Exclusive Interview: Murray State head coach Steve Prohm talks pressure, expectations, going undefeated, and the Final Four




By: Kels Dayton

Murray State is the toast of the college basketball world these days. At 20-0 and ranked ninth in the current ESPN/USA Today poll, the Racers have survived as the nation’s last undefeated team. In the process, first-year head coach Steve Prohm has become one of six coaches in NCAA history to begin his career with 20 or more consecutive wins. It seems as though every media outlet in the nation wants a piece of the Murray State boss. Here at Roundball Daily, we got him. Coach Prohm talks about expectations, going undefeated, and yes, the Final Four.

ROUNDBALL DAILY: You guys are 20-0, No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today Poll…did you think this was possible when you took the job?

Steve Prohm: (Laughs.) Everybody asks that. I thought we had a good team, but—you know, you probably never dream this scenario. You never dream about being undefeated. But we have a great group of upper classmen that have really exemplified great leadership and toughness, and I knew if those guys really bought in and played together that we had a chance to be very good.

First-year coach Steve Prohm has led the Racers to a school-record 20-0 start. (Spruce Derden/US Presswire)

RD: Are you impressed with just how well you’ve played?

PROHM: Well…you know, we’ve got some very good players. Sometimes people can overlook some mid-majors, but you know, Isaiah Cannan, Ivan Aska, Donte Poole and Jewuan Long, Ed Daniel, those guys are our starters… they’re great basketball players and we’ve also got great depth with Latreze Mushatt, Zay Jackson and Stacy Wilson. So I think we have a lot of talented players. We’ve just got a good basketball team, and that’s why we’re successful right now.

RD: How have you handled all of the extra attention that comes with being undefeated?

PROHM: We just try to be humble and handle everything with great humility. I just talk to our guys about the next thing at hand, and that’s the next game or the next practice, and [tell them] not to get caught up in everything outside–all the distractions. Just focus on the next task at hand. If you can do that and you can stay grounded, special things will continue to come your way.

RD: Do you want to go undefeated? Some coaches say that a loss can take the pressure off and allow your team to re-focus. What do you think about that?

PROHM: (Laughs). No, we want to win every game. Our guys want to win…our coaching staff wants to win. We don’t want to lose. Ever.

RD: (Laughing) Yeah, that’s what we thought. 

Murray State owns three victories over top-35 ranked opponents, including an impressive 76-72 win at Memphis. (Bright House Sports)

RD: Was beating Memphis early in the season big for your team’s confidence?

PROHM: Well, our guys went down there thinking we could win the basketball game. And that was our plan. People don’t realize…we were up 12 in both halves. We were up 10 or 11 with a minute to go. And that’s Memphis’ only home loss this year. So, the way our guys carry themselves and the way that they compete and work, we believe that we can play with anybody.

RD: If you were to win the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship and then lose in the conference tournament, do you think your team has done enough to earn an at large bid?

PROHM: Yeah, I think we’ve done enough. You know, you’ve got to continue to play well and win games… but I think without any question that with our nonconference resume and what we’ve been able to do up until this point, we are deserving of an at-large bid.

RD: You guys upset Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2010. Does winning that game have any impact on this year’s team? Does it give your guys confidence that they can get back to the NCAAs and win a couple of games?

PROHM: Yeah, I think it does because all five of our starters were on that team that beat Vanderbilt. They were freshmen and sophomores and now they’re juniors and seniors. So I think they believe they can beat anybody in the country, especially on a neutral site.

RD: Being a small program…and I know you guys almost beat Butler in the second round in 2010…but what are your thoughts on what Butler has done over the past two years? Do you use what they’ve done as motivation for your team?

PROHM: We don’t necessarily use what they’ve accomplished as motivation…our guys see [what they’ve done], so they understand that it is possible if you sell out on the defensive end, if you play unselfish, and you buy in and try to max-out your role within the team.

But I think Coach Stevens has done an unbelievable job in his short time at Butler, playing for two national championships. Butler’s always had a very good basketball program, but he’s almost taken them to another level, so it is something that I look at. Especially the way he carries himself and the way he deals with his program.

RD: Do you think your team believes it can get to a Final Four?

PROHM: I think our guys believe that they can do anything right now. And that’s not a cockiness…I just think it’s a togetherness, a brotherhood…I think it’s a commitment to one another and a belief in each other.

RD: Why do you think that smaller, lower-budget programs have been able to compete so well with the big-name, big-money programs over the past few years?

Isaiah Canaan has been outstanding for the Racers this season, leading the team with 18.7 points and 4 assists per game. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

PROHM: Well, there are just so many good basketball players out there. And then, you know, a lot of the great players sometimes will leave early for the NBA draft— and that helps, but I just think there’s a lot of good basketball players out there. I mean, Isaiah Canaan is as good a guard as there is in the country and he visited Arkansas State, Tulane, and us. So if you do your homework from a recruiting standpoint and you evaluate the right way, you’re going to be able to get very good players in your program.

But you know the one thing for us at Murray State is that we’ve been good for 60 years. Murray State has as good a basketball program as there is in the country when you look at tradition, facilities, championships, and what we’ve been able to do over the last 50 or 60 years.

RD: Speaking of Isaiah, do you think he deserves more recognition, because I know he wasn’t named as a Wooden Award finalist…?

PROHM: I didn’t know…did they already come out with the finalists for that?

RD: Yeah, they announced the finalists last week, and he didn’t make the list.

PROHM: Yeah, I mean well, hopefully that’s something he can put himself in position for next year. But when you look at what he’s doing and what he’s done for us in the biggest games of the year, he’s as good a player as there is in the country. He’s a special, special talent, he’s a special kid, and he’s got a bright, bright future.

RD: Is he the leader of this team?

PROHM: Yeah, he’s our leader. You know, everybody’s got their own role, but I think on the offensive end, he’s what makes our team go. He’s had a terrific season for us.

RD: What will [forward] Ivan Aska’s return do for your team? (Ed’s note: Aska missed six games with a broken hand.)

The Racers have designs on big things this season. (AP Photo)

PROHM: Well, he provides us with another post presence who can score and rebound around the basket and it certainly provides us with more leadership out on the floor…and also more toughness. This is his second year, and he’s been through it so…and also it provides more depth for us.

RD: What’s the biggest thing you’ve taken from [former Murray State head coach] Billy Kennedy?

PROHM: I think having a balance in your life…having a strong faith and staying even keel with everything that you do.

RD: In terms of basketball, do you mirror his style?

PROHM: For the most part, yes, definitely. First and foremost, we want to be very good defensively. We want to be a defensive rebounding and toughness-type group. Offensively we want to attack in transition. We’ve got really good guards. But in terms of the core of our program, our intangibles, and the values of our program, it’s basically identical.

RD: What would make this season successful from this point on?

PROHM: Success for us is to win a conference championship, get into the NCAA Tournament and then play the best we possibly can and just see where that puts us.

RD: Thanks a lot, coach.

PROHM: You got it.


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