Coach Dan Friend is faced with a big challenge even before his U.S. Men’s Junior National Team arrives at the NORCECA Tournament in the upcoming weeks.
Friend said in an interview Off the Block earlier this week that trying to cut the U.S. roster down to 12 players has become increasingly difficult because of the high-level of play during the team’s training session.
Check out the complete interview with Friend as the U.S. Men’s Junior National Team head coach discusses his team’s on-going training session in Lake Placid, New York, how he hopes to assemble the team and the United States’ chances of winning a gold medal at the upcoming NORCECA Tournament.
Off the Block: You’ve been able to start the training session this week with the U.S. Men’s Junior National Training Team. What’s been your initial assessment of the team?
Dan Friend: We’ve got a great group of guys. The nice thing compared to the last two years with this group is [the training session] had been right over JOs. So, I don’t know if you always had as much of the talent as you possibly could have had just because some guys were stuck in a tough position of hey am I going to miss JOs or not. This year, luckily, the training time works where it doesn’t effect JOs at all. I think having some of the best talent in this cycle is great to see in the gym. I was a part of this group two years ago when we went to the U-19 NORCECA. We had a couple of these guys, but definitely didn’t have all of these guys. Last year they had a couple of guys but still not all of them. I think that’s the biggest difference is having all the talent here together all at once and really being able to choose and put together the best team we can.
OTB: Right now the training roster is at about 20 but that will have to be cut down to a 12-player roster for the NORCECA Tournament. What is your coaching staff looking at when determining what players to include on your final roster?
DF: It’s a short turnaround. You are looking for talent and guys that can do the things you need to get done on the court. Who’s going to adapt the quickest and still be able to perform at the level you need them to. As well as, who are the 12 guys that are going to mesh well and make the best team in that short amount of time. Maybe it’s not always all of the most talented players. It may be seven or eight of those guys and then the other guys who fit into certain roles that are going to be able to work in a system that we need for us to be successful in that short period. Hopefully, your goal is to qualify for World Championships, and which 12 guys are going to put us in the best position to do that.
OTB: With your college team at Lewis you have months to prepare and work with your players before the start of the season. How different is it with this team given that you have just a few weeks before your first match?
DF: It’s tough. It’s who can adapt and fit into the system as fast as possible. I think as coaches we have already met several times before we came here and talked about having a system in place that is simplistic but efficient so the guys can jump on board and be able to be successful as soon as possible. We made sure that we did that, and now ultimately we are seeing which guys can step up and get into that as fast as possible and compete in that short time-frame. I think the mentality of certain individuals has to be at a high rate that they can process information and let mistakes go and work and get better. All that stuff kind of feeds into that. Ultimately it’s so we can go out and compete at the level that we need to for USA Volleyball.
OTB: In this first week you’ve had practice, has there been a player who has positively surprised you with their level of play?
DF: I think all the guys have done a really nice job. … I’m really happy with the level of play that we have. From bottom to top, we have a great group of 19 guys who are competing hard and putting themselves in a position. I think it will be a tough battle in all spots. I don’t think there are any clear-cuts that we can say hey, this guy is going to make it for sure. We’ve got five solid outsides, four solid middles, four solid setters, three solid liberos, three solid opposites. That is going to make it even tougher on the coaches, but ultimately it’s better for the team just in the sense of competition and where we are trying to go.
OTB: Historically the United States always does well at NORCECA, whether it’s winning the event or at least finishing in the top three to get the bid to the World Championships. With the U.S. being the top team in the region, do you or your players feel that pressure of high expectations?
DF: I don’t know if the guys feel it as much yet. We’ve talked to our guys about the goal being to win NORCECA and why we are going. As a coaching staff you are aware of it, but like any other preparation I think I’m going to be successful in any environment whether it’s coaching collegiate or coaching for USA Volleyball. You do the same steps and the same process that puts us in a position to do that and go out and play and play hard at a high level that represents USA Volleyball well.
OTB: You’ve been able to represent USA Volleyball before. How different is the feeling playing or representing the United States at these international tournaments as opposed to representing your college at the NCAA level?
DF: It’s a real privileged. We talked to our guys about that. I’ve been lucky to do it several times over the last eight to 10 years. The opportunity to wear your country’s colors and represent them in any fashion is a real privileged and understanding what it means to be a part of that and being proud to be an American. What little part that might be, whether it’s representing your sport or whatever it might be, you are holding yourself to the up-most standard. And making sure that you are not only playing at that level, but also how we carry ourselves outside, being thankful and all those things are really important and understand what it means to do that.