Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interview with Dino Gini, High School Coach for 2013 UCSB Signee Alex Hart

Dino Gini is the head basketball coach for Immaculata Catholic Regional High School in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.  The Mustangs, led by 2013 UCSB signee Alex Hart--the subject of this interview, won the B.C. School Sports 1A championships.  Hart won the Most Valuable Player award of this B.C. Provincial championship tournament.

Hart averaged 35 points per game during his senior season with the Mustangs.

Gaucho Hoops (GH):  Thanks for taking this interview, Coach Gini.  Some of these questions are from Gauchos fans, so this interview will be much appreciated.

Gaucho fans read that Alex Hart played a lower level of competition in Canada (1A).  He was quoted as saying that the level of competition wasn't as important as the coaching he received.  Can you expand on that line of thinking? 

Dino Gini (DG):  Thanks, the school is registered as a Single A school because of size.   Our schools go Single A, double A, Triple A, being in order of size, but we competed in a double A and triple A schedule, including tournaments, exhibition games etc...all at a high level. For example, the top-ranked Single A schools can compete with the top double A schools, and we have beaten triple A schools throughout our schedule. It's the schedule I set up to challenge my team and have them ready for the provincials. Our schedule was very competitive. We had great games with another private school here in Kelowna (KCS, lost by 15--but a great game).  They went on to win the Double A  provincials in B.C. [British Columbia?].

I have coached for 27 years, had university experience and all levels of elite programs, summer games teams etc... thus my work and my assistant coaches have really challenged Alex, and I  have been coaching him since grade 5.

GH:  At what age do kids start playing basketball in Canada?  Have you noticed the gap in skill levels closing between Canadian kids vs. their peers in the US?  I bring that up with Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk in mind, who is obviously one of the best college players--from any country. 

DG:  We have really come along on the basketball front; we now start playing basketball in an organized league which is called our Steve Nash League at the grade 2 level, which is awesome. We are a hockey country, but we are really getting over the top now on the basketball front and it has paid off. We have elite clubs all over B.C. who compete with the top AAU teams.  Thus the basketball level in our country has vastly been improved and is now catching up with hockey. There are many great college players playing at the Div. 1 level: [Andrew] Wiggins from Toronto is the top recruit, Kelly O whom I have watched develop will be entering the draft, and of course the success of Steve Nash has really pushed the interest to the highest levels ever. Its been fantastic, and we're growing and we're improving.

GH:  Regarding his youth and build, do you foresee a redshirt for Alex?  It'll ultimately be his decision, but the coaches really like his skill set and he may play right away. 

DG:  He has had over 15 Div. 1 looks combined with offers, and it [redshirting] has been a topic for sure; some say jump right in, some say red shirt.  In the right situation, I think Alex can jump in and help a team immediately; it all depends on the fit and where the coaching staff thinks he is at physically and mentally. Alex is a young man with a huge upside, and he understands the process and will do what the coaching staff wants him to do. Kelly O sat out and waited for that perfect fit in the line up, and it obviously worked out for him.  Each situation will be different. All I know is in a couple of years, Alex will be an impact player.

GH:  What did you like about how UCSB recruited Alex? 

DG:  I thought the recruiting process the UCSB coaching staff did with Alex was fantastic, Coach [Ryan] Madry was awesome and kept me updated and informed about the process, and continued to educate me about the school and what they had to offer. I was very impressed with their professionalism; it was first class.

GH:  As you might know, the UCSB class of 2012 has several players playing professionally.  Orlando Johnson is in the NBA with the Pacers, James Nunnally is with the Bakersfield NBDL team, Jaime Serna is in Spain, and reserve Greg Somogyi is in Hungary after being the last player cut by the NBA Lakers.  Did that weigh on Alex's decision?  Does Coach Williams have a good/bad reputation for developing talent? 

DG:  Coach [Bob] Williams was great; his resume is, of course, awesome.  And yes, we checked into many things, and part of the process with any recruit's due diligence is seeing what players moved on to the professional level.

