Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Trentonian TV Production Notes: Freedom Episode 16

Hands of a guard

TRENTON -- The future of Rider University men's hoops is in Kevin Baggett's large hands. Freedom Green asked the new head coach this morning if the Broncs have a base of talent to do big things right here, right now, and the former Burlco high school superstar whose star faded during his college years at St. Joseph's answered, "I think we do."

Baggett spent about 30 minutes pumping up not only Rider University basketball, but the excellence of Rider University on a whole. He explained how he and the staff he will produce leaders on the court while building world leaders once the basketball stops bouncing. The ball stopped bouncing for him years ago after his days at St. Joe's. He went there as a prized recruit but complained himself out of a great career.

Check out a terrific piece HERE by Philly Inq columnist Mike Jensen. It's about Baggett's rough days then and how they helped him become the man he is now. He spent 16 years as an assistant at Coastal Carolina, Western Kentucky (when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's son was there), Howard, James Madison, Maryland-Baltimore County and Rider (for 6 seasons) before getting his big chance. He becomes part of the 21% of black head coaches in D-I, which is a dip from 25% in 2007. In the "Power 6" conferences (ACC, Big East, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big 10) there are only 15 black head coaches. Baggett would like to think Rider gave him the top gig because he earned it. Plus, Rider likes to reward family members.

"One of the things I love about Rider is that they promote from within," Baggett said. He follows new Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey, who followed Don Harnum, who followed Kevin Bannon. "A lot of institutions don't do that ... more institutions should look into that."

Now that he has slid his moneymaker the final 5 inches into the best seat on the bench, Baggett's biggest challenge has been finding the right coaches to sit 5 inches to his right. Legions of first-time head coaches didn't fill their inner sanctum with the right guys, the guys who were supposed to keep them sane during the swirls of insanity, and they failed fast, and that's why Baggett has done his "due diligence" by interviewing at least 3 coaches a day since being named head coach on May 30. "It's time-consuming," he said, "but I want to make sure the guys who I hire are the right fit -- not only for me, but for our players and for our program and for the university."

The MAAC is not the Big East or ACC or Pac-10 or Big 12 or another powerhouse league. Let's never pretend otherwise. You can ask the 100 most fervent college hoops fans to name every team in the guard-oriented league, and you'd probably be hard-pressed to find 25 who can answer Rider, St. Peter's, Siena, Canisius, Fairfield, Iona, Loyola, Manhattan, Marist. But the MAAC is starting to put itself on the map with a little more regularity. It helps when Rider guys like Jason Thompson are the No. 12 overall pick in the draft (2008, Sacto Kings). And for one of the few times in league history, two teams reached the NCAA tourney in 2012 -- league champ Loyola and Iona (at-large). "It's a very good league," Baggett said. "Manhattan is going to be good again. Loyola will be good, so will Iona. If we give ourself a chance to be in the top half of the league, then we have a chance to compete for the championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament."

Also on the show today were Latoya Wilson, founder of the Rebuild Workforce Project, "Pastor P" Priscilla Fisher of New Life Church in Ewing, and entrepreneur Solomon Dinkins of Balance Warrior Enterprise. They preceded Baggett, and Rider's new coach paid homage to their work and ideas and visions for a better world.

Wilson is trying to build her project, which helps convicts transition back into the real world by educating them in an attempt to "get them employable." Many of them, she said, don't know how to turn on a computer and will ask her to do a resume. Instead of doing that, she'll go into prisons -- such as the one in Otisville, New York -- and provide a workshop to teach them about computers so they can do their own resumes. Pastor P is a mom of 2 and a businesswoman and an empowerment speaker and an "upcoming writer" who delivers those seeking God into the fold of religion because "they don't always know what to do. ... Our church is built on prayer, the word and evangelism. We teach people who they are in God." Dinkins has a "conglomerate" of "multi-level businesses" that includes organic coffee, and skin beauty and health-care products. You can check out his wares at wellnesswarrior.com.

From a production standpoint, things went well. Here are photos and the episode.


Freedom at the start with Baggett and Dinkins

Wilson and Freedom

Pastor P!

Freedom and Baggett

Wilson listening to Pastor P

Dinkins, Green and Baggett ... attorneys at law

Dinkins and his Souljah Square sign

Legs of a baller

Great chat between Freedom and Baggett

I just like this photo

Will Kevin Baggett turn Rider into a powerhouse? You make the call.