Q&A with UMBC coach Aki Thomas

(Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun )
July 04, 2013|By Matt Bracken | The Baltimore Sun

Two days before basketball practice officially started last year, Aki Thomas was named UMBC's interim head coach following the unexpected resignation of Randy Monroe.

Heading into the 2013-14 campaign, Thomas has had the interim tag removed and several months to put his stamp on a Retrievers program that went 8-23 a year ago. 

Guards Ryan Cook, Brian Neller and Adrian Satchell have graduated, while sophomores Jarrell Lane, Jordan Wejnert and Will Wise transferred. Cook and Neller were the first- and third-leading scorers, respectively, on UMBC’s 2012-13 team.

The Retrievers’ second-leading scorer, senior forward Chase Plummer, is back, along with fellow starters Brett Roseboro (a senior center) and Quentin Jones (a senior point guard). Jamar Wertz, a senior guard, also returns, as well as sophomore point guard Aaron Morgan (who started 15 games as a freshman), sophomore forward Malik Garner and junior guard Joey Getz.

Seven newcomers, meanwhile, are set to join UMBC’s roster for the 2013-14 season. Combo guard Bryan Harris (Southern) transferred from Wofford and is eligible to play immediately. Other locals include point guard Rodney Elliott Jr. (John Carroll), forward Will Darley (Dulaney) and walk-on guard Ben Grace (Gilman). Former Springbrook forward Charles Taylor Jr. (who did a post-grad year at Mount Zion Prep in Baltimore), former Coolidge (D.C.) forward/center David Kadiri and junior college forward transfer Devarick Houston round out Thomas’ first full class as UMBC’s coach.

Thomas spoke with The Sun earlier this week about his team heading into the 2013-14 season.

Local recruiting was obviously a big emphasis for you. After so many years of UMBC not doing well in this area, how did you facilitate that change, and how receptive were the local coaches?

The local coaches were great. They were a big part of the reason why I wanted to recruit locally. I’ve been an assistant recruiting this area since my days at Howard. I was able to build some relationships with a lot of these local coaches. I know them a lot from summer time, things like that. They’ve been great. That’s why I’d like to believe it was a smooth transition to start recruiting some of the local talent in the area. That helped my decision – being able to recruit locally. The local coaches have been really good to me, just on a personal level since I’ve been coaching in this area for so long. But then facilitating the change didn’t take much. I’ve got some great assistants who were on board with what I was trying to do recruiting-wise. We were able to hit the ground running, get a couple guys in early in the area and then finish the class with more of what we believe will be good players who can help us.

You’ve got several guys with Baltimore-area ties, including Bryan Harris, Rodney Elliott, Charles Taylor and Will Darley. What do you expect from each?

I’ll start with Bryan. I’ve actually known Bryan’s dad for a while. We actually played pickup together for eight or nine years. I’ve actually been able to watch Bryan grow as a young man. He’d come into the gym with his dad as a young kid. You never think about him going away to college. But we’re getting him back as a transfer. I’m happy to have him. He’s a very hard worker, very dedicated and committed. He loves the game of basketball. He originally signed with Duquesne when Ron Everhart was there. He changed his mind when they had a coaching change and wound up going to Wofford. We were just lucky enough to get him as a transfer.

Rodney Elliott, everybody knows his dad. His dad was a big-time player for the University of Maryland, College Park. But Rodney, in watching him a lot, he’s a very talented point guard. He’s smart – he’s got a really high IQ. I really like that. He’s taken some big shots in his high school career. I’m hoping that will translate well over his college career. He’s got a fearless mentality. He comes from a good pedigree.

Charles Taylor is a high-level athlete. He loves playing basketball, loves working on his game. I don’t know if we’ve had a guy of his athleticism since I’ve been here – [maybe] the days of Cavell Johnson. He’s pretty athletic and is working on his perimeter game. He’s a high-energy kid.

Will Darley, man, I love Will Darley’s skill-set. Being that size, a legitimate 6-8, he’s a very good shooter. There’s a lot of different things he’ll be able to do once he gets a little bit stronger. He’s definitely skilled and his IQ is something I fell in love with right away. I think he’ll have a great career.

What do you like about the other newcomers, the big guys Kadiri and Houston?

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