Here’s a Q&A UM sports information director Joel Carlson did with Griz coach Wayne Tinkle:
With the Montana men’s basketball team coming off a historic season, Joslyn Tinkle playing in her third Final Four in her three seasons at Stanford and the Masters in full swing, it felt like the right time to sit down and catch up with Griz coach Wayne Tinkle.
Q: What has Joslyn’s experience been like so far at Stanford?
WT: Going to three Final Fours in her first three years has been a thrill. It hasn’t always been roses, but as a father it’s been neat to see how she has fought through some things and continued to work to put herself in a position to be a main contributor this year.
Obviously the academic and social experience has been great, and being able to compete for a national championship every year has been beyond her wildest dreams.
Q: Joslyn narrowed her final choice of colleges down to Montana and Stanford. Looking back, did she make the right decision?
WT: Without a doubt. When you look at how this is going to set her up for the rest of her life — getting a degree from Stanford, being able to play at the national level and compete against the best teams in the country — she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Q: With your team and her team in season at the same time, how hard is it to watch and read about most of her experiences from afar?
WT: It’s tough, and it really eats at me. I’m an emotional and affectionate guy, so it’s really tough not being there. But we know as parents that she is in a great situation at an unbelievable school doing what she wants to do, and we know that’s going to be best for her down the road. That education and that experience was something she was very deserving of.
Q: Does it make it easier knowing she is in the type of team atmosphere at Stanford that you’ve created with your program at Montana?
WT: We bring in kids from all around the country, and we’ve got to fill the void that they’re lacking without their parents or guardians around every day. We’ve got to play that role as well as coach. Then I believe our staff and players fill the void that I have not being with my kids all the time and being around them as much as I’d like.
I think we kind of nurture each other along those lines. They maybe give me some of what I’m lacking, and hopefully we do the same in return.
Q: You’ve now been to both men’s and women’s Final Fours. How similar or dissimilar are they?
WT: The atmosphere is different, that’s for sure. It’s like a carnival frenzy at the men’s Final Four, a big fiesta. You’re looking at upwards of 70,000 people attending the men’s games and maybe 16 or 17,000 for the women, so it’s a little more subdued.
But they both have the same amount of excitement at the venue. There are more things going on away from the floor at the men’s Final Four. At the women’s Final Four you don’t really feel it until you’re watching the teams warming up and getting ready to play. Then you realize you’re at a Final Four.
Q: You watched Brittney Griner in person Sunday when Stanford played Baylor in the national semifinals in Denver. Is there any way to compare her to anyone else with the impact she has on the game?
WT: She does what she does because there is no one else in the women’s game who is 6-foot-8 and can do what she does. There have been other players who have maybe been close to that height, but they don’t have her athleticism, her touch and her skills.
I don’t know who you could compare her to on the men’s side. Maybe Wilt Chamberlain when he first came onto the scene. He was cutting edge as the first real big guy who had all of those tools.
Q: What would you draw up to defend Griner?
WT: I thought Stanford actually did a great job defending her. They held her to only 13 points and three field goals, so I thought their game plan was solid. But as far as neutralizing her, it’s tough. She’s getting better and better as she gets more experience dealing with all the different defenses she’s facing.
People maybe don’t talk about how much she impacts the game defensively. She only had two blocked shots against Stanford, but their game plan was to not attack the basket because of her. Right there, if that’s what you normally do, she’s making you change your modus operandi because you’re afraid of what she might do to you.
Q: Aside from watching Joslyn (and daughter Elle, who will be a freshman at Gonzaga in the fall), do you like watching women’s basketball?
WT: I enjoy watching the women’s game, because it seems like it’s basketball at its purest with the execution, the screening and the team play. A lot of the men’s game nowadays is turning into isolation stuff that ends up being one-on-one and not so much of the team concept.
I’m sure there are some gals out there who could dominate the game one on one, but across the board the women’s game is still very reliant on team execution. As an old-school guy, I guess I kind of like that.
Q: What’s one sporting event you’ve never been to that you’d like to attend?
