This Monday, I had the chance to interview Mario Mercurio over the phone about his efforts to extend the Butler series on ESPN. He also shared some of his thoughts on how he puts together the team's non-conference schedule. Below is the final portion of the interview.
While staging the schedule in such a manner that the games build into one another is a priority for Mercurio in the non-conference season, he does not have that same luxury for the Muskies' annual February non-conference game. "The thing you need to remember with that," he said, "is that I don't know this year’s conference schedule until late August, so I can’t pick what comes before and after [the late non-conference game]." Despite this, though, he says the game is worth the risk. "The value of the nationally televised game in February is very high. It constantly reminds the national recruits and media that we’re the big boys."
The process is about the exposure first, then the contest. "For us," Mercurio noted, "we allow to TV to dictate that game. We get in touch with ESPN first and then work with the teams and conferences to work that game in." The game also functions to break up the conference schedule for the players and put one last high-profile game on the team's March resume.
Both Coach Mack and Mercurio have enjoyed the opportunities that social media has afforded them to get to know the Xavier fan base. "Thee good thing about all the people at X that tweet is that it’s very genuine," Mercurio said. "The more connections with people that love Xavier basketball, the better. Coach Mack and I are the biggest fans the program has, and it’s fun to share that on Facebook and Twitter with other people who are going to be excited about it." (NB: Coach Mack's Twitter can be found at @CoachChrisMack, while Mario's is @MarioMercurio.)
Both Mercurio and Mack are Cincinnati guys, and both have been with Xavier in one form or another for a long time. I asked Mario what he had seen change over the years at X. "A lot of things have changed and a lot of things have stayed the same," he said. "There’s no line you can draw and see that the program has taken off from there." Instead, Mario believes that "the consistent mission of everyone there has been the most important part of the program. We bring in guys who play hard, play for the right reasons. We value defense and guys who play with a chip on their shoulder."
When he looked at the growth of the program as a whole, Mercurio had some interesting thoughts to share. "X has put itself in the position to be more marketable and attractive than ever," he began. "As we continue to do the things we’ve always done, you can see us keep peeling away the doubters and people who think Xavier is going to go away. The program hasn’t changed at all. The exterior things that seem to have changed have been because we've been sticking with what makes the program great for so many years."
As a Xavier fan, I can hardly think of more encouraging words to hear from one of the people who determines the direction of the basketball program. While Xavier's on-court success and national exposure have certainly grown, it is the dedication to the core principles of the program rather than any deviation from them that has facilitated that growth. As long as Xavier has guys like Mario Mercurio at the top of the program, Musketeer fans should continue to expect more of the same great results.