American University head coach Jeff Jones and the Eagles travel to Williams Arena Friday.
GopherSports.com: Who are your top returning players and which ones will make your team perform well this year?
Jeff Jones: "Our best returning player is our senior point guard Danny Munoz. He had a real solid year last year and worked very hard in the off-season and has come back. I think he's poised to have a terrific year for us and he's going to be vitally important in anything that we do.
"Our starting center from last year returns, (6'10", junior) Tony Wroblicky. When you look at his numbers from his sophomore year, you know its not real impressive, but down the stretch his statistics were on the upward trend, and so I think he's going to have a good year for us.
"A player who's returning, but wasn't on the team last year, was Stephen Lumpkins. He was a second-team All-Patriot league player two years ago. He averaged 14 and eight I think. Last year, he was in the Kansas City Royals organization as a pitcher, so he didn't play basketball for a year. He's kind of picked up where he left off. You certainly don't see any rust in his game and we're going to need him to be a big factor for us as well.
"So these would be the top three. You know for our league, for Minnesota, its no big deal, or for a Big Ten school, but for our league, having a 6'10"- a 6'9" guy in the lineup at the same time, that's a pretty big front line."
GopherSports.com: What kind of style do you play?
Jeff Jones: "I would say moderate. Offensively, if the break is there, we'll certainly explore those opportunities, but we certainly don't want to get into a real fast paced game. We prefer more deliberate than break-neck speed. A majority of the time, we're going to run a lot of sets and try to see if we can create shots through our offense."
GopherSports.com: What do you hope to accomplish in your first game of the year against Minnesota?
Jeff Jones: "As far as the game against Minnesota, you know, the simple goal is we want to try to win the game. Short of that, we want to play as well as we can. We want to learn from the opportunity. Whoever the Patriot League team is, the way you go to the NCAA tournament, you're going to be playing somebody like Minnesota or Kansas or Georgetown or other teams that are on our schedule, so you want to try to play against that top competition.
"Obviously, our guys are well aware of the late season stretch that Minnesota put on. They're young, but experienced and they virtually have everyone coming back. They're fully aware of that, but I think you know for us, it's something that our guys can be excited about because they've read about and watched on TV about Minnesota and they know for us to have any chance, we've got to play extremely well."
GopherSports.com: What makes you schedule tough teams like Minnesota, Kansas and Georgetown?
Jeff Jones: "We want to challenge ourselves. I'm a big believer of it. I've been doing this a long time. I've known Tubby for 25 years. Norwood Teague, the AD there, is one of my very best friends. We used to work together at the University of Virginia.
"We always want to challenge ourselves. That's the way you get better. Going up against programs the likes of Minnesota, Kansas or Georgetown, that helps you prepare to be the best team we possibly can by the time conference play rolls around.
"We've beaten DePaul, Florida State. We've beaten Maryland. You know every once in a while, you can pull off that upset. You know in order to do that, we've got to be a little bit lucky. We've got to play really, really hard and we've got to play really, really well."
GopherSports.com: What are your goals for your team in the Patriot League?
Jeff Jones: "Our goals for the year are to win the Patriot League and be playing our best basketball at the end of the year. The Patriot League is a one bid league, so you've got to be ready for the tournament and see if you can win that title and participate in the NCAA tournament.
"I certainly hope we can be in the top half (of the conference). For the last 12 years, since American has been in the Patriot League, we've never finished below fourth. We've been probably over a decade the most consistent team in the Patriot League, and that's something that we've prided ourselves on, that year in and year out, we want to be in the picture. We want to be competitive for that Patriot League title.
"You know this year, I believe we were picked third in a lot of preseason polls, you know, we'll see. Bucknell and Leigh are in the top two right now and on paper, are clearly the two best teams, but the great thing about athletics is that the competitions are played on the court and you know we'll get a chance to work hard and improve. When conference play rolls around, you know hopefully we can handle that gap and be a factor in the conference picture."
GopherSports.com: Anything else about American University you want Minnesotans to know?
Jeff Jones: "We're a small school in Washington, D.C. People hear Washington, D.C. and I think often times they think in terms of an urban setting, but it's a very small, but a very nice traditional campus. We're up here in the northwest and it's a great situation."