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Q&A: ISU’s Ryan Pedon on Redbird hoops history, transfers, NIL and more

Ryan Pedon speaking at news conference
Emily Bollinger
Ryan Pedon

Lots of Redbird basketball fans will be watching closely as new men's coach Ryan Pedon takes over the program next season.

One fan in particular who has Pedon's attention is Doug Collins. The ISU legend recently met with Pedon and the team to share his thoughts on how to get the Redbirds back to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference. In this WGLT Sound Ideas interview, Pedon said he and his team took Collins' message to heart.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

Pedon: I think it was so beneficial for our players to not only meet him, but to hear his message, hear his story, his journey. And for them to hear his level of pride that he has in this program and why he wants so bad for us to return to glory. And, you know, I think it was really beneficial for our players, especially those that you know, hadn't known a whole lot about him before meeting him. He's a guy that is widely respected and has some unbelievable experiences and unbelievable story. So, for me to be a fly on the wall and listen to a lot of his stories over that weekend was tremendous. And I took a lot from it.

WGLT: Do you have specific takeaways from your visit with him as you prepare for this new role as head coach?
Pedon: He gave some advice to me and in terms of how we build and ... what we're doing and staying true to the process and coaching with my heart. He was a guy that put everything into what he believed in and he fought for it. You can tell that's in his personality. I like to think that I'll have some of those passionate qualities that he exuded as a coach, and he's going to be a real resource for me. I would be foolish to not call upon him. As we build this program, and throughout the year.

What do you want the identity of Redbird basketball to be?

Pedon: I want us to be the standard of excellence here, not only on our campus and in our community, but in (the) Missouri Valley Conference. I want to build a program here that is built for sustained excellence and compete for championships on a yearly basis. I think we have all of the infrastructure to do that in time.

Ryan Pedon
Eric Stock
Ryan Pedon

There's certainly things that we've got to improve and areas that we've got to address. But I think there's a lot of power in this community because we have the people in the passion in the fans that want to support us at the highest level, and that are passionate about Redbird basketball. So, I'm really excited for a lot of reasons. In terms of identity, I want us to be tough, I want us to be competitive and I want us to really inspire people with our effort, and in the way that we play in such a selfless manner.

I imagine some Redbird fans have brought up 1998 to you, the 25-year anniversary of the last Redbird men’s basketball team to make it to the NCAA tournament. Your two predecessors came very close several times, but didn't quite get there. For some fans, I suspect it's likely that any coach will be defined by whether they end that drought. So how do you approach that?

Pedon: First thing I would say is I have a great deal of respect for both of those guys, Dan Muller and Tim Jankovich. I admire those guys a lot for not only what they built, but also for the type of gentleman that they are and the way that they carry themselves professionally. I hope to do the same here.

You know, 1998, I don't want to wear our team out with it. But I also don't want to turn a blind eye to it either. They're well aware of it every time they enter our locker room. I want that to serve as motivation for our team and, and we hope to turn the corner there and be a team that gets to the NCAA tournament and not just gets there but advances in the NCAA tournament and having that opportunity on a yearly basis.

Lots of Redbird fans and Missouri Valley Conference fans seem to feel the league and mid-majors in general don't get the respect they deserve and makes it nearly impossible to get an at-large bid of the tournament. As someone who's coming from a Power 5 school in Ohio State to the Missouri Valley, what are your thoughts on that?

Pedon: It's an interesting time for college basketball, and college athletics. In general, there's been so much change here in the last 24 months, and there's an argument that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poor. I understand that. I think in my role, I've got to be able to navigate that and adjust to it.

As we build our program, understanding that with the new transfer rules that are in place, there's going to be a lot more movement and fluidity to everyone's roster. I'm still a believer that if you have the right group of guys in your locker room that are willing to fight for the name on the front of their jersey, that I think you can move mountains. I think you can do anything that you set out to do.

How does the transfer portal impact a relationship between a coach and a player knowing that your typical student-athlete is going to transfer maybe two or three times before they leave school?

Pedon: Yeah, I think it's a multi-faceted answer. The types of players that we're going to try to attract and will want to attract ... that value relationships and value authenticity, and value the characteristics and the traits and the values that we share as a coaching staff and as a program.

I think there's only so much that we can control in this era. And I've always said this, I want to be at a place where I can coach to my convictions, and I'll never fall prey to this transfer, epidemic and change my values or my convictions. I am going to be true to who I am, our staff is going to be true to who we are as a program. And we're going to control what we can control.

We're going to have deep-rooted relationships with our players we're going to create in time a student-athlete experience that's second to none. I think when Redbird nation in our campus and our community come together, I think that guys in our locker room will see something that they never would have imagined when they came here for the first time.

Another major development in college sports is name, image and likeness (NIL). Within the last year, student-athletes now can make money off of their name, image or likeness. What are your thoughts on that overall, and how well positioned do you feel Illinois State and other mid-major schools are to capitalize on this, and not have it be a detriment going up against schools in bigger markets?

Pedon: I think the size of your market can dictate a lot of times, not in all cases, but in a lot of cases can dictate the magnitude that you might be able to influence with through the NIL era. For us here at Illinois State, I think we've got to be able to embrace it. It's new for everyone. We have a wonderful community and prideful people that care a lot. I think that we have to use that to our advantage that starts with relationships. Certainly, if people are wanting to invest in to our student-athletes through their financial means or through their business or businesses, I think there has to be some reciprocal value there for them.

Maddox Pedon watching news conference
Emily Bollinger
Maddox Pedon, 10, watches as his father Ryan Pedon is introduced as Illinois State men's basketball coach during a March 7 news conference at Redbird Arena.

I'd be remiss if I did not ask about the new star of Redbird basketball, Maddox Peden, your 10-year-old son who has become a social media sensation. He has his own podcast I understand now. Is he the next Pedon coach in waiting? What does his future entail?

Pedon: Yeah, either the next coach in waiting or the next Bob Costas. We're still trying to figure that out. He's leaned into this at a high level. I credit our sports information director Bill Salyer. He saw this vision with Maddox and Maddox of course loves it. As a father, I'm proud of him for a lot of reasons, but I have been impressed with how he's handled himself. I haven't coached him, to be honest, on any of it. I sort of laid back and let him do his thing. If I see something that I think needs a little bit of fatherly advice, I'll step in, but I haven't had to.

He'll be our next interview request probably.

Pedon: Well, you may have to block off a couple of hours for that. He's a talker.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.