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Mike Lopresti | | April 2, 2023

SDSU coach Brian Dutcher goes long on words, wisdom and wins on the way to the title game

San Diego St. coach explains strategy in that buzzer-beating win over FAU

HOUSTON — They call San Diego State a mid-major. Not when it comes to having a quotable coach. The Aztecs’ man is high major all the way.

So before his team steps in the way of the runaway train that is Connecticut, here’s the San Diego State journey, in the invariably interesting words of Brian Dutcher.

Getting the job at San Diego State after his mentor Steve Fisher retired:

“I knew I had to probably win right away, being I’m coaching on Steve Fisher Court, and that’s the guy I was replacing. A little pressure to do that. You know you better win right away, especially if you have no head coaching on your resume.”

What he told his team before Friday’s open practice at NRG Stadium:

“I said today this is going to feel like an All-Star practice. But it’s not All-Star weekend. We’re playing a meaningful game. We’re not putting on a show. Go out there, put a smile on your face, but get yourselves ready to play a game.”

His first words when he came into the interview room this week:

“I was waiting until there were fewer people here so I could say something controversial.”

The changes in the college basketball landscape:

“We’re adapting to NIL. We’re adapting to the transfer portal. You can’t sit there and say, boy, I wish it was the way it used to be. It’s the way it is. And so I think I’ve had an ability to adapt to whatever rules are thrown at us.”

What said to his team about Florida Atlantic:

“They’ve got more wins than anybody in the country. We’re not looking at them as a Cinderella team. And I just told our team the chip on their shoulder can’t be bigger than the chip on our shoulder.”

😳 Buzzer-beater sends San Diego State to the national championship

The tournament:

“I always say March is for players. That’s not to excuse coaching, but if I put them in the right position, sometimes you live with the shot going in or ringing out. And that’s March basketball.”

The Aztecs’ defensive philosophy:

“There are going to be games where the shot doesn’t go in as much as we’re open. How are we going to win those games? We’re going to win them with our defense. It’s just setting a mindset. If we don’t hit a number offensively (in practice), we’ll do defensive drills. This is not punishment, this is how we’re going to win when no one else can. Hopefully we can make some shots where we won’t put so much stress on our defense. But our defense, it travels. It plays 40 minutes every game.”

The demands of modern recruiting:

“I’m getting ready for the game but I made a recruiting call on the way over from the bus, because while we’re sitting here getting ready for the greatest event in the world, there are coaches doing home visits and recruiting for next year’s team. So as focused as I am now, I’ve also got one eye on the future. If you don’t do that, you shouldn’t be coaching.”

His longevity at San Diego State as an assistant and head coach:

“People talk about culture and this is their third year into a head coach in a program. Culture is 24 years in one place. There’s where I’ve been. That’s culture.”

His players’ willingness to accept their roles:

“Depth isn’t a strength unless they embrace it. And this team embraces it.”

The San Diego State timeout when there was an officials’ review in the regional championship game to check possession and how much time Creighton had left for a last shot:

“I think I talked for 10 minutes. I don’t know if anybody heard 30 seconds. `If it’s their ball and more than .4 (seconds left) then we have to play it straight, and it it’s .3 we’re going to surround him and not let them lob. If it’s our ball we’re about to throw deep where we can get it and touch it. Hold on, who’s in the game?’

“You know, it was controlled madness.”

✨ San Diego State's Final Four magic was just the latest in an unprecedented March Madness run

How he attracts the right players to his program:

“It’s more than just putting in highlight film and falling in love with someone. It’s digging deeper to find out what they’re about. Anybody we recruit, we always tell them basically the same thing. If you come here, you have to play defense. If you play defense, then I’ll let you play free offensively, but you have to want to play defense because that’s our culture. Most of them that want to come are going to agree to that even though in the back of their mind they may think, well, I don’t know if I want to play that kind of defense. But then we basically have them. `Why am I not playing?’ Well, you’re not guarding and when you came here, we told you that you had to guard. You have to get them to agree what you are before they come, you don’t take them and tell them what you are once they’re there.”

Why he patiently waited to take over for Fisher and become a head coach for the first time at the age of 57, rather than look for an opportunity elsewhere:

“This is a hard business. And I knew I didn’t want to sell insurance at some point in my life. I knew I better take a really good job when I got my first job.”

San Diego State’s ability to come back in games:

“I’ve always said the easiest thing to say as a coach, hardest thing to do, is say next play, just play the next play, I always tell the guys your biggest enemy is frustration, both individual and as a team. Don’t be frustrated. Because if you’re frustrated, you’re not going to be able to play.”

His assistant, JayDee Luster:

“JayDee Luster was a player at Hoover High School in San Diego. We didn’t recruit him. Started at New Mexico State, went to Wyoming. He beat us at Wyoming. Ran by the bench and yelled at us, `You should have recruited me.’ Obviously we value JayDee if I let him talk all that crap to me and still hired him.”

Being the son of longtime coach Jim Dutcher:

“I remember my dad, they didn’t have tape back then. You couldn’t watch the game right away. So he would open the (play-by-play) book and go, 'here, they’re on a 6-0 run and this happened and this happened.' I always say my dad’s era of coaches, they were way better coaches than we are because they didn’t have all this film and they didn’t have all this stuff. We know every play every team is going to run we play. (Back then) you’d go scout one game and play a team you’d have no film on them. You’d have no way to know what they were doing and you’d have to make real game-time adjustments.”

How he has succeeded at San Diego State:

“When I got hired all those years ago with Coach Fisher, Rick Bay, our athletic director, he just said you’ve got to have good students, and then you’ve got to have good citizens and then you have to have a good team. If you’re winning games with kids who don’t graduate and bad kids, no one is going to feel good about that. But if you have good kids with good grades and graduate and good citizens and you don’t win, no one will like that either. We have put together a program where we have all those things,”

Coaching a team with so many veterans:

“The problem with having an older team, at some point they played so much basketball and they’ve been in college for five years, they’re a little tired of college and basketball. So they get disinterested. The key to us coaching them is to say, 'you’ve been here a long time, you still have to put the same investment in.' Sometimes they’re like, 'I’m ready to do something else in my life other than being in college and play basketball.'"

Unlikely his team has that issue Monday night.

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