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SwatTalk: "How Swarthmore Realized Its Hoop Dreams"

with Head Men's Basketball Coach Landry Kosmalski

Recorded on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023



Jason Zengerle ’96 Welcome, everyone. It is great to have you with us. Thank you so much for joining us for this SWAT talk about how Swarthmore realized its hoop dreams, featuring Swarthmore Men's Basketball Coach, Landry Kosmalski. My name is Jason Zengerle. I'm a member of the class of 1996, and I will be the moderator tonight. Before we get to Landry, I just wanted to go over a few preliminary pieces of business. SWAT Talks is a speaker series brought to you by the Swarthmore Alumni Council, of which I'm a member. Tonight's session will be recorded, so you'll be able to find it online at the SWAT Talks page on the Swarthmore College website within two or three weeks. If you're interested in watching previous talks, you can also find those on the SWAT Talks page. For those of you who are new to SWAT Talks, or for our regulars who are just needed a reminder, tonight will go like this. Landry will answer my questions for the first half hour or so, and then he'll spend the second half hour answering any questions you might have. Please ask your questions by using the Q&A feature at the bottom of Zoom. And please be sure to include your name and class year when you do so. I will collect those questions and will pose as many of them as I can to Landry during the Q&A session. So, I'd like to introduce Landry Kosmalski, the Swarthmore Men's Basketball Coach. A lot of surprising things have happened in the world since I graduated from college. There's the iPhone. Pig to human heart transplants. Donald Trump getting elected president. But I have to confess, I think the most surprising development, or at least the most surprisingly positive development, has been Swarthmore becoming a college basketball powerhouse. Last season, Swarthmore went to the final four of the NCAA Division 3 basketball tournament. It was Swarthmore's second Final Four appearance in the last three NCAA tournaments. For the last seven seasons, Swarthmore's been either the champion or the runner up of the Centennial Conference. And it's now pretty routine for Swarthmore to finish each season ranked as one of the country's top ten Division 3 teams. This success is in large part attributable to Landry Kosmalski. Landry grew up in Texas and attended Davidson College in North Carolina, where he played on the basketball team about ten years before Steph Curry played there. After graduating from Davidson in 2000, Landry played professionally in Sweden and France for four years before returning to the US, where he coached high school basketball, and also served as an assistant coach at Davidson. In 2012, Swarthmore hired Landry as its men's basketball coach. Since then, he's been named Centennial Conference Coach of the Year and the Middle Atlantic region Coach of the Year four times. He's been named National Division 3 Coach of the Year twice. Most recently, last season. And, although this was news to him when I told him about it a few weeks ago, he is Swarthmore's all time winningest men's basketball coach. So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce, I'd like to thank Landry Kosmalski for joining us tonight. I thought I'd start tonight's talk by asking you about this year's team. You've played a very tough early season schedule going up against a bunch of top 25 teams, like Washington University, NYU, Hampton Sydney. And you have a seven and three record going into the holiday break. So, how's this season's team looking?

Landry Kosmalski Well, first of all, thanks for having me, Jason, and glad to be here. And, you know, regarding this year's team, we have a group we just really like a lot. I think it is, you know, and we keep telling them, every year, every season, the journey's a little different. This has definitely been a different journey. Just overall, we're fairly young. And when you add in, as you said, the challenging schedule. And you add in teams, you know, chomping at the bit to get even with us for, you know, the last few years of our success, it's been very challenging. Our guys have handled it great. And I do think that the challenging schedule, like we keep talking about, is only gonna help us the rest of the season, and especially as we head into conference play again, after the break.

Jason Zengerle ’96 So, you played division one basketball at Davidson, and then you were an assistant coach there. What made you want to take a job coaching in Division 3, and coaching in Division 3 at Swarthmore?

Landry Kosmalski Well, I think, you know, when I was young and I got into coaching, I was 26 years old. I got into coaching at Davidson first. And I think I, just like everyone, I just wanted to, you know, be an assistant for like ten years or so, and then get a head D1 job. But, as we all know, as you get older, like, you know, your plans change. And, for me, a big part of it was having our first child. I just realized, you know, I don't know if I wanted to be in that rat race any longer. And how many times I may have to move, or what the lifestyle was like. And so, I started thinking of other options. And, about that time, you know, I told people closest to me like, "Hey, I'm thinking about something else." And one of the reasons it was specifically D3 was because I had coached high school, and I didn't think high school was quite the right level for me. And so, you know, I was looking at other options. And, Swarthmore, about that time, the job came open, kind of middle of the season, a different time than most jobs come open. And I just did a little research and just really loved what I found out about the school. And then, ultimately, later that spring, when the process started, the interview process, you know, just got involved, and got up here, and saw it for myself. And it just seemed like a great fit. So, I was really fortunate to get the job.

Jason Zengerle ’96 What did your like D1 colleagues think when you told them you were going to a place like Swarthmore? Like, what did Bob, Bob McKillop was the coach at Davidson at the time. Pretty legendary Division 1 coach. Like did, had he ever heard of Swarthmore? Like, what did he think about you going there?

Landry Kosmalski You know, that's funny, because, when I first told him I was gonna go for the job, he just said, "I don't know if that's a good job." I think he meant like, based on how they had done. Like, you know, it's probably, gonna be really tough to be successful there. And, I said to him, I said, "Coach, you know, there's probably gonna be like eight jobs open this year and there's gonna be like 3000 people going for eight jobs." "Like, you know, beggars can't be choosers, you just gotta figure out if it's a good fit for you, and if there's a chance of success." And so, I did come, again, I came up. Just being on campus was a big thing. Just meeting the people, seeing the campus, it just felt very similar to my experience as a player and coach at Davidson. I mean, there's a lot of similarities. I mean, size of school, the liberal arts. You know, proximity to a bigger city. It just felt like a great fit. And my wife and I were open to a new adventure, because we had a ten month old at the time. And, you know, we were just like, "Where are we gonna go?" "What kind of situation could be good for our family?" Which is now two plus kids, two more kids. So, it's been, it's just been a terrific fit for us.

