One of the greatest players in the history of the University of Vermont is Taylor Coppenrath, a star on Tom Brennan-coached teams that made three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and won a game in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, beating Syracuse in overtime. CHN's Jon Teitel had the honor of spending some time with the legendary Catamount.
Jon Teitel: You did not play varsity basketball until your junior year of high school: were you a late bloomer, or did you just grow into your body/game?
Taylor Coppenrath: I do not know the answer to this, whether the coach never wanted me or thought he had upperclassmen that were better than me. I just played with whatever team I was placed. Both freshman and JV teams went undefeated when I played with them my freshman and sophomore year.
JT: You missed some games in college due to pneumonia and a wrist injury: did the injuries greatly hamper your development, or were they just minor obstacles to overcome?
TC: They were just minor obstacles I had to overcome, but I was a little disappointed that I missed those games because I ended up just short of becoming the all-time scorer at Vermont.
JT: In 2002 you were named 2nd-team All-America East as a freshman: how were you able to come in as a freshman and contribute from the start?
TC: I really think that red-shirting my first year helped me develop physically and mentally for the competition of playing D-1 basketball. I was able to watch and learn a lot, and practicing with the team all year definitely helped me improve as a basketball player.
JT: From 2003-2005 you were a 3-time 1st-team All-America East performer and 3-time conference POY: how did you make the leap from freshman year, and how were you able to continue to dominate throughout the rest of your college career?
TC: I just tried to get better every year, which seemed hard to do some years, but somehow I managed to do it. I just played every game thinking about what I could do to help the team, and just reacted to what the defense gave me.
JT: What are your memories of the 2003 NCAA tourney (you had 18 PTS in a loss to Arizona, while future NBA 1st round pick Channing Frye had 12 PTS/12 REB)?
TC: It was a very difficult game: that year we had lost our starting point guard and had a difficult trip. We did not arrive to the tourney site until midnight the night before our game, so I was very tired. I personally played well, but we lost by 40 or so.
JT: How were you able to score a conference tourney-record/career-high 43 PTS in your 1st game back from a wrist injury vs. Maine in the 2004 conference tourney final?
TC: I remember highlights from that game, but I do not actually remember playing: it was all just a blur and so much fun. I was not sure how much I would play (if at all), but things just turned out great.
JT: What are your memories of the 2004 NCAA tourney (you had 12 PTS but shot 3-17 from the field in a loss to Connecticut, while future NBA 1st round pick Emeka Okafor had 15 PTS/14 REB)?
TC: I remember it being a very difficult game, and realizing that Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor were great players and very tough to defend. They really should have been a #1 seed. The game against Maine was probably more adrenaline, but playing against UConn was a different story. I was probably not fully recovered, and still wore a cast on my hand during that game.
JT: In 2005 you finished 2nd in the nation with 25.1 PPG (Keydren Clark of Saint Peter's had 25.8 PPG): were you just a man amongst boys, or did Coach Brennan let you shoot as much as you wanted?
TC: I really did not take too many shots. Some days I would take 9 shots, others probably more. I usually went to the free throw line at least 5 times a game, so I got around 10 points from there every night. Plus, I did such a good job sealing in the post that I was able to get easy looks, and the team did a great job looking for me.
JT: Take me through the magical 2005 NCAA tourney:
In the 1st round, you had 16 PTS in 45 minutes in a 3-point OT win over Syracuse: what did it mean to you and to the school to get the 1st NCAA win in Vermont history?
TC: It was amazing: we had worked so hard in years past and had made it 3 times to the tourney, and we knew this was our last chance to make history again. I still hear people say how great a game it was and that they have friends or relatives that are Syracuse fans and how they rub it in their faces! It was a wild game and one I will never forget.
JT: Did you feel that you had blown your big chance when Germain Mopa Njila stepped on the baseline with 4 seconds left in regulation before making a lay-up, and did you feel that you finally had it wrapped up when TJ Sorrentine made a long 3-pointer with 1 minute left in OT?
TC: I had a feeling it could be over, but then TJ Sorrentine made that 3-pointer from the "parking lot" and the game changed again, so I knew we had a good chance to win. We just had to play tough defense and not let them have a good look.
JT: What was your impression of future NBA 1st round pick Hakim Warrick (who had 21 PTS/12 REB/10 TO)?
TC: He was a very good athlete, and although he turned the ball over it was very hard to stop him. I knew he would do well in the NBA.
JT: In the 2nd round you had 16 points and a school-tourney record 14 rebounds, but shot only 5-23 from the field in a loss to Michigan State: did you just run out of gas, or were the Spartans just much better?
TC: I remember missing some lay-ups and being like "Wow: I feel exhausted". I honestly missed most of my shots by just a little bit. I definitely was feeling tired and wished I had more energy. We did not have a big bench, so I averaged about 38 minutes per game. Michigan State rotated new guys in to keep the pressure on me and beat me up the whole game, and it worked out for them.
JT: Since 2006 you have played professionally in Spain, Italy and Greece: what have you learned from the experience, and how does it compare to college basketball?
TC: There are a few different rules in Europe, although now they are changing them to be more like the NBA. It is definitely physical over here, and they let a lot more pushing go on than in college. I had the most fun playing college basketball, but I do enjoy playing professional basketball: it is just different when you are getting money. In college, you used to fight to win just to win, but now you fight to win so that you can get paid. In college, there really were no worries, but now you have to look for new teams, new contracts, and try to get better because there are always lots of younger guys coming to try and take your spot.