Todd Lee is no stranger to taking over a program.
Named the head coach of the men’s basketball team in April, USD welcomed back Lee, a member of the Class of 1986, for his fourth full-staff transition in 20 years of coaching.
That said, Todd Lee is no stranger to rebuilding.
A year before Lee joined UC-Irvine as an assistant head coach in 1997, the Anteaters finished 1-25. In 2005, he took the helm of a Kentucky Wesleyan team that was on NCAA probation and had an empty roster. In 2013, he joined the staff at Grand Canyon University responsible for the team’s transition to Division I.
For Lee, one thing is different about this transition at USD than his previous three: he doesn’t have to rebuild, he just has to keep building.
The Coyotes are coming off a 29-win season, the most wins in program history, and enter the 2018-19 season ranked second in Summit League preseason polls, where they stood at last season’s end after a loss to South Dakota State in the Summit League Championship.
A core of four
Armed with four returning starters in senior forwards Tyler Hagedorn and Trey Burch-Manning and junior guards Triston Simpson and Tyler Peterson, Lee already knows whom his team is built around. Now, it’s just a matter of coaching them effectively.
“Those are the four leaders of our program,” Lee said at Basketball Media Day last Wednesday. “Now comes the trust issue–building that trust with them–and understanding what they do well and what they need to work on.”
Offense, defense, fast breaks are Lee’s focus. Lee said his new system won’t be learned immediately, and that the team will be much better at the end of the year than the beginning.
“The only person who knows the system is me, so I have to do a lot of teaching,” Lee said. “At times it’s frustrating, but we have a lot of veteran players who know how to compete and how to win, so that helps.”
Just as Lee is “getting acclimated” to his players, his players are getting acclimated Lee, particularly his attention to detail.
“There’s a lot of coaching changes when you go through this,” Hagedorn said. “I think one area in particular that a lot of our guys really like is the focus on detail. Every play we run and everything we do is down to the dime. It’s exactly how we want to do it, and (Lee) doesn’t accept anything less.”
Lee’s detail-oriented systems require high commitment, something he said his players from 20 years ago could tell you now. Simpson said the team is “buying in” to Lee’s coaching philosophy.
“If you ask everyone on the team, we love Coach Lee and what he’s bringing to this program,” Simpson said. “We’re really buying into what he wants us to do.”
Through all this change, Burch-Manning, who was voted preseason first-team All-Summit league earlier this month, said veterans still have to lead new players as they have in the past.
“At the end of the day, basketball is basketball, so there’s things that don’t change,” Burch-Manning said. “Having returners makes things go a little smoother. When you have experience, you can help other players get up to speed and make the transition easier for everyone.”
Over the summer, the Coyotes signed five freshman and two graduate transfers. Junior Cody Kelley, a transfer from Wyoming and Lee’s first recruit, is a “true point guard” that Lee said will help Simpson in the backcourt immediately.
“Cody is a very smart, tough player; he’s a leader,” Lee said. “When he got here, he started to help lead the program along with the guys who have been here. And they took to him. They know he cares about the team first. He’s all about winning–doesn’t care about anything else.”
Lee said he gets along with three types of players, and Kelley is all three.
“I always tell our players, I get along with tough guys, I get along with team guys and I get along with guys who love the game,” Lee said. “And if you aren’t one of those three I don’t get along with you. That’s just the bottom line.”
Freshman Matt Johns, a forward from Geelong, Australia, is another newcomer that will see playing time early on. He steps in for Hagedorn, who will miss time due to a torn plantar fascia. Lee said “there is no timeframe” on Hagedorn’s return.
Regardless of who’s on the floor, Lee said he wants Coyote fans to “feel energy” when they step into the Sanford Coyote Sports Center on game day.
“I think the fans want to feel energy. I think they want to feel competition,” Lee said. “We will play unselfish and we will play hard. We will guard really well. We will move the ball, and I just want our fans to feel our guys giving it everything.”
The Coyotes begin their season in the SCSC against York College on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.
“I’ve been around to a number of universities and coached at a lot places. This is a very special place and I’m happy to be back,” Lee said.