Jason Zengerle ’96 So, what was your vision for the Swarthmore Basketball Team when you arrived? I mean, I think they were- Well, they were coming off a pretty bad stretch, right? Like, three and 22, I think, the previous season, or something like that?

Landry Kosmalski Yeah.

Jason Zengerle ’96 I mean, what did, what did you think- What did you think you had there? What did you think you could do at a place like Swarthmore?

Landry Kosmalski Well, pretty much what we've done is, you know, was I thought what we could do. And I think, you know, when you're young, when I got the job I was 34, I actually got the job a day after my birthday. And so, I thought, "I'll just go in, and we'll just do it right away." That's what you think when you're young, you know? Like you can just, you're just good enough to just do it. But it turned out, obviously, to be more of a process. Which was a great process, you know, difficult at times, but something I wouldn't have any other way. Just how much we learned through a lot of the, you know, the failures, and struggle, and adversity. So, that was, those first three years were really tough, but, really, that's why we're where we are today.

Jason Zengerle ’96 I mean, was there a moment where you felt like you were turning the corner? Or you felt like you had turned the corner? Or was it sort of more gradual? Or can you point anything in particular where you're like, "Ah," you know, "this is starting to come together?"

Landry Kosmalski Yeah, a couple different experiences. One, in our third year, we were young. We finished 11 and 14. But, like, toward the end of that year we played Johns Hopkins here. They were like 12th in the country. And we were up 18 in the second half, and we lost like in the last 30 seconds. And, you know, at the time it was brutal loss, when you're up that big. But they had juniors and seniors. They ended up going to Sweet 16 that year. They were really good. And we just weren't quite ready, but we were showing signs that, like, we were almost ready. And then, you know, you go into the next year, and we had some good senior leadership. Our Associate Head Coach, Shane Loeffler, was, was a captain of that team as a senior. And we had a really good junior and sophomore class. And we went to the conference finals and lost. And, really, that was the natural progression of things. I mean, it would've been nice to win against FNM that year, but we were not ready. But it gave us, you know, a springboard for what we wanted to do. And, the next year, we went to the NCAA Tournament, and then kind of, you know, it's just been the same since then.

Jason Zengerle ’96 When they hired you, and Swarthmore hired you, what was the vision they sold you on? Or how did they sell you on coming to a place like that? Especially with the sort of lack of basketball success before you?

Landry Kosmalski Well, I'm glad you asked that follow up, 'cause it reminded me of something I wanted to say earlier. One of the things about the vision, I think at Division 1, it's very challenging to be a high academic school and compete with the Blue Bloods and compete with the Power Five. But, at Division 3, it's slightly different, for a variety of reasons. And one of the things that I, you know, our former AD, Adam Hertz, told me about was like, you know, Williams and Amherst, our peers in the liberal arts rankings, you know, they've won national titles in recent history. And, Amherst, I think, a couple. So, you just see, "Hey, it's possible." And that's what we sold to recruits, is this is possible. Williams and Amherst have done it. We're right there with them, there's no reason we can't do it. I mean, we, that was what we were repeated for years, and years, and years. And, you know, again, by like years five, six, seven, that was, we had kind of actualized that vision.

Jason Zengerle ’96 I mean, that, it's funny, 'cause the questions that are piling up right now in the Q&A, and also that a couple people sent me even before this, was about recruiting. And, you know, what are you looking for in the high school players you recruit? And how do you sell them on Swarthmore? And what are the challenges of recruiting at a place like Swarthmore?

Landry Kosmalski It's incredibly challenging. I mean, just to find- Well, I mean, first, we have to find people that are admissible, right? And that's challenging in our sport. I think in some other sports, there's a lot of high academic students. And, basketball, and I'm a former basketball player, I can say this, we're just not one of those sports. So, to just narrow it down and find enough people that are academically inclined and high enough, from admissions standpoint, is a challenge. And then, the extra challenge is, and I know one of your questions you had asked me like, what do we look for like academics or basketball first? And, really, it's kind of both. Because what I- What Coach McKillop taught me at Davidson, which is a great academic school, is if you want to have success in academic school, I think there's temptation as a coach to say, "Hey, you know, they're, they're working so hard in the classroom, we'll take it easy with, when they're with us," even if that's, you know, a little bit subconscious. And he just taught us, he's like, "Look, we gotta find guys who are passionate about both." Because if you're only passionate about one, let's say you're only passionate about basketball, well you're really gonna struggle academically. And when you're struggling academically, you're probably gonna struggle for us. And vice versa. If you just come here and you're, you know, passionate about academics, then you're going to probably be miserable coming to practice every day, and then maybe your academics suffer. So, we wanted people to be just passionate in both areas, because, and that's what we found. And, when they are, they can handle the challenges, which are significant challenges. I mean, Swarthmore, as you know as alum, I mean, just being a student without a sport is challenging enough. And just to add the sport, where you're sacrificing and you're practicing, and you're taking a lot of your time, it just takes a special person to do that at a really high level. So, that makes the recruiting even more challenging. And then, as Shane would tell you if he were here, I'm very particular about which guys I like too. So, there's three of these variables that make our recruiting incredibly time consuming and challenging, but also worth it, because you find the right people, and you have a great time together for four years. And, again, we've been fortunate to have some success along the way.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Yeah, I mean, in Division 1, recruiting is like a whole thing. You know, coaches are on the road all the time. They either love it or hate it, but it's like a full-time job. I mean, at a place like Swarthmore, like how much of your time or your staff's time is spent on recruiting versus actually coaching the current team you have?

