We are making MVC Beat history today! UIC head men’s basketball coach Luke Yaklich took the time to answer a few questions I had about his team joining the league, his previous MVC experience and what Valley fans should expect from the Flames. Does my first interview make me a real journalist? Who’s to say. I am probably a journalist the same way Dwight Schrute is a sheriff’s deputy. I just sort of made it up, am mostly playing make believe, and anything of substance I actually find I fall into a** backward.
Coach Yaklich is no stranger to the Valley. He graduated from Illinois State and his first college coaching job was on Dan Muller’s staff in Normal. He also spent time on the staff at Michigan (where he coached in the National Championship Game) and Texas before getting the top job at UIC. UIC is focused on their current Horizon League campaign, but Coach Yaklich took the time to answer a few of my questions. Look below for what he had to say.
MVC Beat: You worked with the basketball team as an undergrad at Illinois State, and you were an assistant for the Redbirds for four years. You know what your school is getting itself into in joining the Valley. How do you think your experience at ISU will help you and UIC navigate this new league?
Coach Yaklich: Understanding the schedule, the types of players it takes to win consistently, the road atmosphere, the style of play of many of the teams in the valley, and the quality of coaching and competitiveness that exists amongst teams and coaches is something that was present when I was an assistant that is still there today.
MVC Beat: Several MVC teams have made impressive postseason runs in the last couple decades, including two MVC appearances in the Final Four and several Sweet 16 runs. What does UIC need to do to be able to replicate that type of success and how will MVC membership help you achieve that?
Coach Yaklich: Embrace the process upon which our program is built upon…1% growth each day in the program…teams that have won in the Valley consistently have a culture and a style of play which they recruit to from year to year. Additionally, understanding the growth mindset that it takes to build an MVC championship program…day by day. The work that Loyola, UNI, Bradley, Wichita State, etc…have accomplished has taken time and daily commitment to the standard of excellence held by each of the coaches at their respective schools.
MVC Beat: Arch Madness is considered by many to be one of the premier conference tournaments in college basketball. What are your thoughts on your team participating in that event annually starting next year?
Coach Yaklich: I have incredible memories as a manager and coach having participated in this tournament for 6 years…getting to the semifinals on Saturday creates an incredible buzz throughout the city and the fan base. It is basketball at its best for players, fans, and coaches. It is an honor to get to compete in that tournament.
MVC Beat: You obviously know Coach Muller at Illinois State. Do you have a strong relationship with any of the other MVC head coaches?
Coach Yaklich: I have a great relationship with Dana Ford having worked together while at Illinois State and we have played Valpo the last 2 years here at UIC. Bryan Mullins and I have known each other for quite some time. I have great respect for all the coaches in the Valley.
MVC Beat: What excites you most about UIC joining the MVC? What is your message to your fans, and the fans of other MVC schools that may read this and are curious about brand of basketball UIC will bring to the league?
Coach Yaklich: We are working to build a program build upon defensive toughness and energy and skill development of our players. We like to play with 5 players on the floor that can dribble, pass, and shoot. We are excited to be a part of the 2nd oldest league in the country and fully embrace the effort and energy that it is going to take to get the top and stay there.
MVC Beat: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’re going to have a lot of MVC fans coming to Credit Union 1 Arena soon. What are your favorite places to grab a bite near the arena?
Coach Yaklich: Portillos. Tafanos. Pompeii. Maggianos. Hashbrowns.
I want to thank Coach Yaklich for taking the time to answer my questions. I also want to thank the Athletics Communications staff at UIC who are a class act. They really are doing everything they can to promote the program and set UIC up to be as successful as possible in the Missouri Valley. I am truly excited about their potential.
Thanks for reading and GO VALLEY!