GH:  Does UCSB have a good reputation for taking care of its student-athletes during and after their playing days as Gauchos? 

DG:  It is funny as you meet various Div. 1 coaches that were recruiting Alex, you really get to  understand how close our basketball family is right across the country.  There are coaches at various Div. 1 schools that have played at UCSB--thus that was the case, and we heard nothing but good things on that front.

GH:  What are Alex's biggest challenges as he transitions to Div. 1 level competition? 

DG:  Alex's biggest challenge will be strength, but as I say that I am not implying he is weak, it's just he will get much bigger.  So strength is one, but I think the process of getting bigger and stronger is a process Alex is looking forward to.  He is a mature young man, and any challenges that he runs into will be handled.  I think with all student-athletes getting in the routine to make sure their grades continue to stay strong will be important, and it will be a transition from high school.  Alex is a very good student, so I am not really worried about it--but it is something that will be a transition.

GH:  In what area do you expect early success with Alex? 

DG:  I think Alex's early success will be his ability to step in and compete.   He is smart, has great court awareness, and being 6'11"--he has the skills of a guard, and thus his ability to adapt and find mismatches will be a huge asset.  He will make his teammates better.

GH:  What are his strengths?  Early reports suggest shooting ability for his size. 

DG:  Strengths, as I mentioned a couple of them earlier:  he can shoot, he can handle, an excellent 3-point shooter, and as mentioned, he sees the court extremely well.   He sees the court more through the eyes of guard than a big man, but he can also play with his back to the basket.

GH:  What about his necessary improvements?  Strength and conditioning? 

DG:  Strength will be the biggest thing, but his parents are big and strong, so he will get bigger, and that will make him a monster mismatch for many opponents.  Conditioning is pretty solid as he is a "gym rat', and he is always working on his game and working on his conditioning.  I think you will see a pretty fit big man when he comes there in August.

GH:  What's Alex like as a person?  As a player (coachability, etc.)?   Were academics important in his choice of schools? 

DG:  Academics were very important...also the feeling of the school, meeting the players, and just feeling like a family was huge. Alex is a great kid:  very mature, very social and simply just a great kid with a fabulous work ethic, and his parents have built a strong family foundation which has really set him up for this next big step in his life.

GH:  What do you believe are keys for him to reach his upside? 

DG:  Keys to achieving his upside...well, the stronger he gets, the better he gets, and he is very aware of this, and he is ready to jump all over this.  As he competes against guys his size--and against bigger and stronger guys, that will make him better. Good food--a lot of food, and a great diet right from the start will be huge for the big guy.  The scary thing is he still growing.

GH:  What feedback did you receive from him on his visit to UCSB? 

DG:  Well, as you could guess, the location and the weather were just a little of an influence of course, but combined with the players and coaching staff, it all fit and it all felt like home, so he made that decision based on the feeling like he fit in.

GH:  Alex is long and can shoot.  Based on his videos, many fans see a likeness to his game with Dirk Nowitzki, probably an unfair comparison at this stage.  Did he tailor his game after certain NBA players? 

DG:  With Alex, I don't think he really tailors his game to anyone.  Actually, his game is very unique and the combination of size, length, and the ability to play the 3 position, hit the 3-point shot, and handle, makes him a very rare breed, so I think Alex has developed his game around what he loves to do.

GH:  Any parting comments, Coach Gini? 

DG:  I am looking forward to seeing Alex grow as a player I don't have a crystal ball, but my guess is year 2 and year 3 will be great, great years for Alex, as he gains strength, and as he gains a comfort level of competing at this level, he will excel.  Yep I am his coach, but I have watched him compete at all levels.  I watched him compete against players at the college/university level, and he just raises his game and continues to shine.  Alex has handled this process with class and respect, and that is just the kind of kid he is.  It has been such a pleasure to coach him, and I am sure you will be impressed with his class and his soft, but confident personality. 

GH:  Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule and giving us fans this interview, Coach Gini.  Good luck to both of your teams (boys and girls) next year, and we also look forward to watching Alex grow as Gaucho student-athlete.

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