Landry Kosmalski It kind of depends on time of the year. I mean, out of season, it's mostly recruiting. In season, sometimes we've already got guys, you know, going early decisions that were done, or they're applying regular decision. So, it's, it tapers off a bit in season, but it is a full-time job. I mean, you want to have the right people and that just takes getting to know them. It takes finding a way to see them in person. So, it is, it is time consuming. We're actually, I think we're really fortunate at our level where we don't have any of the time restrictions that the Division 1, Division 2 have. So we can recruit 365 days a year if we want. So we can kind of do it when we feel it's most beneficial for us, which gives us some good flexibility.

Jason Zengerle ’96 I mean, when I was at Swarthmore, the men's basketball team, a lot of the guys on the team, played another sport. You know, whether it was football, or baseball, or even lacrosse. And, you know, I think most of them probably played on their high school teams, but they did other sports. They probably didn't play AU. The high school teams they played on were not necessarily nationally ranked. You know, when I look at the guys on your team now, I mean, you know, they all played, or most of 'em I think played AU. They played for teams that, you know, had national rankings, and their teammates went to division one schools. It seems like the specialization has become so much more, you know, intense for all sports, but certainly for basketball. I mean, how do you sort of compare like today's Division 3 player to a place like Swarthmore versus the kind of player maybe 20 years ago? And do you think that sort of specialization and intense focus is a good thing or a bad thing?

Landry Kosmalski Yes. So, this has been a trend for, I would say, like the last, you know, maybe ten to 15 years. And I have my own personal thoughts on it. One, I think there's definitely benefit to playing multiple sports growing up. You may find this hard to believe, but sometimes, I've evaluated players long enough that sometimes I see them and I know I can pick what other sport they played just from watching 'em play basketball. Like soccer guys have a certain feel. Football guys have a certain feel. Baseball guys, like you can tell. So, it adds a certain skillset. And, also, I think there's a real injury prevention benefit to playing multiple sports, using different muscles, you know, being on different surfaces. On the flip side, I think it's gotten so competitive that I think there is a certain age, if you do want to play in college, I think there is a benefit to going, "Hey, I'm a sophomore now or a junior in high school, I need to get exposure over the summer or in my off season." "I need to work with a trainer to do like specific lifting to get more explosive," or whatever the case may be. I think there is a benefit to that, because, if someone else is doing it and you're not, the reality is, they're probably gonna get noticed more or chosen over you. So, I really see it both ways. But I would encourage younger athletes to play multiple sports as long as you feel you can. And then, when you can't, when you do specialize, just make sure you're doing it with IQ, not just like- And I say this because this was me as an athlete. I did not train particularly intelligently, which is why I think I have some knee and back problems. And I would just say like getting with an expert and figuring out how you can do it the right way for your body I think could pay major dividends when you're 45 years old for instance.

Jason Zengerle ’96 I mean, does the team now, do you have like strength and conditioning coaches, and things like that? Has that reached the level of Division 3 basketball in a place like Swarthmore?

Landry Kosmalski Yes.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Really, huh.

Landry Kosmalski Yeah, we have two strength and conditioning coaches on staff. Our Head, Chris McPherson's, been here seven, eight years. He's terrific. And, you know, works with all our teams. And, he just, again, I think he's, obviously, being here seven years, and we've had a lot of success, I think it's definitely a huge contributing factor, because it is an important part of our game and all college level athletics.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Did you have that when you got to Swarthmore?

Landry Kosmalski We did.

Jason Zengerle ’96 I mean, how much have you had to sort of bring the administration, and the athletic department, and, you know, faculty and staff along? I mean, I feel like there are definitely Swarthmore alums and they, probably current students, who, you know, are skeptical about the value of college sports. What do you think the benefits are to a school like Swarthmore of having a men's basketball team that's a national championship contender? Like what- If you're facing a skeptical faculty member, or skeptical alum, skeptical administrator, like what do you say to sell them on what you're trying to do and the benefit overall to a place like Swarthmore?

Landry Kosmalski That's a good question. And I, you know, I remember being at Davidson, and there was one professor who, every year, was spouting off that we shouldn't have a basketball team. We just kinda always felt he was in the minority, because, you know, a lot of people loved our team and loved our program. But I just think, I think it's fair for everyone to have their own opinion. I think people who maybe didn't grow up doing it or grow up around it, I can see where maybe they don't understand it, and I think that's fine. I might not understand why they do what they do. I do think, too, the other piece of that I don't really know that it matters that we're a national title contender, in terms of why we should have athletics. I think it's just more about how we're doing it and not really results based. And I say that because, a few years ago, when we, we made our kind of our first NCAA Tournament row, we went to the lead eight in 2018. I just remember getting a lot of emails from fans. And I remember reading 'em to our guys and I said like it wasn't that we were winning, they were all commenting on how much our guys, obviously, cared about each other and how much they supported one another. And I think the thing that if you haven't played a sport or been on a team, I think the hard, the thing that's hard to articulate to those people who haven't done it is we get so much benefit from being a part of this thing that's bigger than our own self. And I think we all want that in life. And so, I think when you can portray that when you're competing, I think it inspires people even if they can't quite tell you why. So, you know, I think at D1, there's the benefit of like, "Oh, Alabama wins a lot of championships, so they're gonna sell a lot of gear, and they're gonna get a lot of money." And, I mean, that may be a slight bump at Swarthmore. Although I do think alums that are proud of their school are probably more likely to give money. But I think the financial piece is very secondary to just people who went here and loved the school. And you get into life, and you're busy, and you kind of forget why you love it. And then you see a team that's, you know, maybe you see 'em streamed, or maybe you go to a game, and they're representing what you love about the school, I think that just kind of brings you back and reconnects you. And so, I think we're just trying to do this in a way that really represents Swarthmore well, in terms of like, these are the kind of people we wanna be, this is how we want to play the right way. And I think people, I think that resonates with people. And so, I think that's the value. And then, the second value, besides what it does for others, is I think, if you do it the right way with your team, be it our team or any team in our department, I think you're just preparing for us, you know, these men, for life. Not just to be participants in life, but to be leaders. And I think we get that feedback from our alums a lot. Just that they just feel like they have a leg up on other people in their fields because of the extra challenges they went to through, or the different mentalities they learned here. And so, we're just teaching to be leaders and difference makers, and I think that is another benefit that is hard to get outside the realm of competitive athletics.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Are there any particular fields, or industries, or jobs that, you know, alums are sort of, you know, crowded towards or directed towards? Or is it pretty diversified among the guys who have played for you?

