On June 11, Athletic Director Earl Edwards introduced Chris Carlson as UC San Diego’s new Men’s Basketball Coach. A San Diego native and graduate of Helix High School in La Mesa, the 37-year-old Carlson comes to UCSD from UCLA where he has been Coach Ben Howland’s Director of Basketball Operations for the past four years, the last two of which have seen the Bruins advance to the NCAA Final Four. Prior to that, Carlson had stints at Pittsburgh, Northern Arizona and UC Santa Barbara. He is an alumnus of UC Santa Barbara, married to the former Karen Nance with whom he has two young sons. The 11th men’s basketball coach in UCSD history, Carlson recently took time to talk about the game of basketball and his future in La Jolla.
Q - When did you know that you wanted to be a basketball coach?
CARLSONóI knew I wanted to coach as far back as my sophomore year in high school. I had great coaches as a kid and I liked the thought of giving back to the game in that capacity. I enjoyed the game, the sense of teaching and growth and I knew that it was something I wanted in my life.
Q - What are the aspects of coaching that you enjoy the most?
CARLSONóWhen you are around people who are always striving to improve and achieve, it forces you to do the same. I enjoy that aspect of the profession a great deal. I have been very fortunate in my professional life to have been around a lot of great coaches and educators who are committed to young people and their growth. Watching these people day in, day out, you realize what an impact a good coach can have. That aspect makes this profession very rewarding and enriching.
Q - What attracted you to the UCSD position?
CARLSONóA great number of things really. It is a fantastic institution that I really believe is on the cusp of great things. UCSD has gone to great lengths to put itself in the company of other great schools across the country and the type of person that comes to this place to work and learn is the person I want to work with. The caliber of research here combined with the teaching that accompanies it is unique and special. Likewise, the Athletic Department has established itself as one of the nation’s best, combining athletic and academic achievement like few others. Combine that with its location (I am from San Diego) and it seemed like a perfect fit for me.
Q - Based on your familiarity with Division II and the CCAA, what type of expectations do you feel that UCSD should have year-in and year-out for its men's basketball program?
CARLSONóI think that this program should continue to grow as it has done the past few years and be competitive within the upper half of the league each season. It’s a tough league filled with a lot of good coaches and players. It’s no mistake that the CCAA is one of the best Division II conferences in America and if you can get to the top of this league you will find yourself at or near the top nationally. That is our aim and it’s a great challenge, but it’s one that all of us in the program look forward to.
Q - What can you tell us about the style of basketball a Chris Carlson-coached team will play?
CARLSONóAll good coaches put their teams in positions to be successful through a commitment to the fundamentals of the game. If you can't pass and catch, defend and rebound well, you're not going to be very good. So you will see a team and program that is devoted to those simplistic, but crucial elements. We will be a team that is committed to the defensive end through solid man-to-man, stressing team help and individual accountability. We will look to push the ball and get some early, easy shot opportunities then execute if we don't have anything in the half-court. Again, very simple ideas but in my mind, these are the trademarks of successful teams.
Q - Who are your coaching mentors and what have you drawn from each?
CARLSONóI have been very luck y to have been around some great coaches. Ben Howland at UCLA, Jerry Pimm at UC Santa Barbara, Mike Adras at NAU, Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh, and many others at many other levels. My high school coach John Singer (Helix) has been very influential. All of them have their own style and ideas but collectively they have a number of similarities that allow them to be successful. Keeping it simple, a commitment to the fundamentals, being a good listener, etc. are all traits they carry. I think most importantly, however, is the concept of growing and finding ways to get better at all times. The best coaches I have been around never felt they had all the answers and were always looking for ways to grow and improve.
Q - What has been your most exciting basketball moment to date?
CARLSONóWalking out onto the floor of the RCA Dome in Indianapolis for the NCAA Championship game vs. Florida two seasons ago. For any coach or player, that has to be at or near the top.
Q - What are some of your interest away from the basketball court?
CARLSONóI greatly enjoy reading and traveling. Basketball has allowed me the opportunity to experience new cultures and that has been important to my own personal development. I enjoy going to movies with my wife and playing baseball with my kids. And there is nothing like going to a good restaurant (doesn't have to be fancy!), tasting good food and sharing it with good company.