Furman University’s Head Basketball Coach, Niko Medved, fell in love with the game of basketball at The Barn. His Father has had season tickets for over 40 years, and Medved has been a fan, a manager, an assistant to the Head Coach, and an Assistant Coach for the University of Minnesota. After many years, he’s coming back to The Barn, but will be coaching against his hometown team. Medved is an example of how hard work, determination, constantly learning, finding excellent mentors, and having a very positive attitude can result in becoming a Head Coach at a Division 1 school. He talks about how having mentors like Dan Monson, Jim Molinari, Tim Miles and Larry Eustachy have shaped his career, and where he wants to take this Furman program.
NB: Being from MN you have so many MN ties with the Gophers and in the state. For those who don't know, please tell me about all the roles you've had with the Gophers? You started out as a manager, correct?
NM: I’ll tell you what’s even neater than that, my family, my Dad’s been a season ticket holder for over 40 years, and I really fell in love with basketball here in The Barn. When I was a kid, my Dad took me to the games when I was a little kid and that’s how I fell in love with basketball, I really fell in love with Gopher basketball. I was fortunate enough to start as a manager, and eventually I became an assistant. There are a lot of special memories here. I've spent a lot of time at The Barn watching games, working, coaching games, so it is, it’s a neat place, it’s a special place, it will be fun to come back.
NB: How tough was it to be part of the season where Coach Monson got fired/resigned?
NM: That whole year for me was really surreal, the way that it all worked out. In your journey, you always have goals and it never goes the way you planned, and I’m so blessed to be where I am. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Working with great people like Jim Molinari, we became very very close, he and I got to work together. It’s funny, two people get put in a place like that, and we had a blast that year, even though the season didn’t go the way we wanted it to. We really had fun. Every day we were blessed to be doing what we were doing and coaching at a place that we loved with kids we enjoyed. I’ll never forget that year, I grew up a lot.
NB: Speaking of Coach Mo, before I had even met you years ago, he had told me that you were going to be a great head coach someday. How does that feel to have someone with his experience and background say that about you before you were even an assistant coach?
NM: Did he really say that? I don’t believe that (joking). That means a lot. He’s a guy that I really really admire. I think a lot of people that don’t follow college basketball closely don’t realize, this guy’s resume, and how terrific of a coach he is. Not only that but what a terrific person he is, he is really a mentor to me, he really helped me in so many ways and still does today. He’s a guy I can lean on and always has great advice, he’s been there and done that, and always knows to say the right thing at the right time.
NB: What emotions do you have coming back to The Barn?
NM: It really hasn’t hit me yet. The game just kind of happened. We needed a game on this day, and MN was available,. I think this is an area that we’ll recruit. I’ve been on this court so many times, I’ve been an assistant, manager, but now to be sitting up there coaching a game...it will be a neat feeling. MN is a terrific team this year, they’re going to be a great challenge for us. I am excited, I get nervous before every game, but I’m sure I’ll have a few extra butterflies before this one tips off.
NB: What do you think you need to do beat the Gophers?
NM: I think the first thing is that they’re 3rd in the country creating turnovers, so they’re turning over their opponents, on almost 24% of their possessions. Really, that’s where it starts. They’re so good defensively, they change their defenses, it’s not just their press, but in their half court. They’re very active, they’re long, they deflect a lot of passes, and they’re so fast, they get out in transition. The first thing you need to do is be able to take care of the ball in order to beat them. They have a lot of guys that can score from the perimeter. A guy like Mo Walker is really coming on for them. They have good balance inside and outside, some of their young players are just starting to play better. They really look like they’re kicking it in gear getting ready for Big 10 play.
NB: What kind of state was the Furman program in when you became HC, where are you now, and where do you want to be?
NM: It’s a major rebuilding process, they had won 6 games the year before. I had been through it, the closest experience was when I went to Colorado State with Tim Miles, our 1st year we went 0-16 in the Mountain West, then we won 9 games the next year, and then went on the best 4 year run in school history. It is a process, for us, last year, it’s about getting the right people on the bus. We’re very very young, we’ve got some guys, I’m playing 4 freshman a lot of minutes and some sophomores a lot of minutes and a couple of juniors. We’re coming. We’re getting better and better. For our league, it’s about us getting better, preparing us for league play. I think really bright days are ahead for Furman Basketball.
NB: Do you think part of that is due to the tough non-conference schedule that you’ve taken on? Do you want to talk about some of your opponents?
NM: Who does the schedule around here (joking)? Maybe some people will say that we scheduled too tough for these guys. I don’t believe that. I think it’s a great challenge. These kids are getting thrown into the fire. We’ve already played at Duke, which was a great experience for our kids. TCU was 9-0 at the time we played them and we had a chance at that game, we just got off the road and played Florida Gulf Coast in a game that we were down 3 with a minute to go. We’ve been in a lot of these games. Hopefully we can just get better and stay aggressive and give ourselves a chance to compete.
NB: You’re on a 4 game road trip, is that tough to be able to keep your guys fired up, knowing that you’re the underdog, and traveling so much?
