Barry Rohrssen, who cut his teeth under Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon at Pitt, has been leading Manhattan as their head coach since 2006. Now in his fourth season with the Jaspers, Rohrssen talks about his coaching influences and making Manhattan more of a presence in New York college basketball.
SNY.tv: Which coaches influenced you coming up?
Barry Rohrssen: Growing up in New York and watching basketball at a young age, I would say [longtime Knicks head coach] Red Holzman. Every one of his teams was so fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball.
My first coaching job was under Ron Ganulin at my alma mater, St. Francis, in New York. I also worked under Bill Bayno at UNLV. He's now an assistant coach with the Portland Trailblazers. One of my biggest breaks was with Ben Howland at Pittsburgh. He's now at UCLA and has won multiple National Coach of the Year awards. I continued working at Pitt under Jamie Dixon. They have all had a very strong influence on me.
Coach Howland was the strongest voice in guiding me towards a head coaching position. It was not something that had been on my mind, but his constant reinforcement and support pushed me in that direction. Working for Coach Howland was like going to a coaching academy every day.
SNY.tv: What are your goals at Manhattan?
BR: I don't want to be a quick-fix guy. I want to help Manhattan have not just a good team, but also a good program. A team can be a one-year thing, but a program is solid when it has a foundation built on character, with academic and athletic strength.
Since they hired me, every senior has graduated and all four of our scholarship seniors are ahead of schedule to graduate this year. That's something that's very important to me. As a team, I hope we're going to have a lot of wins on the court, but the biggest win is always graduation day.
SNY.tv: What's your stance on overseas players?
BR: Basketball has become a global game and, to a certain degree, is an international phenomenon. That's been spearheaded by David Stern. He's helped globalize the game. It's given more opportunities for players here to go overseas and play professionally. It's also provided foreign players the chance to come and play in the United States at all levels.
Both coaching in New York and being a native of the city, my feelings are so strong for New York. It is the greatest city in the world. That's why I'm so confident when speaking to a recruit about either staying local if they're from the city or, if they're from out of town or out of the country, of what a great place it is to learn and live. I believe New York is ideal for an international player to study and compete because of the diversity and culture of our city. It's like nowhere else in the world.
Editor's note: Sophomore center Djibril Coulibaly is from Mali and senior guard Patrick Bouli is from Cameroon.
SNY.tv: How did Kevin Laue become a Jasper? Ed. note: Laue is the first Division I scholarship athlete with one arm.
BR: He's an outstanding young man. Kevin most certainly is an inspirational person. It's only natural that he would have the ability to motivate not just people with a similar condition to his, but also many others as well.
Franklin Martin, a basketball insider and presently a filmmaker living in California, had met Kevin at a basketball tournament. Franklin called me to recommend Kevin as someone we should consider recruiting. Frank had many glowing things to say about Kevin, which included a final sentence of, "Oh, by the way, he only has one arm."
Our former president, Brother Thomas Scanlan, who originally hired me at Manhattan, had read a story about Kevin in the New York Times and asked me if Kevin was somebody I would consider recruiting. So he opened the door for me. You have to have a supportive administration to be successful. Manhattan College has always been a school that understands the big picture in both academics and athletics.
SNY.tv: What did you learn from your trips to the Middle East?
BR: The past two years, the USO has asked me to go overseas and spend time with our troops in the military. Two years ago, in the summer of 2008, I was in Kuwait and Baghdad. This past summer I went to Afghanistan.
One of the things that really struck me is the similarity in ages of the young men on our team and our troops. Our players should never take for granted the opportunities that they have in school and especially being on scholarship. They should never neglect the opportunity that they have and the responsibilities that come along with it. There are so many outstanding people in our army that are dedicated and committed. I really tried to encourage that kind of dedication to the team.
SNY.tv: What are your favorite Garden memories?
BR: I remember, growing up, going to the old Madison Square Garden and watching Manhattan College play. I would get a student ticket up in the blue seats and I used to navigate my down to be behind the bench. You don't ever think it could happen to you. There I was, as a youngster, going into the Garden to watch Manhattan and now, to be the coach? Well, I'm truly blessed.
SNY.tv: What's your favorite New York restaurant?
BR: Wow, in all of New York? You could give me just a borough or even just a neighborhood and I could pick several. Let's say, best steak: Peter Luger's.