From June 2013
By Ed Odeven
TOKYO — It has been six years since Marcus Toney-El played his final game for the Saitama Broncos. The versatile forward, who enjoyed dishing out nicknames to teammates and bringing smiles to fans’ faces during his two seasons in Japan, moved on to Australia before embarking on a coaching career. He also played pro ball in the Dominican Republic before coming to Japan.
His first stop in the college coaching ranks: Fairleigh Dickinson University in his native New Jersey. He served as the Knights’ associate head coach the past two seasons and was on the team’s coaching staff for three seasons.
I recently caught up with Toney-El, who starred at Seton Hall University (2000-04), to gain some perspective on his career and his overall thoughts on the game.
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You have been involved in coaching for a few years now. So what’s the most rewarding aspect of the job? What’s the most challenging aspect of it?
The most rewarding part of being a college coach is knowing that I have the responsibility of making young men better men. To know that I can positively affect their life both on and off the basketball court. The most challenging aspect is getting them to break habits that have been developed since their childhood. Whether it be basketball or life, some people at first are reluctant to change simply because it goes against their norm.
What is your favorite all-time basketball movie? Why?
My all-time favorite basketball movie has to be “Love & Basketball.” I like it because I can relate to it. “He Got Game” and “Blue Chips” are a close second and third.
In simple terms, what do you think are the biggest differences between coaching at the college and pro levels?
The biggest difference would have to be controlling egos. See in college you need your coach and program to work for you so that you can become a pro. So with that being the case, a player has to put his ego aside so that he can work to become a pro.
At the pro level, some guys feel as if they have arrived and will do enough to stay at that pro level. Often times the attitude is, “I’m not playing but I’m still getting paid”; whereas on the college level it’s, “I’m the ninth man how do I get to the starting five?” Another obvious difference would be the style of play. The game is faster at he pro level and it’s more one-on-one isolation play than in college.
Reflecting on your career since joining the coaching ranks, how do you think you’ve grown and developed into your second career in the game? And what do you consider your strengths as a coach?
I think I have grown tremendously in my coaching career. I have always enjoyed the chess match part of the game, but to really see the game in slow motion and to be able to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses takes a lot of work and I continue to put the work in.
My biggest strength would have to be getting players to maximize their potential. Basketball is a player’s game, and if I can get you to properly believe in you and how it fits my scheme, then basketball is made easy. My ability to motivate, implement game plan and game-time decisions are the areas I pride myself on.
What was the biggest challenge(s) in recruiting basketball players to FDU. a Northeast Conference school, when the competition is so fierce throughout the Division I ranks?
The biggest challenge for me was that just in the metropolitan area of New York/New Jersey/Connecticut there are about 15 Division I schools and I am recruiting against 11 of those schools for players that have inflated opinions about themselves. Add in the other schools in the surrounding areas and my job gets that much more difficult. The irony is that I love the recruiting part of my job.
Have you set a target of being a college head coach in the next five to 10 years? Is that a short-term goal? And do you hope to coach in the NBA some day?
I am in no rush to be a college head coach. My goal is to one day be a college head coach. I understand that there is a lot for me to learn and I am willing to go through the process so that I am as prepared as need be. I have recently began thinking of being an NBA assistant, but right now my focus is at the collegiate level.
By playing overseas, how has that helped broaden your horizons and given you perspectives and mindsets that have enriched your life? Can you offer an example or two?
Playing overseas has added so much to me as a person that it has given me the ability to communicate on a different level and see things from different perspective that otherwise I would have missed out on. Because I took the time in Japan to learn the language and culture, it gives me a platform of saying you can do whatever you put your mind to. During the game when I’m playing because of the pace a lot of things I had to do was a reaction to body language, a basketball motion or read and react. We didn’t speak each other’s verbal language too well so I had to pay attention to detail.
That’s one thing I emphasize … attention to detail.
Who do you consider the most underrated or under-appreciated player in the NBA today?
I think the most under-appreciated player is (Chicago’s) Luol Deng. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone, but I’m not sure if enough people truly appreciate how Luol impacts his team.
Have you secured or are looking for a position with a different school for the 2013-14 season? (I saw the report about bench boss Greg Vetrone not being brought back to FDU for next season.)
I am currently trying to secure a position with another university.
Who are a few of your coaching role models? Can you cite reasons for your admiration for them?
Tommy Amaker — His ability to recruit.
John Calipari — His ability to manage a team full of high-quality talent.
Rick Pitino — Makes the right in-game adjustments.
Tom Izzo — His ability to develop players.
Billy Donovan — Xs and Os.
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Interview with Toney-El from 2007 in The Japan Times: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2007/01/20/basketball/toney-el-keeps-broncos-teammates-loose-with-nicknames/#.UbxS31JKh8E