By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
Follow Ian Smith on Twitter @IanWSmith3
Bill Fennelly is a pro when it comes to devising game plans. It’s no surprise then that he already has one for his trip to China this summer – half clothes, half granola bars.
That’s how the Iowa State coach’s suitcase will look when he heads to the Women’s World University Games this August. Fennelly was recently named the head coach of Team USA. He will lead an American squad searching for gold against some of the most talented players in the world.
CycloneFanatic.com’s Ian Smith recently caught up with Fennelly in an exclusive interview to discuss Team USA, Iowa State, the new Big 12 and much more.
IS: How excited are you to coach Team USA?
BF: It’s a great honor. I think anytime you can do something for your country, that’s a pretty special thing. I’ve been very lucky, I guess. The two things in my life that I’ve always wanted to do is be a head coach at a place like Iowa State and coach the USA team. It’s pretty cool. It’s a great opportunity to not only represent our country, but our school. China was never a place I thought I’d go too, so I get to go there too.
IS: Where have you been as a USA coach in the past?
BF: I’ve been to Korea, Thailand and Argentina. It’s a different experience. It’s good. It’ll be a long summer, but it’s good because it doesn’t impact Iowa State at all. I think I’ll miss two Cyclone Club outings, but I won’t miss one day of recruiting. I go right from recruiting all of July right into this. Then I get back the first day of class. I didn’t have summer vacation plans to go to China, but that’s where I’ll end up.
IS: Isn’t it crazy where basketball can take you? We live in Iowa and now you’re going to China.
BF: I was talking to a recruit on the phone and we were talking about that kind of stuff. Basketball is a vehicle to do some amazing things. For me, I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve gotten to go to some amazing places. It’s all because of basketball.
IS: You’ve had some success coaching Team USA as an assistant. What’s that like to hear the national anthem with a gold medal around your neck?
BF: I’ve told a couple of people, because of my job and my kids playing sports, I’ve heard the national anthem a lot. But it’s different when you’re wearing a USA basketball shirt and you have a gold medal around your neck. You can feel your heart coming out of your chest. It’s a very proud moment and certainly something that you’ll always remember.
USA basketball has been very successful. It’s something you go into and find a way to be successful, but it’s a challenge. You get a lot of good players, obviously, but you have three weeks to do what we try to do (at Iowa State) in three or four years – build a team. They will pick a good team. And that’s the weird part about it too. I’m at the trials, I get to sit in the meetings, but I don’t get to vote (for who’s on the team). They kind of give you a team, which is probably good too. They take the coach out of it. I’ll find out about 10 minutes before everybody else on the team.
IS: It’s all college players, right?
BF: You have to have college eligibility. The thing that happens, some of the countries will send their Olympic team. It’s the biggest event there is for older players. There is a U19 Championships, which is for players who have finished their freshman year in college or are great high school seniors in our country. What happens is, other countries will put people in online classes and they might be 26-28 years old and be pros but be in “college.” There will be some very good teams. There are 16 countries that go and every country does it different. You have to be 26 and under and be in “college.” You could be in a summer school class and technically be eligible to play.
IS: Doesn’t Candice Parker have some eligibility left?
BF: Yeah (laughs). Candice Parker is with the national team, unfortunately.
IS: What are you planning on eating in China? I know you’re a picky eater.
BF: I’m going to take as many granola bars and licorice as I can. I’m going to eat a lot of bread. I can’t stand rice. Usually you can find something. That is going to be hard. Maybe I’ll lose some weight.
IS: Do you they have Diet Coke over there?
BF: Most places do but they call it Coca-Cola Light. It tastes a little funny, but they do have it. From what I understand, I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people who do business in China, and they say it’s more Americanized then you think because of all the international business. But still, I don’t trust the meat. Half my suitcase will be USA basketball clothing and the other half snacks.
Getting to know Coach Fennelly…
IS: What’s the best concert you’ve been too?
BF: Darius Rucker. I would say Darius Rucker, and I’m dating myself, James Taylor. (James Taylor) was about 25 years ago. It was actually in Iowa City at the Fieldhouse. It was really good.
IS: Who do you follow on Twitter that you’d recommend for somebody?
BF: I like Darren Rovell. I think he’s great. Who else? I don’t follow that many people. I don’t follow movie stars or Charles Barkley. I don’t have time for that. I only follow 35-40 people. I follow ESPN and the Iowa State one.
IS: Do opposing fans ever tweet you and basically talk crap?
BF: Most of it is pretty fun loving. The two things I get, I’ll get the Cub fans who bash the Cardinals and then I’ll get Hawkeye fans. Like last night, I tweeted something about the Cardinals losing at the end and some guy tweeted at me, “The Cardinals must be watching the DVD of late game situations by Fred Hoiberg.” Or something like that. So I get ones like that. But most of them are very, very nice.
Stay tuned to CycloneFanatic.com in the coming days for part two of Ian’s interview with Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly. Part two features Fennelly’s thoughts on next year’s roster, the college basketball rumor mill, the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and much more.