Q&A with Bradley coach Jim Les

Bradley head coach Jim Less hugs Sam Maniscalco after defeating Illinois 72-68 at an NCAA college basketball game at the Las Vegas Invitational in Las Vegas. Les wants Maniscalco to assume more leadership this season. AP Photo/Laura Rauch

Five questions with Bradley coach Jim Les

You return a bulk of your team from last season, including your top three players. What are the expectations this season?

Jim Les: I think we have high expectations, not only from the coaching staff, but the players themselves. These guys last year logged a lot of minutes, got a lot of valuable experiences, and that's not enough to parlay into the following season into having success. What they did is they took that success and had a really good offseason. They were here all summer. They all got bigger, faster and stronger. For me, that's parlaying last year and putting in the necessary time and work to capitalize on that this year. I think all of our expectations are high and should be.

This team looked so good at times and so-so at other times last season. What was the difference between those two teams last season, and how do you fix that this year?

JL: I think it was a lot of factors that were a product of our youth, a product of new guys being thrust into situations that they weren't familiar with and sometimes not comfortable with. I would be extremely worried about that if they never showed me the type of basketball they're capable of, which they did beating Illinois, beating a ranked Northern Iowa team. Doing those type of things showed me the capability is there. You feel like you have to harness those moments and realize one of our goals going into this year is having consistency. Be sure the team that showed up on those nights shows up on every night.

Heading into your ninth season at Bradley, where do you feel the program is right now?

JL: I think I'm happy with the overall culture of the program. We went through a number of years facility-wise where we had some deficiencies, and we had to weather those years not being up to caliber in terms of the resources we could offer. We've now moved into to a $25 million dollar practice facility that is state of the art and off the charts. That's really positive. Our kids do really well in the classroom. Our team had a B average last year, and we graduate our kids. We have been able to establish a consistency in our program with 20-plus wins over the last five years. With the experience of this team and the resources we have, I think it's time for us to take another leap. We need to seek out championships and [NCAA tournament] bids year in and year out, and I think that's reasonable.

Sam Maniscalco and Andrew Warren make up one of the best backcourts in the Missouri Valley. What do you expect from them this season?

JL: I think first and foremost to provide leadership for our team. These guys have logged a lot minutes; they have an understanding of our system and understand what it takes to be successful at our level. We need them to provide leadership by example in every practice and in every game. The second thing is consistency in their production. Those are two guys who can have a major impact in a game. I think they're coming into this year looking to shoulder that responsibility. The direction of the team and the young guys following will be directed by their tone. I'm not worried about their offense. They're going to score points. They're too skilled not to expect them to. Where they're going to leave their mark is their defensive production and leadership on that end of the floor.

How did the opportunity come out to play at Duke, and what does that game mean for this program?

JL: I think every year we've been aggressive in scheduling since I've been here. It's a matter of making the phone calls and seeing what works and what fits. We're excited to play what I think will be the No. 1 team in the country in Duke and having the experience of playing at Cameron Indoor. What a challenge it'll be for us to find out who we really are. We'll get a good snapshot of who we are and what we need to get better at as we approach the rest of the non-conference schedule and the rest of the season in playing in that environment and against that type of team. We're looking forward to that challenge and grateful that Duke gave us an opportunity.