Associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis takes over the reins for this edition of the BasketBlog as he takes us through some of summer travels on the recruiting trail and details his unusual obsession with Japanese steakhouses.

BasketBlog: Life On The Road With Coach Tsipis

Sept. 29, 2008

Where did the summer go?

It just seemed like yesterday we were starting our first day of camp and now classes are back in session and the season is quickly approaching. We have so many things to be excited about this season, most of all the chance to build off of last season and continue to our goal of bringing a national championship back to Notre Dame. Well, July recruiting plays a big part in that process and I thought as the recruiting coordinator I could share with you a few days of my travels and adventures during July.

Monday July 21:
We are 1 day away from starting our second 10-day recruiting period in July and as always I am excited to see players who could one day be wearing the blue and gold (and sometimes green) of the Fighting Irish. Recruiting travel is always bittersweet because it means I won’t be home to spend time with my beautiful wife Leigh and my adorable children Emily (now 4 years old) and Joshua (21 months). The kids are changing everyday and I am pretty sure Emily knows more geography than any kid her age with my travels.

Today I will fly to Memphis, which is the host city of the River City Classic where 200 plus teams will compete the starting tomorrow morning. Angie Potthoff-Barber on our staff heads to Washington DC to watch the USJN National Championships while Coach McGraw is heading to Louisville to the All-Star Girls Report Summer Derby Classic. We always leave the day prior to the beginning of the tournament because at 8 am we are in the gym getting a good look at the future of women’s basketball.

My trip to Memphis starts with no problems, fly from South Bend to Cincinnati, switch planes then board another plane with 10 or so other college coaches to Memphis. I feel better because I am sitting next to the head coach of Cal-State Bakersfield, Tim La Kose, who I met four months earlier at the Final Four in Tampa. Ironically enough our seats at the National Semifinals were next to each other and now we are paired up again. You get to know most of your colleagues on the recruiting trail because you spend hours upon hours sitting in gyms together.

After I get checked in to my hotel I am off to find a good dinner spot, good thing my GPS is handy. My co-workers in the basketball office like to make fun of my passion for Greek food (my father was born in Athens) and Japanese steakhouses. I found a nice Greek restaurant listed in the phone book but when I called I was informed it had been out of business for 6 months. Strike 1! Next I found 4 listings for Japanese steakhouses and the GPS let me know the closest to the hotel. Several other restaurants where in the area so I headed out ready to dine on some delicious food cooked food on the Hibachi Grill. The scary part is I can tell you where the Greek and Japanese restaurants are in most cities. As I pulled up to Benihana’s I noticed 3 large bulldozers and a sign that read “Coming Soon – A Bigger Better Benihana!” Strike 2! Luckily I found dinner and all was not lost for the evening.

At 7:45 pm I always try to make a quick call to home to sing songs and says prayers with my family before the kids are off to bed. Now back at the room, Angie and Coach McGraw have made it to their respective destinations and we have our plan in place for a busy first day of recruiting. I like to review the brackets before I go to sleep to make sure my list of games in accurate and know that tomorrow is going to be a well-planned day.

Tuesday July 22:
It will be a full day. The tournament host site is the University of Memphis and that is where they will sell the coaches packet with rosters and phone numbers. The people who run the tournament are first class and everything is ready to go at 7:30 am. Today I am luck the first game doesn’t start until 9 am, but I want plenty of time to double check the rosters for any players who have made last minute changes. Today’s schedule will include games at 4 games in a row then a time slot I can grab a quick bite, then 3 more games to finish the day. I am lucky … Angie has run into some difficulties in DC with the coaches packet, but seems to have things straightened out. It seems we never have 3 coaches on the road (NCAA mandates we can only have 3 off-campus at any one time) in the same time zones.

The games in the summer sometimes are very one sided and that is what happens with my first two games. I saw a tremendous player in the first game as with coaches from the BIG EAST and Big 12. At Notre Dame, we are very serious about a player’s “on-the-floor” demeanor. We want to recruit the most talented players in the country, but they have to conduct themselves the right way. We pay special attention to how players interact with their teammates, their coaches and their parents after the game. Team chemistry is so important in building a championship-caliber program. I am fortunate to be able to learn from the best in Muffet McGraw. As our former players come back they always talk about how close they were and still are with their former teammates.

As I finish watching my 4th game of the morning, I am eager to check in with Angie and Coach McGraw at their respective sites. Sometimes cell phone reception in gyms can be poor and distracting. We communicate with text messages a lot and try to keep each other informed of our respective tournaments. With 3 more games left after my late lunch, I am thankful I can sit and eat and not rely on a hot dog and chips at the concession stand. July is a really easy month to eat poorly, being on the go so much.

After watching 3 more games for the day I am finally done around 7:30 pm. During July this is an early evening, games can’t start after 10 pm due to NCAA rules but many tournaments have games scheduled to start at 9:50 pm. It is wrong to have 15-, 16- and 17-year old kids playing this late, but no one wants to call it a night. As much as I want to get a great Memphis BBQ dinner, I have a 3.5 hour drive to Clarksville, Tennessee, tonight.

