ZS: What are your fondest memories of the tournament run at Staten Island and how do you describe the feeling of being the local product representing your own city, giving Staten Island some visibility?
TT: My best memories are easily the faces of my teammates and our fans throughout the tournament. I was fortunate to be a part of a real talented team from 1-17. We only played about 8. My favorite memories are of our bench's reactions from some big shots and big moments. They were totally invested, even though they knew they weren't going to play. That's what made us great. Being a local kid just made it so much better. We don't get a lot of recognition and for once we were able to be mentioned with perennial top national programs.
ZS: Point guards are always considered an extension of the coach. Having playmaking ability at the point, having Division-I experience under your belt, all of this essentially rendered you another coach out there on the court for Staten Island. Did this experience help shape your decision to become a coach?
TT: I've always known I would coach. My freshman year at Monmouth I was driving back home twice a week to coach an AAU team.
My junior year at CSI, I was also the Head Freshman Coach at Curtis High School. My Dad is a coach. It's in my blood. I've been very fortunate to have had tremendous coaches in my life who have had an impact on how I think the game. Nobody better than my Dad. Playing point guard and coaching to me goes hand and hand. I always wanted to try my hand at coaching college basketball.
ZS: You played the game at the Division-I and also the Division-III level and were still able to launch a stable basketball-centric career. You were able to find the opportunities, basketball-wise, which elude many at the Division-I level. What advice would give to a young recruit out there who is maybe being underappreciated on the Division-I market and has the opportunity to ply his trade on the Division-II or Division-III market? What would you tell someone who is, like many of today's promising athletes, so bent on playing Division-I without considering other potential NCAA destinations?
TT: The most important thing nowadays is to go somewhere where you are wanted. Everyone has flaws in their game. There aren't too many can't-miss talents out there and all those guys are lottery picks. I never fault a kid competitively for wanting to play at the highest level, but in the end you should go somewhere where you will get a real opportunity and be able to grow. If you are a pro, you are a pro. They will find you.
Going to school for free or extremely cheap should be the goal. Doesnt matter how good you look on a division 1 roster if you are averaging 3.3 minutes a game. That's why there are so many transfers.
ZS: How have you relished your experience at Baruch and in what direction is the program headed now?
TT: I have grown immensely as a basketball mind and coach at Baruch and all that credit goes to our Head Coach John Alesi.
He really respected my mind for the game before I came on staff and I admired his teams from when I played against them. John is great because he allows me to be me within his program. He trusts that I will put in the work necessary and help our program grow in every aspect.
As far as our program goes, we expect to contend for our conference championship every year and have a chance to make a run in the tournament. Our core group of guys this year has bought into what we as coaches are trying to do and that has enabled us to make the last two championship games. Our program doesn't cheat any detail and we pride ourselves on earning everything we get. We want to be a regionally strong and a national contending program.
ZS: How would you describe the day-to-day grind and responsibilities of being a coach and a recruiter in a city rife with young talent?
TT: College coaching is a lot about recruiting. What I love about Division-III is that we are able to be out recruiting all the time so, we get to see kids develop over the course of their HS careers and seasons.
We have to make sure we are identifying the right student-athlete for our program and then working hard to show them that being a part of our program is not a four- year decision, it's a 40 year decision. Recruiting is intense and competitive but being that our entire staff are former college basketball players, we love that aspect.
Day to day it's all about executing Coach Alesi's vision for our program and making sure our current players are supported with school and life. Its not easy being a student-athlete at Baruch. These kids work their butts off.
ZS: Describe the NBA draft process and how you became the unlikely draft prospect that you did...
TT: My junior year I declared for the draft, with the full intention of always coming back. It wasn't like it was now where almost everyone put their name in. I was one of about 50 underclassmen to do it. I wanted the chance for some NBA personnel to evaluate my game through film and get some feedback.
I also wanted to get some publicity for our school and program. A couple of teams reached out to my coach for film and had conversations with him. Some of the things they told him gave me a lot of confidence and also a good look into what I needed to improve. The Spurs were the most diligent throughout the process. The feedback I received allowed me to have the most productive offseason of my career.
ZS: What kind of adversity did you face during your career? How did you answer to the odds stacked against you as an undersized NYC guard without the fanfare or hype of other high-profile New York guys at the time?
TT: I've never in my life felt like the way I played was fully appreciated. I was a pass first point guard who would put up 3-4 shots in a game if it didn't call for me to shoot. If someone else had it going I wasn't going to force shots to reach my average.
Even in HS, my St. Peter's teams weren't very good but I felt like I could compete with the Brian McKenzies, Edgar Sosa's, James Feldeine's and Zamal Nixon's.
I thought I was every bit as good as those guys. It made me really appreciate the process and took me on a path to where I was still able to become a pro and have opportunities to play overseas from an unknown Division 3 school. I've always been overlooked at every step, but when you are on the same court as me it doesn't matter how many stars you have or what college you went to. You have to beat me and outwork me.
ZS: How do you still challenge yourself everyday and use your own experience to cultivate a winning mindset in young players?
TT: I'm the most competitive person you'll meet. I'm always trying to improve and get better. I hate losing more than I enjoy winning and I pride myself on being the most prepared coach that I can be. I don't talk to my players about anything regarding my own playing career.
It's not relevant. I just try to give them the right information constantly in a way they can use it to be successful. I am also extremely honest which enables me to build strong relationships with our guys. Truth hurts sometimes but we are all men, we get over it.
My job is to encourage our guys and push them to be a little better than they were the day before. That is what champions do.
ZS: What is your current involvement beyond coaching and as far as becoming a continued reputable presence in the basketball community?
TT: Between helping run an AAU program, being a part owner of OneBasketball (top app on the App store) and running clinics for players, parents and coaches, things get busy.
I just really love the game. I love being around kids and helping them learn about the game I love. I don't put myself out there as much as you should as a young coach but it is because I am really happy where I am at. I am so grateful that I was welcomed into the Baruch Basketball family.
One day I will earn an opportunity to have my own program but for now I am focused on graduating our senior class and being a better coach than I was yesterday.