NM: I guess it’s all about perspective. Is it really tough? These guys are playing Division 1 college basketball, they’re living their dream every day. We just got done with finals, finals is very difficult at Furman, it’s a very rigorous school. But this is the life, this isn’t tough, this is what you’ve dreamed about doing your whole life. I don’t look at it that way. I try to be truthful with these guys about where they’re at, what they need to do, how to get better and tougher and prepare better to win, but I’m also trying to encourage them. They’re young and they’re working hard and I see them getting better. We’ve been in a lot of these games and haven’t been able to get over the hump. For us, It’s all about preparing for league play. These experiences for us are going to be good for us.
NB: How are you adapting to running your own program? What is the biggest surprise?
NM: That’s a great question. You have to wear so many hats, every day something can get thrown at you, and you’re managing so many different things. I learned you can’t assume anything. You really have to be a teacher every day. Learning to manage all those things, manage your time, and that’s been the biggest adjustment for me. But I love it, I love practice, I love teaching these guys, I love being around these guys, and I’m blessed to do what I do every day.
NB: Can you tell me a little about your team, what can we expect to see on Monday?
NM: I don’t know (laughing). Right now we’re young, we’re very aggressive, we’ve got quickness, guys that can attack the basket and spread the floor, and can do some things off the dribble. We’ve got some guys that can make shots and space the floor, we’re undersized right now. Sometimes we struggle to rebound the ball. Sometimes young teams aren't the best decision making teams, we’re steaky that way. We have to get better defensively. We need to get better at consistency. We’re getting better at putting larger stretches together of good basketball, but need to do that to get over the hump. We’ll have to play consistently well for long long periods of time to have a chance on Monday.
NB: You've coached with Dan Monson, Jim Molinari, Tim Miles and Larry Eustachy…what was the key thing you learned with each of them?
NM: Wow, that’s a great question. I thought Dan Monson was really a great manager of the program, he was very organized, he had every facet of his program organized. I thought he was genuine and really really a good person. People wanted to work for Dan, they enjoyed working for him. Being in his corner, I’m really excited to see him doing as well as he is at Long Beach State because I thought he got into a tough situation here at MN. When people look back at his tenure, people will think “Dan did a pretty dang good job.” I’m really happy and not surprised at all that he’s having the success he is at Long Beach State. Coach Mo is just a guy that people in college basketball know, you look at this guy’s resume and the places he’s been , what he’s done, he’s one of the best coaches in our business and even a better person. He’s quiet, he goes under the radar for people that don’t know him. Like I said, he’s just been a real mentor for me and has taught me a lot about working and dealing with people, different situations, he’s taken a lot of tough jobs in adverse situations and found ways to win. Tim Miles may have prepared me more than anybody to be a head coach. When I had an opportunity to work with him he gave me so much responsibility and allowed me to do so many things that a head coach would do, and he put a lot on my plate that really prepared me, and I’m forever grateful for him doing that. I thought that opportunity really prepared me to be a head coach, and going through that process with him starting from ground zero and building it the way he did. Larry Eustachy….I think he was the 1st coach in NCAA history to win 25+ games at 5 different schools. They’re 11-0 this year about to go in the top 25. He’s just a winner. He’s an old school coach, he gets the most out of his players, he’s incredibly smart. Great feel for basketball, he never misses anything. He’s the kind of guy, if he’s watching something at practice or a game, if you watch it on film, it’s exactly the way that he said it. I really learned a lot from him as well. All those guys really played a role in molding me where I am today.
NB: What is it like recruiting to Furman?
NM: Furman is a terrific academic school, it’s one of the best liberal arts schools in the Southeast. Anyone who visits, you will not find a more beautiful campus, it’s an amazing place. The town itself of Greenville has probably doubled in size since I was there as an assistant, it’s grown like crazy. I think we can recruit a lot of areas. We want to recruit up here. It’s not difficult when you get a kid down to visit campus, see what we’re doing and the commitment that the University has made all the way from the top down, it’s a neat place. I love Minnesota, but there’s not been one time when I’m down there, when I left I think it was 62 degrees, I wasn’t wishing it was 10 below in Minnesota (laughing). I think us playing these games in different areas that we want to recruit, kind of getting our name out there a little bit, and getting kids on campus and families on campus, because we can’t just recruit the southeast and be successful.
NB: Any other last thoughts?
NM: It will be interesting on Monday night. Once you’re a Gopher, you’re always a Gopher, right? For me, this is where I got my start, and you come back here, even though you’ve been gone for a while, and it feels like you were just here yesterday. It’s neat to see that the program is doing well, that football is winning, Richard is doing a great job here, they’re building a winner here, women’s basketball and volleyball, the athletic department is doing a great job.
NB: How well do you know Richard Pitino?
NM: I’ve met him, I don’t know him well personally. He’s done a terrific job, he’s got great energy, his kids play really really hard and they play a really really aggressive style. I’m close with Ben Johnson, I know him well. He does a terrific job, and I’ve gotten to know Dan McHale a little bit. I just think he does a great job. He’s innovative, he’s brought a completely different style of play here. You can really see his kids buying into that style. When you watch a team play, I think very quickly, he got those kids to buy into the way he needed them to play. I think they play with great energy and together. They’ve bought in, and that shows he’s really coaching them up.