Landry Kosmalski It's pretty diversified. I would say, in the last five years, we've had a lot of people in the financial realm. I think a lot of people come here, and do econ, and, you know, they either want to get into investment banking, or, you know, private equity, or venture capitalism, whatever. They're just getting into the financial field. And we're very fortunate that we've had some alums that have, that are in that field that will mentor them and help them get connected with people. And they, again, because I think of the challenge of coming here and not only doing the classwork but coming here three hours a day and doing this at a really high level, I think they're ready for some of those challenges. Which, as we all know, when you're 23 years old and you're in investment banking, you're probably working 16, 17 hours a day. And I think you just have to be, have some experience going through some adversity to be ready for that.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Has name, image, likeness come to Swarthmore basketball yet?

Landry Kosmalski No, I think it stayed outta D3 for the most part.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Coronado's isn't paying anyone to-

Landry Kosmalski There's been a few small things. But, I mean, it's not, it's not what we're reading about in the papers at some other places to say the least.

Jason Zengerle ’96 So, Josh Loeffler, who was a Swarthmore grad, who until last year was the head coach at Johns Hopkins, he left Hopkins over the summer to take a D1 assistant coaching job at Cincinnati. I mean, you addressed this a little bit earlier about why you were interested in the Swarthmore to begin with. But, you know, I'd imagine a lot of people in your position would look at these D1 jobs and think that's kind of where you want to go. I mean, what has kept you at Swarthmore and in D3 to this point? Is it your three kids, basically?

Landry Kosmalski Well, really, the easiest answer, Jason, is that I think we all want different things. And, for me, I don't get caught up in, you know, it is just not important to me to make a certain amount of money, or to be on TV, or to be at the highest level. For me, it's like, how can I do something that I love and live a relatively balanced family life? And we've just found a great fit. You know, we just moved this summer, we're like right across the street now. I mean, we're like right over by the rec fields. And our kids are on the rec fields, or on campus, or walk across the street and go to school. I mean, we're kind of living the dream. And, you know, I think it's just, you hear like don't mess with happy. I think sometimes that grass is greener on the other side can be very tempting, but it's really hard to see that when you're so fulfilled in the phase of life that you're in. So, my wife and I are happy, our kids are happy. It's just doesn't really matter that much to us.

Jason Zengerle ’96 We have a lot of questions piling up in the chat. So, let me just go to those and start asking you those. This is from Alan Walsh. He says, "You're recruiting well, but I feel the key to our success is maximizing the players that we're getting." "What is your key to motivating players?" "And how do you get them to work so hard?"

Landry Kosmalski Well, hello, Alan. Alan's been in alumni game. He's been a loyal fan for a while. You know, I think what we talk about every day is just about doing it for each other. I think it's very tempting to say, "Hey, this is a big game coming up." "We're playing so and so." And we just want to do the same thing every day. It's like, "Hey, let's," you know, "let's be excellent." "And let's do it with really good team connection and spirit." "And let's let the results take care of themselves." And you have to talk about it every day, 'cause it's really easy to forget. 'Cause you're hearing other messages from family members, or fans, or classmates, or online. And we just have to just beat each other over the head with the message of like, "We're doing this for the reasons we wanna do it." And we think those reasons are, you know, are the ones that speak most to our human nature. And they're not distractions, like maybe some of the other messaging out there.

Jason Zengerle ’96 I mean, is there on, the kids, or your players, like get influenced by stuff online, actually? I mean, are people, like on social media, saying stuff about them, or the team? Or how prevalent is that?

Landry Kosmalski I don't know, I'm not on social media, so I'm not really sure. I just know that this age I think they have a lot of distractions in their lives. And it's really easy to get caught up in a narrative that's different than the narrative we're talking about when we're together. So, I think all our guys buy into what we're preaching and what our narrative is. But, again, it's very easy to get distracted. So, they believe it, though and now it's kind of ingrained and, but we're gonna continue to talk about it. We're gonna gonna try- Continue to try to live it every day.

Jason Zengerle ’96 This question is from Peter Hansen. He says, "Can you expand on your comment that you were very particular about the players you wanna recruit for Swarthmore?"

Landry Kosmalski Yeah, I knew someone was gonna catch that. It's really hard to describe and articulate. And sometimes that, you know, that's hard with Shane, who's great. Sometimes I just, you know, he'll see a guy once and say, "You need to go see him." And I'll watch, you know, a game, and I just don't like him. And it's kind of hard to put my finger on why. But, the longer you do it, the more it's, you just kind of a feel for it. But, I guess, if I could, let me just break it down into three buckets. I think we try to say like, we want guys who are smart. And that means like, for us, like, you know, good basketball IQ, good feel. We like guys that are tough. And that's guys, you know, that are competitive, mentally tough, can play through mistakes and challenges. Physically tough, stronger. As we learned years ago from team building group we had is that, you know, physical toughness equals mental toughness. And the last thing is just unselfishness. And that's the one I think that's kinda hard to define. Is just watching a guy and how he interacts with his teammates. Sometimes, at a camper, they're just thrown together, which can be a little awkward at that age, but some guys just are leaders. Or they just want to compete and be successful that they just take it all in stride. So, smart, tough, unselfish is really what we're looking for.

Jason Zengerle ’96 I mean, when you're looking at a high school player, I mean, how much do you look at sort of them away from the court? I mean, actually, like when you're at like a game, like are you looking at their demeanor on the bench? Or how they interact with the coach or the players? How much do you have eyes on them? Sort of what they're actually doing on the floor versus, you know, the stuff that's more intangible?

