In the Locker Room: Isaiah Cavaco
Matt Kaplan sits down with men’s basketball head coach Isaiah Cavaco, who was officially appointed after standing in the past basketball season as the interim coach.
Matt Kaplan: What made you decide to apply to become the men’s basketball head coach at Oberlin College?
Isaiah Cavaco: I feel like I am a good fit for Oberlin College. I have played and worked at the highest non-scholarship level and appreciate what student-athletes do in an academics-first environment. Plus, I really like working with quality people from all walks of life. It makes every day a new experience.
MK: What were your first thoughts when you were named head coach?
IC: I felt an immediate sense of excitement and urgency all at once. It’s a tremendous opportunity for me and I want to make sure I do everything I can to make this experience the best it can be for our players. I am also very happy that I can work hard at this and not worry about it coming to an abrupt end.
MK: What are your goals for the program?
IC: I want our team to be known throughout the conference as the team that plays the hardest and is the most mentally tough. As for tangible goals, I want us to make the conference tournament next year and continue to improve our records from year to year.
MK: This past season was great for the Yeomen. More conference wins, an inspired attitude and a solid incoming recruiting class. How do you plan to build the program?
IC: Our guys did such a great job through the coaching change of adapting to a new style and I know that with our younger players getting so much experience, we will continue to improve. They played hard and began to trust each other as the year progressed. As for recruiting, we are really trying to get quality players that will truly appreciate all that Oberlin has to offer.
MK: What do you enjoy most about being a college coach? What is something the public does not know about the life of a college coach?
IC: I enjoy the fact that no two days are the same. You have highs and lows during the season, but just as many in the off-season. Also, I sometimes spend a good two hours exercising during the day, which is a nice break from sitting at a desk. However, I can also be up until 1 a.m. making recruiting calls to the west coast.
MK: The North Coast Athletic Conference is considered by many as the toughest in the country. How do you plan to compete against the Woosters and Wittenbergs of the world?
IC: I try not to focus on the competition as much as on what we do. When we play with confidence and stay consistent with what it is we are trying to do, we feel like we can compete with anyone in the league. We’ve shown stretches against some of the better teams; now it’s just a matter of feeling like we belong in those games.
MK: Do you think it is fair that you have to recruit student-athletes against the other conference schools who have lower admission standards and higher acceptance rates?
IC: We are such a different school academically and socially than a lot of our conference that it really doesn’t do much good “competing” against them. Some might see it as a disadvantage, but we try to tell people that you can get more out of coming to Oberlin than anywhere else in our conference. That appeal gets us as many interested student-athletes as we lose to the higher standards. Every school has pros and cons in athletics, and I like ours.
MK: Are you at an inherent disadvantage? Would Oberlin be better suited to compete against places like Amherst and Williams in the New England Small College Athletic Conference or the University Athletic Association against places like University of Chicago or Emory?
IC: We might be at a slight disadvantage, but right now, the NESCAC is also one of the best conferences in the country. If we were in that conference, we wouldn’t get the distinction of being the best academically. Where we are now, we can be something that is unique and special. We’re going through some growing pains in our program, but I see this ultimately being one of the reasons we have the potential to be good in the NCAC.
MK: The athletics department continues to push for a “vision for excellence.” What is the “vision for excellence?”
IC: To me, the vision is to be able to excel in all areas of your life, and participating in athletics teaches a lot of lessons. It also reveals a lot about your own character. I envision an environment where people take pride in what they do and do it to the best of their capabilities.
MK: Does this vision include helping to assuage the fears or misconceptions people have about having athletics at a small elite private college like Oberlin?
IC: I hope so. Being a good student as well as being committed and dedicated to athletics takes a lot. I would like to think that a student-athlete is appreciated for what he/she does as much as someone that excels in music, theater, dance or any other individual passion. I don’t think we are there yet, but hopefully that image is coming.
MK: What value does athletics bring to Oberlin College?
IC: Classrooms are controlled settings, so learning and testing is pretty easy. It’s much harder to be somewhere on a daily basis, dealing with other personalities in high-pressure environments. There are emotional highs and lows and you can reach your best moments and your worst moments on the same day. In athletics, you learn life skills from how to deal with adversity and how to contribute to something bigger than the individual.
MK: How long before the Yeomen can get into the tournament and hang a banner in Philips?
IC: Wow, pressure’s on! The competitor in me says within the next year or two, but the realist in me knows that there’s a lot that goes into it. All we can do is focus on getting better every single day, and if we do that we’ll be in a position every year to contend. You need to catch some breaks here and there, and when you get that chance, you need to be ready to capitalize. Our players and players-to-be are working hard, so when that opportunity arises, I’m sure we’ll be ready.