WT: Right here (pointing to a live stream of the opening day of the Masters on his desktop computer). I’ve been to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2000, and that was a great experience. A couple of bucket list items, I guess, are the Masters and the British Open. It might even be fun to knock off all four majors.
It’s neat in (the golfing) venue that you can kind of pick what you want to do. At Pebble Beach in 2000, a group of buddies and (Tinkle’s wife) Lisa came down. One day we hung out on the 17th green and watched most of the groups play through.
The other days we followed Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Freddie Couples early on, then we followed Tiger when he ran away with the thing.
Q: Tiger Woods had a 15-stroke margin of victory that tournament. What do you remember about watching him?
WT: The thing that most impressed me about Tiger was not how pure he was but how good he was at the trouble shots. He got up and down from places he had no business getting up and down. That’s what really separated him from the rest of the field. When he got into a little bit of trouble, he got out of it like it was nothing.
He was on a couple of embankments that head down to the ocean, and as a spectator you couldn’t even see him. He’d hit it out of this junk to within eight feet, then knock that in for a par. He did it time and time again.
Q: With Bill Evans leaving your staff to take over at Idaho State, what is the process of filling that assistant coaching vacancy?
WT: It’s like a shark sensing blood in the water when there is an opening. Our assistants have all of their buddies who want to get to this level email or call them. And I get a ton of emails, phone calls and resumes. Everybody that you’ve ever had a conversation with all of a sudden thinks they deserve an opportunity. That’s the initial wave you have to deal with.
I’ve told everybody that I’m really going to take my time with this. Probably the end of April, beginning of May. I wanted to make sure our recruiting was in order, our spring schedule for our current players is going to be implemented, and I wanted to enjoy a couple of weeks with my daughter and watching them play.
Now what I need to do is figure out what I want, both X’s and O’s and personality-wise. I’ll try to get that figured out in my mind, then all the while figure out chemistry. I want our staff to be a good blend. I think our chemistry was really good this past year as a staff, and I believe that carries over (to the team as a whole).
Q: With the success Montana has enjoyed with you as head coach, do you get contacted by bigger schools and bigger jobs?
WT: That’s always part of the equation when you have success and your program is respected. You’re going to get looked at. Last year we messed around with Fresno (State) a little bit. This year there might have been some opportunities, but we’re really focused on what we want to do here. We feel like there are some things we still want to do.
We’ve got some guys we recruited that we tried to sell on the fact we didn’t just want to make the NCAA tournament. We want to make some noise and advance. We have a great group coming back, and they’re motivated to try to get back to the tournament and move on.
If things happen down the road because of the success we’ve had, that’s natural. Right now we love being here, so we’re staying in the moment and remaining focused on what’s at hand.
Q: How does Montana become the next George Mason, Butler, VCU or Ohio?
WT: The big problem coming out of the Big Sky is that our league RPI is so weak. We’ve got to try to get to where our league RPI is in the mid to high teens by scheduling and beating Division I teams in the non-conference. It’s tough when we’re 25, 26, 27 as a league. We’re always going to be put up against a pretty tough (first-round) opponent.
We need to take on more challenging schedules, win those games, and then our league will become stronger. Then when our champion gets a seeding in the NCAA tournament it’s going to be at the level where we can maybe win a first-round game and make something happen.
Q: Can you turn Montana back into a basketball school, or at least a school that supports both football and men’s basketball like football annually enjoys and you experienced in your final home games last season?
WT: Even with football’s success I think we could pack the place and co-exist with football, but it will take some changes. I think until we do away with the winter session and return the students back to the sideline (seats), we’re not going to see Dahlberg the way it was back in the day.
When we moved the students, we took a very impressive, unified front and divided it by moving it into the end zones, and that lost a lot of the luster. And when we went to Sentinel for a year and moved some season-ticket holders when we returned to Dahlberg, it gave a lot of fans a reason to stay away.
We feel like we’ve given people a reason to come back. We were very fortunate this last year to have a favorable home schedule, and it was unbelievable how we finished the season with our attendance. Hopefully people don’t start next season and think, ‘Well, let’s see how they do the first month or so.’
Let’s come out and support and get that thing going early. What a fun ride it would be if that level of support was there from day one.