Landry Kosmalski Yeah, that's a good question. And I do think that that is what we do is try to watch that other stuff. So, generally, like, when we go to these events, we're watching a lot of academic kids. And then, you kind of say, oh, you know, after two hours you're like, "These are the three guys we want." And then, we go, I use the term, like put 'em under the microscope. Now I'm gonna go watch every move you make. And, a lot of guys, you know, they don't pan out after that kind of scrutiny, because they will go to the bench and, you know, throw a towel, or hang their head, or treat a teammate disrespectfully, or not listen to the coach. And, I mean, we all have bad days, but generally, you can tell who's maybe a little more self-centered, self-absorbed. And we want guys, again, that unselfishness bucket of recruiting. We want guys who are good teammates. And that's, sadly, that's getting harder and harder to find.

Jason Zengerle ’96 This is a question from Ray Steinmats, class of '74. And it relates a little bit to something we already talked about. But, you know, he mentions, in the '70s and '80s, when a Swarthmore sports team would have some success, there'd be a backlash on campus because of the success. And he was wondering if there's any backlash like that these days at Swarthmore. And do you feel the full support of the administration with the success you've had?

Landry Kosmalski Yeah, thanks for the question, Ray. I have heard those stories, even from some alums. Like the '80s, '90s. It's definitely not like that now in terms of like, you know, the athletes are pariahs. There's not that vibe at all. And, as far as our success, there's been no backlash. It's been the opposite. I mean, it's just, everyone's been very supportive. I mean, even when we weren't great, when I first got here, I mean people were supportive about athletics and our team. And, now that we've had the success we have, people are excited and even more supportive. So, we, fortunately, haven't had any of those issues.

Jason Zengerle ’96 David Tornquist, class of '78, is asking, "How do you fit in and interact with the academic faculty in general?"

Landry Kosmalski That's a good question. You know, I wish there was more interaction. You know, we're kind of physically separated a little bit. And then, in our season we're just so down in a dark hole, like preparing for things, that it's not quite as much as I would hope. But, I would say, in the off season, like, we try to make an effort to get up the hill, and get to events. And I think, I mean, there's, we have, I have good friends on the faculty. It's just, I wouldn't say it's as many as I would like. You know, I have a few really, really good friends. And then, there's, you know, others out there that I know and I wish I knew more. But the faculty here is great. I mean, they've been great for our players. And we've never had any like, you know, issues or conflicts. So, that is one of the things I think I could do better, is, you know, being a little bit more connected with this great faculty we have. It's just kind of been a little restricted.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Daniel Werther asks, "Do you play in a regular pickup game now?" Which, maybe, relates to some of the knee and back problems you mentioned.

Landry Kosmalski Yeah, you know, I actually, so playing overseas, you mentioned Sweden and France. My last year was in France. And my last game ever was on my 26th birthday. And I just, I was like, "I'm done," because I had so many knee things that I was just like- And then, I did try to play a couple years later when I was coaching high school and I, you know, I ended up on the floor with a spasm for like two weeks. I was like, "You know, it's not worth it." "I'll just, you know, do the elliptical and lift weights." I just don't have the, too much wear and tear to go and do this. And I'm very envious of people my age. My dad's friend, 71 years old, still playing in pickup games at the university he works at as a professor. And it's like, that's just, that wasn't my path, unfortunately.

Jason Zengerle ’96 So, at practices, you don't get out there and try to demonstrate?

Landry Kosmalski Well, the guys will tell you that sometimes I just can't help myself and I do. But, I mean it's for like five seconds. But I do take a lot of pride in trying to put some, you know, put a shot in their eye. Doesn't really go my way a lot, 'cause I can't move, but I can't help it sometimes.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Daniel Glesner asks, "Please describe your coaching philosophy." "Who have been your biggest influences on your philosophy and why?" "And has your coaching philosophy changed at all over the years?"

Landry Kosmalski That's a good question. You know, as far as influences, I mean, my parents influenced me the most. Just like who I am. I realize now more and more I'm making so many decisions about how I lead just based on what they taught me. And Coach McKillep, obviously, mentioned earlier, I mean he's a master at this craft. And so many things that are, so hard to describe the things he taught that I think we do that a lot of people don't. So, he is a huge influence. But, as far as coaching philosophy, you know, my philosophy is like that, I said it earlier, like, I think success is a byproduct of getting the right people and getting them together, working really unselfishly toward the same goal. If I had to put it, you know, I guess in 20 words that would be it. But, again, that's, that's 20 words makes it sound simple, but it's much more complicated than that when you get down to it.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Steve Heiser, from the class of '72, asks, "What are your practices like and what kind of culture are you trying to create?"

Landry Kosmalski Practices first, I mean, practices are pretty regimented. I mean, we generally have, you know, like 20 to 25 segments of practice where we're doing just, you know, we're really big on fundamentals. So, we do a lot of little breakdown drills. Get movements down. I tell people, jokingly, it's kind of like the Karate Kid method. You know, if you watch the movie, it was like, you know, wax the car, paint the fence. It was like, do these movements, and then you get in the game and, suddenly, you're a black belt, you know? And that's kind of what we're trying to do, is teach our guys the small, you know, all the fundamentals and put 'em all together for the greater whole. As far as culture, it really is just like our guys really sacrifice for one another. They really- I said this earlier. It's getting harder and harder to find people who aren't self-centered. And, what I mean is, I think we live in a society where, you know, putting something about yourself and self-promotion on social media. Or making yourself the center of attention is very much incentivized. And we get 'em here and we're like, "Hey, it's not about you at all, it's just about us." And so, you gotta give up all your own personal goals and desires for the good of the team. And it might be this role where you're gonna be this guy in practice that helps a ton. It might be this role where you're gonna play 35 minutes a game, but all those roles, while different, your status is still the same. You know, we're all equal. And we make sure everyone feels that way. And then, we all go out and try to embrace and execute our roles, coaches included.

