Drew Hanlen joined the Byrd Cage earlier today for an interview. He was asked about the Lipscomb rivalry, the team’s expectations, and his friendship with Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins. Read below for the full interview.
Brett McReynolds: You’ve been Academic All Conference every year, you ranked 6th in the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio last year, and you’ve averaged double-digit points a game while leading your team to a successful season thus far. What does a regular day in the life of Drew Hanlen look like?
Drew Hanlen: You know it really depends on the day, but, usually I wake up, attend classes and we pack our mornings full of classes because we have afternoon practice and we’ll go in, do 30-45 minute weight training session. This includes, not only weight-lifting, but stretching and agility and kind of making sure our bodies are staying healthy. After that, we’ll go through an hour and a half practice. It is really critical we give our bodies a break, so, as we go further into the season, practices get shorter and more strategic- instead of just, you know, wear and tear on the body. I’ll have Tuesday and Thursday night classes, but after that we normally just get together as a team, you know, go to a movie, or just hanging out and watching NBA games all night.
BM: You are majoring in Entrepreneurship and you’re finishing up your last year at Belmont. What is next?
DH: I actually currently own a basketball training company, so i’ll continue doing that… i’ll travel around the country and host camps and clinics, as well as- right now I work with a couple NBA guys and other college basketball players and I do strategic consulting, breaking down their video and also doing training with them during the off-seasons.
BM: Coach Rick Byrd has been praised multiple times by top coaches in the NCAA like Duke’s Coach K and Vanderbilt’s Coach Stallings, what has it been like for you playing under Coach Byrd?
DH: It’s been a great experience. You know, when I came into Belmont I knew that he obviously had tons of accolades as far as wins under his belt, and he just came off three straight NCAA tournament appearances, but the biggest thing i’m going to get from Coach Byrd is the stuff I get off the court. Alot of coaches teach basketball, but he teaches life lessons through basketball. Something really special. I think he feels like we are more than basketball players to him, we feel like we a part of his family. He makes sure to invite us over on our birthdays, or make sure to let us know when we do something well off the court, in the classroom, or in the community. I just feel like there is so many different lessons- and just the respect he gives us is something that is going to last a lot longer than anything he has ever taught me on the court.
BM: What is Coach Byrd like at half-time of a close game in the locker room? If you don’t mind, take us there.
DH: It depends on how we are playing. Coach Byrd does a really good job not worrying about the score, but worrying about the process. And so, you know, a couple nights ago we were in a tie ballgame and we were not playing well. So he focused on us getting better and being the best team we can become by the tournament down in Macon. But if we are playing well, and shots just aren’t falling- He focuses on the importance of letting those misses go, focuses on the makes and keep doing what we’re doing… Most of the time he tries to point where we can get better, what we are doing well, and what we need to do coming out in the second half- then hopefully we can get the win.
BM: At the beginning of the year, some previews of Belmont’s team had them as high as an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If you look now, some are saying it is Mercer’s A-Sun tournament to lose. What do you say to those critics who might say this team isn’t playing to earlier expectations?
DH: You know, I think that is partly true. I think that we dropped a couple games that we shouldn’t have dropped, but one thing that Coach Byrd has done a good job is we are the same team that we were when everyone was projecting us an 11 seed, we were the same team that we were when we lost to Duke by 1 point, you know what I mean? So, we had better wins this year than we did last year. We had the win at Middle Tennessee, I don’t know what their record is now- but with three losses they are one of the better teams in the country. A win against Marshall. I mean, those are two quality wins that we didn’t have last year. So our strength of schedule is up. And the other thing is, Mercer has been playing great- and not to take anything from them, but we have the same team we had last year, and we have the capability of being the best team in the Atlantic Sun- we just gotta keep getting better, and hopefully put it all together and be more consistent by the time the tournament comes. And we feel like, if we play our best, we are the team to beat.
BM: Blake Jenkins has started the past three games. What can you say about him as a player?
DH: Oh man. Blake is our X-Factor right now. He has been playing great, we knew he had it in him, and uh- I don’t know what it took to get it out of him but, you know what- it started with his defense. That is the reason he got in the game. He is a longer, taller defender that can guard almost any position out on the floor. So we used him to guard [Adam] Sollazzo from ETSU. And he has really fed off his defensive productivity and that has led to great offensive productivity. You know, he is a guy who is really athletic and obviously gives us easy baskets below the rim. Or he is just floating around and finding the right spots, and when we get it to him, he is either dunking it or finishing it home. He is definitely that X-Factor, if he can keep playing the way he has been playing, he is going to help us go deep in March.
BM: How do you think Belmont’s move to the OVC will affect the program?
DH: You know, I think it is going to be good for them. Obviously, it won’t be as exciting for the players not traveling to Jacksonville and changing that out with some of the cities that the OVC has to offer, but the reality is when we go on these trips you don’t get to do much anyway. You are in the hotel and then you play games. I think it will add to the experience as a Belmont basketball player because I think the games are closer which means fans can actually travel. I think that other fans will come to Belmont, watch those games, which will increase attendance and ultimately it will create better rivalries. With the OVC everything is close and everyone is close where these games play. You know, if we played Murray State this year it would be sold out in both places. They always typically have one good team, or multiple teams at the top of the league. I think it is going to add to the overall, I guess, attraction of Belmont basketball.
BM: Be honest. What is the first thing the comes to mind when I say this next word; BISONS.
DH: Um. Well, really the first thing is, “I can’t believe we blew it.” You know, the last few times we played them (and its more of a phrase than a word) I feel like we have lost the game instead of them winning the game. I think it was a 16 or 18 point lead last year at Lipscomb that we blew. And it was an 11 point lead, I think, this year. I don’t really know what happened in those games. I always get asked that question, “What happened in those games?” But we will need to do a better job of finishing out games in general. We have lost a couple this year where we have blown leads… We are going to make sure that, if we get that lead, we are going to keep it on Friday.
BM: Drew, one time I was on Lipscomb’s campus at 3 a.m. (I won’t tell you why), and they had speakers all over campus blasting Contemporary Christian Music. What is up with that?
DH: You know what, I have no idea. You know, obviously Lipscomb has their own ways and we have alot of different things than them. But I will respectfully just say that [Laughter], its their choice and they do things differently than Belmont in that way. And i’m just glad i’m on this end of the Boulevard and not that end.
BM: I noticed Vanderbilt Coach Stallings’ John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli sitting in the stands of a Belmont game. Are they trying to steal your moves? I think there is a friendship there, how did that start?
DH: Well I actually am John’s trainer- I train John. I mentioned a little bit earlier about my company, and he is actually one of my clients. So it started out as me working him out in the offseasons and just getting him better, and it transitioned into me meeting alot of the guys from Vanderbilt. And i’ve probably worked out almost every player on Vanderbilt’s team. John and I are best friends, you know, I work him out probably 3-4 times a week, and we go through video all the time. But, we also go to the movies all the time. We go to Chili’s probably every night. John’s a big Chili’s fan. So we go to Chili’s all the time and watch NBA games. But you know, John’s one of my best friends and Festus and all those other Vanderbilt guys go to the games because i’ve worked them all out and also developed friendships with all of them.
BM: Thanks for taking time out of your day to talk to the Byrd Cage. Anything you’d like to say to the fans?
DH: Just hope everyone can continue supporting us, and following us, and we won’t disappoint. We will be better team than we have been all season, and come March our goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament and do damage like we wanted to last year.