State Men’s basketball team, Luther Riley has hit the ground running in efforts to restore this once proud program.
As a well-respected, veteran head coach, Riley has achieved great success and is no stranger to building championship pedigree; non more evident than guiding his former team the John W. Provine High School Rams to four State titles.
I caught up with Riley as he prepares for the back end of the Braves season, to discuss expectations, coaching methods and the man that is Luther Riley.
When one thinks of Alcorn’s Men Basketball they think of the “Whiz” Davey Whitney. How challenging has it been from day one to step out of the shadows of such a legend?
LR: It’s been very challenging, to say the least, to come behind such rich tradition and a legendary coach in Davey Whitney. I’ve taken over a program that was not doing as well and looked at it as more of an opportunity with challenges as opposed to just a challenge alone. Therefore, in my approach, I am echoing what William Arthur Ward said, “Optimists enrich the present, enhance the future, challenge the improvable and attain the impossible.” The opportunity to rebuild a program that has seen so much success and received worldly respect has kept me focused and determined regardless of the challenges that I will encounter.
So with that being said, what was the driving force for Luther Riley wanting to be at Alcorn State?
LR: As with any decision that I make or have made, careful and intense thought and consideration will always be my initial method to narrowing down choices that are to be made. Consultation from various colleagues across the country, evaluation of the pros and cons, and meticulously looking at growth potential are other factors that impact my decision making. Why Alcorn? Alcorn has a rich history and tradition. Two: I spent two years as a graduate assistant under Davey Whitney. Three: There’s an opportunity for me to rebuild the program that I was once a part of. Four: Excellent opportunity for growth as this campus is a goldmine. Five: Revive the Alcorn Nation! Six: Personally, it was a chance to coach on the Division I level.
With Alcorn being located in a rural setting. Has that been a challenge in recruiting?
LR: We have been fortunate to have signed quality student athletes. In reference to the rural setting, one writer exclaimed “if you can build a mousetrap better than your neighbor, though your house may be in the woods – the world would beat a path to your door. Alcorn is a great place to be.
The team has been below average from the free throw line this year. What methods have been put in place to improve this average?
LR: Free throw missing stems from one of three things: not enough reps in practice, poor mechanics or poor concentration. As we outline our practice schedule daily, at least 20 min is spent on concentration drills, while individual workout times covers mechanics and reps. Although, there has to be some individual responsibility placed on the student athlete if he wants to be the best he can become.
The average home attendance has declined over the last decade. As a new era of Braves basketball arises what is your message to the alumni, fans and supports to increase attendance?
LR: In this rebuilding process, there are culture shortcomings we must address because of how low the program dropped. We have to engage our students, faculty, staff and the Alcorn community to a product they can’t miss seeing. We have to make timely marketing strides for familiarity, make the game more than a game, make the game an event, put a product on the floor that is entertaining and of character, and most of all we must have timely advertisement. So my message to all Alumni, fans, and supporters – we are heading in the right direction. Patient progress is what sustains programs for years.
What has been your most defining moment here on the “Reservation”?
LR: When I was given the opportunity to direct one of the most heralded programs in the history of college basketball.
With Jackson State already being an arch rival, has the hiring of Wayne Brent added to the intensity of this matchup?
LR: JSU has always been a rival to Alcorn. Personally, I want to win every time we play them. Coach Brent is a long time colleague but understands that once we hit the floor- it’s business.
The last SWAC Championship and NCAA appearance for the Braves was in 2002. With players such as LeAntwan Luckett and the addition of Marquis Vance, how close is this team to becoming a champion?
LR: Championships go way beyond the team. Administration is key in this process. There are so many variables that go into a championship. In terms of personnel, attitude, mindsets of players. We ask our guys to make forward steps everyday off the floor, in the classroom and on the floor. Once each individual has a team concept and is a champion off the floor and on the floor- a championship awaits.