Jason Zengerle ’96 I mean, I know at the Division 1 level with the transfer rules being changed, it seems like there's a ton of turnover on the teams each year. And you almost have to like re-recruit the players that you already have on your team. Is that, does that happen at a place like Swarthmore yet? Or are you, once you have guys, like are you pretty confident they're gonna stick around?

Landry Kosmalski Yeah, thankfully, that has not happened. I mean, I think- I mean, again, you're an alum. People don't wanna leave Swarthmore. When you're here, I mean, you're setting yourself up for life. And, you know, again, it may come up that you're, you don't like your playing time, or maybe you think, socially, it would be more exciting somewhere else. I mean, I think all guys have those things, and they can choose to go somewhere else, or they can choose to stay and embrace it. But, yeah, we don't have to re-recruit guys every year. Thankfully. That would be, I don't know if I could do it if we had to do that, that would be pretty tough.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Jim Becker, the class of '74, asks how your recruiting has changed from when you first started developing a program to recent years when you built one of the best programs in division three. And he also wonders how many of your players could play for, or at least make a Division 1 team?

Landry Kosmalski You know, the recruiting, as far as changing, I got some really good advice from our men's soccer coach, Eric Wagner. You know, I guess throughout my third or fourth year, as we were getting better, he said, you know, he said, "We did this and you might wanna be careful about like, when you get good, you sometimes you try to go out and get like what we would call the ones." Like the, you know, guys who could maybe like the borderline or possibly Ivy League players, like division one players. And it is tempting 'cause you go, "Hey, to sustain this, we gotta get really good players." But, a lot of times at our place, the best players are what I, we would call like the threes who are just really good fits and they come in and work and they become ones. And so, I think, you know, finding the right fit is the key. But, again, when, as good as we've gotten the last five or six years, you still need to balance that with getting the right amount of talent. So, it is a tricky balance. And we've just been fortunate to get guys that, you know, have fit the bill. As far as guys on our team that could play, it's different every year. I mean, we've definitely had guys who could have played D1. I think, you know, with the COVID year, you know, our two seniors might try to go do that next year if there's an opportunity. You know, I'll give you an example. Vinny DeAngelo, you know, our senior. He's an All American as a junior last year. And last two summers he's played at Penn with their guys playing pickup. And Penn's head coach, Steve Donny, has told me multiple times, he's like, "Vinny would be all conference in the Ivy League." "Like, no question." Like, he's really, really good. And so, I think we've had a lot of guys like that. You know, Zach Odell was a two-time All-American. And, you know, probably could've gotten a D2 scholarship. But, when he got here and developed, I mean, he could've played very high level. I mean, he was a really good athlete, really versatile player. And, again, we've had several guys like that in the last five to six years. So, it's just for whatever reason, when they're 17 years old, no one saw that, you know?

Jason Zengerle ’96 Yeah. Jim Wilson, the class of '74, says he watched the NYU game and he saw their multiple graduate students, how can they play D3 basketball?

Landry Kosmalski Because NYU has grad school. And a lot of it has to do with COVID too. I mean, guys played four years somewhere, and they get this extra year so they go get, you know, an academic benefit going to a good school, get in a program that's a year, and they get to play an extra year of basketball. So, I think it's definitely advantageous for, you know, the schools that have grad school. But we don't begrudge them that. I mean, it's, again, it's an opportunity for those players to get, you know, an academic experience. And something that's gonna help 'em the rest of their lives. And we'll just have to figure out the basketball part on our end.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Charles Horton, from the class of '96, my class. He's a football and the lacrosse player. He says he has a junior in high school who's looking to be recruited, and has interest in D2 and D3 schools. How much does reaching out to a school, especially if they're not in the same part of the country as the school they're interested in matter. Or do AU teams and camps represent the primary recruiting method for D3?

Landry Kosmalski I think it's both. I mean, reaching out always helps. We go to those camps, usually like June, July, August, and we have a list of people that have written us. Now, the email itself isn't enough, because a lot of people write us. And, you know, we can't go around and watch everyone. So, it has to be more like, we need the academic information. And, ideally, some film that shows like, we can watch and go, "Hey, they're," you know, "this is something we need to see in person or not." So, I think, but reaching out definitely is worthwhile. Writing the program and just telling a little about yourself and providing academic info and film is, would be very beneficial.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Mark Haley asks, "What type of offense/defense do you teach?"

Landry Kosmalski Offensively, we play pretty fast. And we like to push it on makes and misses. And just try to keep the pressure on the D. And then, defensively, we're just, we found what works for us is just kind of, what we call scouting report Ds. You know, using the IQ of our players to, you know, take advantages of the weaknesses of the opponents. And that's a little bit of a fine line of like giving 'em information that can be beneficial while giving them too much information and they freeze. So, we've tried to find this middle ground of like, "Hey, you know, let's give you a little information on this guy, and then just go play." So that's, I guess, in a nutshell, that's a little bit about our system.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Melissa Grigsby, who's a Women's Basketball alum from the class of '09, wonders how you're integrating and leaning on your alumni to create a network for your players in their present and future endeavors.

Landry Kosmalski Yeah, and we, and that's something we've really pushed the last three to four years. I mean, it takes a while, you know, when you're new to get to know people you didn't coach that you know are your age or older. And we've just been, again, really fortunate to have some great support, and some really loyal alums who have stayed in contact, and who come to games, who write emails, or who offer their services, you know, to be mentors. Or help our guys in certain fields. So, as I've gotten to know more and more of those, what we've done is just created like a, we've got a big spreadsheet of all the alums and which fields they're in. And just, you know, when people are getting ready for those internships and jobs, they, you know, access that spreadsheet and they can start reaching out to certain alums for either, you know, connections or just advice. And we've found that to be very beneficial. And I think, because a lot of our guys have had that help, I know they're gonna pay it forward and do the same. You know? In fact, I'm definitely gonna be calling some of these younger guys in five to ten years and turn the screws on 'em to help some of our players.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Have any of your alums gone overseas to play?

