Charlotte head coach Alan Major recently returned from Puerto Rico, where the 49ers team (5-1) won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title with a 63-61 win over Michigan on Sunday. Major recently spoke with ESPN.com about the tournament and the preparation that led to that victory.
ESPN: How did you prepare your team to face the challenges in Puerto Rico?
Major: Well, I think just the experience in Alaska had a lot to do with that. We were fortunate enough to have some guys back that played a lot [in last season's Great Alaska Shootout]. Freshman guys who are sophomores now played a lot in those games. A couple of guys that are older … they played a ton of minutes in Alaska. I think just going through that experience, I’m not going to say it entitled us to win in Puerto Rico at all. But I think just the fact that we had some guys go through how difficult it is to [win a tournament] and to come out fortunate enough to win the Alaska Shootout last year, I think they were able to just kind of parlay that experience [to this season's success].
ESPN: How important was that experience as your team maintained its poise in the title game against Michigan?
Major: Well, you hope that our guys just continue to draw confidence from two things: No. 1, draw confidence from each other and know that whatever circumstances they find themselves in, they can be in a position to win, and you hope they draw confidence from the experience itself, being in a tight situation obviously against an experienced team. That’s what you want to do every night on the court is put yourself in a position to win it at the end.
ESPN: How much did that opening-round win against Kansas State help your program the rest of the way in Puerto Rico?
Major: We weren’t so dominant down the stretch. They made an 11-0 run. … Whenever you can win the first one, I think guys get confidence and maybe it eliminates a little pressure of having to win the next day if you don’t win the first one. The best thing about those tournaments is you’ve got to have a short memory. And even after winning Kansas State, we were fortunate enough to win the game, you’ve still got to have a short memory because you have to turn the page and move to the next day.
ESPN: How much time did you have to explore Puerto Rico? What did you all do?
Major: Very little. It was pretty much a business trip. I gotta give a lot of credit to my kids. When you first get down there and you pull up to the hotel and all you see is big blue water, it’s very easy to forget what you’re there for. … We told the guys that we scheduled this not to just come down and be a participant, but you schedule them with the goal of trying to win them. … Between the second and third games, they had a lot of chances [to get out]. Some guys went to Old San Juan. Some guys just hung at the beach. They got a chance to soak up a lot. I really gotta give our kids credit for staying focused in that regard. For me, myself, I’m going to just wait probably until the month of May and come back and soak up Puerto Rico without having to deal with basketball.
ESPN: How do you protect your team from becoming overconfident with so much time left in the season?
Major: It’s the last thing we told them when we got off the bus [in Charlotte]. We have values in our locker room and one of our values is humility. Humility is just looking at yourself for who you are and not being prideful and always knowing that you can get better. That’s the message we told our guys. We can still get better. …. We got a difficult road to follow. We’ve gotta continue to stay humble.