Oregon State was treading water during the 2013-14 men’s basketball season, one that began with hopes that this would be the year the Beavers got back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990.
OSU went 16-16, ending the season with a 96-92 home loss to Radford in front of a few hundred people in the College Basketball Invitational.
Head coach Craig Robinson, in his sixth season at OSU, guided the team to an 8-10 Pac-12 Conference record, tying the program’s best mark in the last 21 seasons.
But it was a down year for some Beavers fans given the team’s returning talent.
On March 28, OSU athletic director Bob De Carolis released a letter in support of Robinson, noting the coach’s accomplishments.
I sat down with Robinson on Wednesday afternoon in his office on campus to talk all things OSU men’s basketball.
Here is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
What about this past season really sticks out to you?
CR: “Looking back on it, the thing that sticks out the most is the opportunities lost. You figure you finish 8-10 (in the Pac-12). If you can have four more games go in a different direction, you’re probably on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. That’s the thing that sticks in my mind the most.”
Robinson said the season wasn’t as bad as it could have been considering junior forward Eric Moreland missed the first 12 games due to suspension.
CR: “There’s some positives and negatives. Unfortunately, for our business you really ... focus on the negatives and I’m trying to get those better. And the positives, you’re like ‘OK, that’s great’ and then you move on.”
Moreland declared for the NBA draft in 2013, then decided against it and returned to Oregon State. He graduated after the recently completed winter term. What is his status?
CR: “We’re in the dark, as is everybody else, trying to figure out what he’s going to do. I suspect we might have seen him for the last time, only because I haven’t heard from him. But he could be examining things and keeping the door open for himself, which we can keep our fingers crossed. But realistically, the fact that he’s graduated is probably ... that would probably be a sign that he might not come back.”
(Moreland posted Tuesday on Twitter that he’s received good feedback from NBA teams and that he will make his decision soon.)
What’s been your involvement with Moreland on the decision?
CR: “We’ve talked a little bit about the process. He knows we would love to have him back if he wants to come back. Since we did this all last year, he pretty much has an idea how to go about it. I think he’s out there trying to figure out what he’s going to do. I’m waiting for him to let us know.”
The letter Bob De Carolis sent out said you presented him with a plan. What can you tell me about that plan?
CR: “Nothing that I really want to share because it’s a plan to win games and I don’t want it to be out there in the public. We’ve got a plan moving forward and we’ll have to see how it works out.”
Besides the graduation of your six seniors and Moreland possibly moving on, what other roster changes might there be?
CR: “I don’t know yet. We haven’t had our end-of-the-year meeting yet as a team. We’ll have that coming up in the next few days.”
Are you expecting that there might be some players leaving (through transfers)?
CR: “No. There’s always a chance that one of our European players might, the summer comes around and they might want to play pro.”
(The two European players on OSU’s 2013-14 roster were junior guard Challe Barton and sophomore forward Olaf Schaftenaar. Robinson said he won’t know about players possibly deciding to transfer out until the end of the school year. Also, he doesn’t expect any staff changes this offseason.)
Taking a broader look at the program, what are some of the areas you feel like need the biggest strides?
CR: “In order for us to take the next step, we’ve got to be a better defensive team. This year we wanted to be a better defensive team, a better rebounding team and keep our scoring up. I think I’m a little less worried about our offense and more concerned about our defense.
“I would say that my biggest concern going into the offseason is making sure we have the right mindset to be a good defensive team.”
Toward the end of the season you talked about the perception that things need to happen faster and you said “I get it.” Is that a realistic expectation in this program?
CR: “Well that’s something you’d have to ask the management ... because it’s their expectations, it’s the fans’ expectations. For me, my expectation is to get better every year and to move the needle forward. I feel like we’re doing that. But like I said the last time, people might want it to happen faster.”
What is your message to those people (who want it to happen faster)?
CR: “No message. I’ve got a body of work. I don’t have a message. ’Cause messages sound like excuses. I’m not making any excuses. Just look at the body of work, look at the record over the past six years and compare it to the years prior to that.”
The attendance has slowly decreased in recent years. What are your thoughts when you see the empty seats?
CR: “I wish they were filled. But again, I’ve got to worry about winning games, and I’ll worry about winning games and then the person who worries about putting people in the seats can worry about putting people in the seats.”
Do you feel like winning is going to take care of that?
CR: “I don’t know. I would hope so. You’ve probably done more research than me, but we’ve won how many games over the last six years, 94? I’d have to look at the comparison of the previous years and these years. If you’re saying it’s dwindling and we’re actually winning more games than we had before, there’s some analysis to be done there. But I can’t focus on it. I’ve got to focus on winning every single game we play.”
How have you seen Beaver Nation’s response to your program in your time here?
CR: “I’ve seen it be extremely positive. But the positive people aren’t the people who get written about and comment. I’m still very positive about the direction we’re going. These would be the people I run into or say things to me.
“I’m enjoying my time here. I think we’re moving in the right direction and we would like to be winning championships, too.”
Is that who you are in general ... a positive person?
CR: “Yeah, I’m positive. But I’m also realistic. And I’ve also been successful, so I try and put all that stuff together to be successful. I guess I would consider myself a positive person generally. But also a realist. You can’t be in this business and not be realistic or you can’t last.”
How close do you feel your program is to finally breaking through and getting to the NCAA tournament?
CR: “Close. I think the biggest variable is talent, and I think we’re getting the talent. So as long as we can keep getting good talent to come to Corvallis I think we’ve got a shot.”
How big of a hurdle has the recruiting aspect been for you and your staff?
CR: “It’s not been that big of a hurdle. I think we’ve recruited some really good players here. I don’t think it’s the easiest place to recruit to, but I don’t think it’s the hardest place to recruit to either. I just think it takes time ... and to me it feels like it’s easier to get good players to come to Corvallis. It’s really getting easier to get good players to consider Corvallis.”
Jesse Sowa is a sports writer for the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Email him at email@example.com.