Landry Kosmalski Yes. We've had three guys in the last five years go over and play in Ireland. Ireland has a program where you can do, get your Master's in one year and play like the second division. And so, we've had Zach Yonda, Nate Schafer, and Connor Harkins have all participated in that program.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Curtis Trimble, also class of '96, asks, "If Swarthmore still had a football team, would you envision encountering any recruiting or retention advantages or disadvantages?"

Landry Kosmalski Are you selecting all the '96 people 'cause you're-

Jason Zengerle ’96 These are people just popping up.

Landry Kosmalski You know, that's hard to say. I wasn't here. Obviously, football was gone before I got here, so I don't really know how it would've worked with admissions or retention. I do think there was some crossover with football and basketball. And I know that, you know, sometimes those football guys, being athletes and strong, can help our sport. So, I'm guessing there would've been, you know, one or two guys a year that could've played. But, as far as the admissions piece of retention, I can't really speak to it, 'cause I don't know how it would've worked.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Steve Cardman, from the class of '82, asks, "What have you found is the most effective way to motivate and inspire members of the team?" "And how have the players been able to perform so well academically while spending so much time practicing and playing against other teams?"

Landry Kosmalski Well, we are reminding them constantly that, you know, they're, they're doing something very challenging. I mean, which, again, as alums, you all know. And to just do the academic coursework here requires so much energy and so much discipline. And then, to do what they're doing for us, you know, we just tell 'em like, this is, you're special, you know? I mean this is not, most people can't do this. You're doing it. You're doing it really high level. And what they see over time is like, once you get used to it, once you embrace it, like it feels great. I mean, it's really fulfilling. You also feel yourself getting stronger because of the adversity. We recognize, and I've, you know, over the years I've been here, there are certain times of year that we have to really watch them, you know, in midterms or finals. Like, we're aware of the pinch points and we typically will cut a day of practice around that time. You know, maybe one day less a week, or something, because we talk about it all the time. We just want our guys, we want their emotional reserve to be high. We feel, if the reserve is high, that they're gonna be better when they're with us. And when they're, you know, a little burnt out, or overly tired, or mentally exhausted, that doesn't help anyone. So, trying to find that balance while maintaining the, you know, high level accountability is tricky. But I think we've got a good balance going now.

Jason Zengerle ’96 How much do you talk to your players about things that aren't basketball related? Like, I know some coaches, you know, even at the Division 1 level have like a rule where the player has to visit their office at least once a week and they have to talk about, you know, current events or something. Academic or non-basketball. I mean, do you have anything like that? And if, even if you don't, like how involved are you in their kind of lives outside of what goes on on the court?

Landry Kosmalski You know, in the off-season, in the fall and spring, I get with every guy for breakfast or lunch, and we, it's just totally non basketball. So, you know, a lot of times, in the fall, that's just checking in about their summer with their family, or the internship they had, or next steps with jobs, or their class schedule, their roommates. Like, we just talk about that stuff. Because it is harder when you're in season and we are so busy. And, I mean, like, us as coaches and them as players where we do just come together for like two and a half hours and we don't want to keep 'em too long. Like we don't want to give a 20 minute speech about life, because they're like, "We just want to get in here and we're willing to do this." "We need to get the hell out and we need to go study." So, there's a balance there. I will say, it is good in season, obviously, to have a perspective check and be like, "This isn't all about basketball." "We're all having fun moving toward this goal together." "But let's remember," you know? We had a quote of the day today in practice that was just like, you know, I don't, I haven't used it before, but it was like, "Don't hurry, don't worry, life is short, so don't forget to stop and smell the flowers." Basically, it's like, I said, "You guys are in finals, we get it." "It's tough, but just know, like, I did it." "You know, some of your coaches here who are alums did it." "Seniors done it." Like, "Do your job, or do your studying, get it done, it's gonna be fine." "Make sure you're enjoying it while you do it." So, just like little perspective checks like that is, I think, very important, obviously, 'cause it's not, basketball's not the most important thing in any of our lives.

Jason Zengerle ’96 How many of the coaches, the assistant coaches are alums? And there's like a Swarthmore coaching community, right? Like, isn't the Hawaii coach a Swarthmore alum?

Landry Kosmalski Yeah.

Jason Zengerle ’96 And then, how many are on your staff who are Swarthmore alums?

Landry Kosmalski Two now. So, Shane, our Associate Head Coach, Shane, is, I mean, he's been with me 11 of 12 years. Four as a player, now seven as, you know, Assistant and Associate Head Coach. But the one that joined us this year is Connor Harkin. So, I mentioned earlier, you know, he played in Ireland last year. This year, he's back working a job remotely and lived in the area. And his girlfriend teaches in the area. So, he's here and he loves the program. And he, competitive guy. And so, now, he's on staff really doing a great job.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Jeffrey Greeson, class of '97, asks, speaking of the Karate Kid, he asks about mental training and how that can be a competitive advantage in addition to physical training. And does your team do anything specific in terms of mental training?

Landry Kosmalski Thanks for the question, Jeff. Good to hear from you. In terms of like working with a sports psychologist, no. Although, we have one in the department now. And I know some of our guys have utilized her in the past and she's great. You know, the mental training for us is, like, we're gonna go practice really hard, and we're gonna make a lot of mistakes, and we're just gonna keep going, and we're gonna keep our heads up. And you just do this every day where it's a little bit, you know, cultish, is like just move on to the next thing and live in the present. And so, that's, you know, the challenging practice environment every day is our mental training.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Sarah Wolfholds, from the class '09, asks if you have a team faculty liaison. And, either way, what would be helpful for a faculty member to do in such a role? She's in this role at her current institution, and she's hoping to be more hope helpful to the team.

