Zach Spiker, 37, is in his fifth season as head coach at Army. Last year, Spiker led Army to its first winning season in 28 years and earned Patriot League Coach of the Year honors. After a road win over Lehigh on Wednesday, Striker and the Black Knights are 3-0 in Patriot League action (7-7 overall) and tied for first place. On Saturday at 3 p.m., Army will face Navy in Annapolis in a nationally televised (CBS Sports Network) contest. Spiker talked with the Herald’s Allan Mandell on Thursday.
Coach, you’ve won four games in a row, six of the last seven. What’s been the key to your resurgence?
I think a big part of it has been that our energy has been so high. We have a really good group of players that get along and the positive energy is contagious. Our bench, the guys that are not getting the playing time, are giving this team a huge amount of positive energy—they’re constantly cheering the other guys on and all this encouragement is helping us a great deal.
Plus, this is a group that doesn’t get too rattled. When things don’t go our way, we just go on and get back to business—playing solid, consistent basketball.
It’s here, Army vs. Navy, Saturday, with a national television audience. How do you keep your players on an even keel for such a huge game?
None of this is new to us. Our guys have been through this before. This is a big game. But the first reason it’s a big game is that it happens to be the next contest on our Patriot League schedule. This upcoming game just happens to be against Navy.
Of course, playing Navy means a lot to us. We do know it’s a special game.
But for those 40 minutes that we’re on the court our job is to beat our opponent, not get caught up in anything else. And, for the next 48 hours, while we’re practicing and reviewing film, our job is to concentrate on beating our next opponent.
Our guys have done a great job this season at just taking each game one at a time and staying focused. So it is a big game—but that is simply because it is our next game.
How about for you, Coach? Do you have any problems keeping your own emotions in check when you face Navy?
Maybe my first year here that was a problem (laughing). It was difficult then not to get all caught up with things.
But we all understand it now. It’s great that the game draws national attention. But, as a coaching staff, we fully understand that our job is to stay focused on winning the basketball game—not focused on the rivalry.
Did the success you had last season—earning Patriot League Coach of the Year honors—up the ante for Army this year?
I think it helped people recognize what we’re doing. It hasn’t added any pressure to us. To me, what remains most important is that our team plays the best it possibly can. Lately, the last few weeks, we’ve been focusing on taking care of all the little details and that has directly led to us getting better results.
Coach, can this Army team be the first to ever win the Patriot League and be the first Army team to ever advance into the NCAA tournament?
I don’t know that yet. But I do know we’ll work as hard as we possibly can to make those things happen for us—that I can promise you.
We have talked about those type of things. But the fact is we play in an unbelievably tough conference. Every team in this league has the same goal as us. So, now, the question is: What can we do to separate ourselves from everybody else?
This year, our league has gone to 18 games. And with how tough this league is, you’re talking about an 18-game grind. There is no easy game. We’ll try and approach every game the same—only thinking about how we can best prepare for that contest and then play the game the best we possibly can. Because when you get too caught up in looking ahead, that is when you stub your toes.
Even with our game this Saturday, we’re still just focused on the next film session and the next practice—nothing else.
Around here, in Central Texas, you’ll have many viewing this game on TV or listening on the radio. What can you tell us about some of your key players such as Kevin Ferguson (6-10 center), Tanner Plomb (6-7 forward), Dylan Cox (6-4 guard) and Kyle Wilson (6-4 forward)?
We’re glad that this is a special game to so many and that this contest creates a great deal of exposure for our team.
Our backcourt of Cox (Cedar Park) and Matt Gramling (San Antonio) are both Texas guys and are doing a great job for us. Cox has done a very good job at setting the pace for us—he’s remained poised.
Kyle Wilson is a prolific scorer; he can hit the 3 and gets to the basket well. Plomb is probably the best all-around athlete in our program. Ferguson is emerging as an excellent big man—he has already broken the single-game school record for blocked shots.
Coach, is there any message you’d like to send to all the fans of your program that are here in Central Texas?
Yes. Our program really appreciates the opportunity to represent all those that serve. We appreciate the opportunity to represent so many. We are all one big family. We know there are many in our military, not just in America, but all over the globe, that care about us.
We appreciate you.
We want to play with tremendous energy for you. We want to play as hard as we can and show you that nothing will get in our way of trying to play our best.