As I am heading out of town, a giant sign seemed to appear out of nowhere announcing a Japanese steakhouse at the next exit. Hey, I have to make sure I have enough fuel in stomach to make the drive! 🙂 As I am driving, I talk with Angie who will be on the road for a half a day before heading home. Our national championship point guard and guard coach Niele Ivey is in Buenos Aires, Argentina getting ready to watch the U.S. Under-18 National Team for the next 5 days. Once Angie leaves the gym in Washington DC, Niele can head in to watch the U.S. begin their quest for gold. Niele has been such a great addition to our staff with her personality, playing experience and love and understanding of Notre Dame.

I arrive in beautiful Clarksville (home of Miss America 2007 as the signs read) for the 3rd time during my time at Notre Dame. Clarksville is hosting the AAU 14U National Championships and always does a great job. I will only be able to catch 3 sessions of games the next morning before driving an hour to Nashville to catch a flight to Chicago. Good to see the Hampton Inn, even better for my head to find my pillow.

Wednesday July 23
During my morning, I am able to see 12 different teams all battling hard for wins in pool play competition. The great part about these young players is they truly play for the love of the game. They have yet to really begin the recruiting process with most just finishing their freshman year in high school.

For those keeping track, there is a Japanese steakhouse in Clarksville and I have been to it twice but no time today. I’ll eat in the airport once I have made it through security. My flight leaves at 3:30 and I make it to the gate at 3:00. That’s usually when I arrive at the South Bend airport – 30 minutes before the flight sometimes later. I like to clear security, hand my ticket to gate agent and get on the plane.

After the quick flight to Chicago Midway, I land with 45 minutes to head to Judson College to see a rising senior who has already to committed to play for the Irish. Unfortunately 25 miles out of Chicago, I run into traffic and have to constantly call a member of Carol Owens’ staff at Northern Illinois to see if the 6 pm game is on time. I arrive at 6:45 pm, but still manage to watch the whole 2nd half, as well as a the entire 8 pm game against the South Bend Soldiers. The Soldiers have our wonderful administrative assistant’s Tinia Scott daughter on their team as most of the players are from Washington High School. Their roster seems to missing one player though, someone I know Coach Ivey is watching almost half the world away. With the strict NCAA “no-contact” policy in effect in the summer, I can’t even say hello to any of the Soldiers coaching staff that I have known since I started at Notre Dame, or the future Irish player who is standing right in front of me with her parents right after the game.

With games over at 9:30 pm, I head back to a hotel at the airport, grab a quick bite to eat, check in with Coach and Angie, and answer some e-mails before heading off to bed. The 4:30 am wake-up call is going to come quickly and I will be on an early flight to Louisville. A long nap is what it turns out to be!

Thursday July 24
So my 6:55 am flight to Louisville is on time and I arrive in the Bluegrass State at 9 am. With my rental car and GPS ready to go, I am off the All-Star Girls Report Derby Classic. I am able to make the 10:20 am games and will now catch up with several college coaches who have been at the tournament the entire time. The best games are at 12:40 and 1:50 pm, but I always want to make sure we have seen every Indiana team at the tournament. The great part about the tournament is that they have 5 courts under one roof and it is very well-organized.

With games over around 3 pm I have a quick break to hit you guessed it — a JAPANESE STEAKHOUSE! The basketball facility is located about 5 minutes from my in-laws’ old house so I know the area pretty well. The next session starts at 6 pm so I have to be the first person in the door at 5 pm to grab dinner. The open sign actually lights up at 4:55 pm and I am the second person in the door. Hibachi chicken and shrimp taste delicious and will give the energy I need to watch the next 3 hours of hoops.

At 6 pm, the best players from the tournament are split into 12 teams with each team playing twice this evening. The kids are really tired and it shows in their play. Plus, with never having played together before, the selfishness is unbearable. The games wrap up around 10 pm and I jump into my car for another 3-hour drive back to Clarksville. Two things make me more excited to head to Clarksville this time: first, I will get to see Angie, as she arrived earlier in the evening, and second, I will gain an hour going back to Central Time.

At midnight, I arrive with a schedule of games for the next day waiting for me at the front desk of the hotel. Angie and I meet at 8 am to grab a quick breakfast and split up the teams to see starting at 9 am. All teams are in single elimination pool play so this will be our last chance to see some of the teams. After watching two sets of games, Angie and I update our brackets and look at knocking out the noon, 1:30 pm and 3 pm games. My flight to Atlanta from Nashville is at 6 pm, but the 3 pm game is behind and I call Angie for back-up so I can leave by 4 pm. I leave at 4:20, make it to Nashville by 5 pm (no traffic problems or I would have been in trouble) and make it thru security in time to stop for a Coke (my bloodstream is really mostly made of this) and some Fruit Snacks. Two more flights and I will back in South Bend. With a connection in Atlanta, I am scheduled to get in by 11 pm. As it always seems to be when you fly home, there is a delay but I land in South Bend around 11:45 pm.

The house is filled with toys (as it usually is with little ones), but unfortunately, Emily and Joshua are with my wife in Massachusetts, so I begin some laundry and catch up on the mail. The best part about being home is sleeping in my own bed. The only problem is that it starts all over again in the morning. A United flight to Chicago at 8:35 am. At least I have clean clothes again! Does anyone know if there is a good Japanese Steakhouse in Baltimore?

Take care Irish fans — we can’t wait to see you in the stands this season. The Irish won’t sleep until we have another National Championship and it always starts with recruiting the right players. We have a special group this season and they are working hard as you read this to take us to another level.

All the Best,

Coach Tsip
Associate Head Coach / Recruiting Coordinator / Japanese Steakhouse Enthusiast