Landry Kosmalski Yes, I know Sarah well. Hello, Sarah. Yes. I think, that's a good question. We do have a faculty liaison. Jed Siev, he is a Professor of Psychology. Good friend of mine also. We're the same age. He went to Europe with us this year, he was great. That is a good question, because he sometimes laments the fact that we don't use him enough. Generally, I think it's when just like clearing up maybe communication issues. Like, sometimes, stuff comes up where we hear like, oh this lab tomorrow is gonna be four hours, and it's supposed to be three. And, you know, like, that would really, that would really hurt, 'cause we have a game the next day, and, you know, our senior captain needs to be here. And so, just kind of clearing up maybe miscommunications, which our faculty has always been amazing with. I mean, we've never had any like permanent conflicts. It's usually a miscommunication that we just have to get ironed out. But that is, Sarah, I actually, that's a tough question to answer, because we don't utilize Jed as much as he would like. And he's terrific. He wants to do everything. But I need to think about different ways he can, he can help in his role. And I'll get back to you when I do.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Ann Sykes Brown, the class of '82, asks, "What's the relationship like between the men's and women's basketball teams?" "Are you able to support each other?"

Landry Kosmalski Yeah, we are. And, you know, they, we have a lot of double headers, especially this year. Kinda all our games line up. So, generally, our guys are getting there early watching them and they're, they've always been really great about staying around and watching us. And I don't know what they're doing in the dining center, like in terms of eating together. I don't really know that. But, you know, Coach Dawn Grant, she's terrific, and I think we work really well together. And I think the relationship is, is a very positive one.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Mark Howley asks, "When things are going bad, do you criticize your players like D1 coaches, or do you try and pump 'em up?"

Landry Kosmalski Well, I don't know if all D1 coaches do that, although maybe they do. I think, what we try to do is just, what I know from my time in coaching is I know when a guy has more to give. And, sometimes, you don't, in that competitive situation, be it practice, when it's moving faster, a game, you don't have time to have that kind of conversation. Like, philosophically, like, "I know you're better than this." It's typically like what we call battlefield communication, which is like, "Don't do that, do this." And we can talk about it later. But, right now, you just need to do this better. And I think, I mean most guys handle that well. I mean, again, if you go back to what you asked earlier is, you know, how well do we know each other? Well, if I were only here as a coach telling 'em what to do, maybe they don't listen as much. Maybe the trust level's not as high. But I think they know and I know about them, like we trust each other. And so, in those moments, they can say things to me or I can say it to them or other coaches can say to them, and we're just gonna do it, 'cause we're looking out for our best interests. So, I don't know if it's criticizing as much. I can tell you what we'll never do, is after a game, it would never be like, "Well the players were terrible and that's why we lost." Like, I don't think that's good leadership. You know, you win together, you lose together, and there's no finger pointing, for sure.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Tom Lee, who's William's College class of 1973, asks, "What are the other teams to watch for in the Centennial Conference this year?"

Landry Kosmalski Well, I mean, just, it's hard to say. I mean, the conference is good top to bottom. I would say early on, you know, Franklin Marshall's been playing really well. They've got an experienced group. You know, a lot of guys that have played, you know, since they were freshmen, and now they're junior, seniors. So, they're, obviously, very good team. Johns Hopkins is good again, as they usually are. Gettysburg has done a really good job. They have some really good players now. The coach is doing a terrific job. So, I think there's, those are the three I've noticed so far. But we haven't played everyone yet. We've only played four conference games, and I'm just looking by scores. So, it's kinda hard to say.

Jason Zengerle ’96 You said earlier that, you know, now that you've achieved what you've achieved, like teams get up for you. It's almost like you have a target on your back. I mean, is that, I mean do you feel now that like when you go into other gyms, like Swarthmore's a big game for them?

Landry Kosmalski Oh, absolutely. I mean, we felt that for five years. I mean, after we went to the tournament the first year, in 2017, we noticed it the next year. And we tell our team all the time, we tell 'em that story all the time, because I remember about eight games in, I came to my office and put my head on the desk and we had won that game. But it felt like everything was like so hard, because everyone was playing just above their normal level. It was different than what you saw on film when you scouted them. Or they put in a different game plan. It was just the motivation to beat the team that had done really well the year before was just so high. And I was complaining about it. And I went to our team and I said, "You know what?" "We just have to like embrace this." "This is only gonna make us better, but we have the right, have to have the right mentality." And, you know, me having the pity party in my office after the game is not the right mentality. So, the right mentality is like, "Hey, we're lucky to get everyone's A-plus game, 'cause a lot of times they're getting each other's C-plus or B-minus game." So, A-plus games every night, it's only gonna make us better. And that has proven true over the last five years. It's just made us stronger, all the adversity.

Jason Zengerle ’96 We're pretty much out of time. There were a lot of comments that weren't even questions. Just people talking about how happy they are that Swarthmore is good at basketball. And how grateful they are that you have, you know, helped 'em achieve that level. I thought I'd just end with one comment. It's from Michael Jones, who's the parent of a Swarti. He says, "My son was a member of the COVID year recruiting class." "He's no longer with the team, but I wanted to thank Landry for recruiting my son to Swarthmore." "He'll be graduating with a double major in applied math and physics this may." "Even though he never got to play for you, we never regretted the decision to come to Swarthmore." So, I thought that would be a nice way to end it. It didn't even have anything to do with basketball. But, yeah, lots of comments just expressing their excitement and gratitude for having a team like this to root for. Thank you so much for doing this tonight. This was really fun, and I'm really glad we got to have you on for this. We really appreciate it. I hope you have a good holiday, and I hope the rest of the season goes really well. It'll be fun to watch the games on streaming, and all of that.

Landry Kosmalski Well, thanks for having me. And I appreciate all the questions, and just everyone tuning in. I really didn't think anyone would want to hear anything I had to say, so I was pretty surprised by the alums, especially from the seventies, having a lot to ask. I appreciate it. And just happy holidays to everyone. And, again, thank you for attending tonight.

Jason Zengerle ’96 Thank you everyone for watching. We will see you next year. Thanks a lot. Good night.