We’re talking the Rio Olympics with Kevin Barnett, part of the indoor volleyball broadcasting duo from NBC. He sees a huge number of volleyball matches each year, broadcasting international competition as well as collegiate matches, and has a great eye for the technical aspects of the game. He was a member of the USA Men’s team in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, so he has a unique perspective on what the competitors are going through, and the rigors of the tournament.
We get into Kevin’s background as an athlete, and what led him into broadcasting. We also talk the competition field in both the women’s and men’s matchups; who has a shot at a medal, who doesn’t, and specifically, what each USA team needs to do to win. Enjoy the show!
Chris: You’re listening to the volleyball life podcast with Gold Medal Squared and I’m Chris McGown and thanks for joining us. Today we have on the program Kevin Barnett, and Kevin is part of the broadcast team with NBC. He is down in Rio covering the Olympic Games down there. He’ll be doing as I think he mentions 39 matches in two weeks here as he gets going with Paul Sunderland and he is his broadcast partner. He is doing the women’s side of the game, the men’s side of the game, they are covering the US along with some other matches as well but it’s a great conversation. We talked to Kevin about his start in the sport and coming up, he was a member of the national team in 2000 and 2004. They went to those Olympic Games. He got kind of a different start in broadcasting and now he is a staple. If US is playing volleyball and you are watching it on TV, chances are really good that Kevin’s part of the broadcast team.
So he’s got some great insights about the various opponents, about our respective men’s and women’s programs. He watches a ton of volleyball and knows a lot, gets to see a lot and should be great to listen to as you watch volleyball during this Olympics. Thanks for joining us and I hope you enjoy this show.
Hi, welcome to the volleyball life podcast. We are back with Kevin Barnett, and Kevin it’s great to have you on.
Kevin: Thanks, thanks for having me. I always appreciate going on another volleyball podcast.
Chris: Yeah, so tell us a little bit about yours. I’ve been on a couple of times and you guys have been doing this for a while now.
Kevin: Yeah it’s called The NET LIVE. We’ve been on since 2009. We started in January of ’09 myself and Reid Priddy. We’ve had a rotating cast of characters, most of which has not included Reid Priddy since back at that time. He discovered that having an opinion and being a player was kind of a dicy situation, so he took a step back and maybe we’ll get him back at some point, but we’ve had a whole bunch of different voices on the show, mine has been consistent throughout. But it’s just been fun to talk to and expose some of the great people and athletes and coaches, promoters, anyone associated with the sport. Folks that do apparel, it’s been a blast and something that I think the sport really needed and I’m excited and always happy to hear about other podcasts popping up in the volley universe.
Chris: Yeah, and so we’ll hit you again at the end but just so people can kind of jot it down, and if they don’t, if they’ve been under a rock somewhere or don’t know about this, where’s the best place to access the NET LIVE?
Kevin: We are on iTunes for free. There’s over 300 episodes available. We have not only the regular podcasts which occur Monday at 10:00 a.m. which is streamed live via a service called Blog talk Radio. We have that and it’s hosted on Volleyball magazines website so you can listen live there, or on demand you can click on the player if you want, or on iTunes available for download for free. There’s a variety of different ways you can do it. You can interact with us via email, firstname.lastname@example.org, give the shows a listen. We have not only the regular episodes but we also have T&L People powered by the AVCA who’s been a long time sponsor of our program that we clip off interviews and we’ve had special shows from the Final Four for Women for the last five years. We did one from the national team practice back in Dallas just a few weeks ago before the Olympic Games. We did some kind of fun events. We do a holiday show where there may or may not be some influence from some substances, so it’s kind of fun.
Chris: All right, yeah. Those will get the conversation going for sure.
Kevin: Yeah sometimes the show deteriorates late and that show actually happened by accident one year and then happened on purpose this year with catering and everything so it was kind of fun.
Chris: Cool. Well, a little bit of background, you are from a long line of phenomenal volleyball players from the State of Illinois.
Kevin: Yeah, I guess I’m second from the time that I know. I’d have to go back further I’m sure. Sunderland could tell me somebody else from Illinois, but we’ll consider Tom Hall first, I guess I can be second, we’ll give Sean Rooney third.
Chris: There we go.
Kevin: Yeah, two of those three people have gold medals. I’m not sure which two, but it could be others.
Chris: Well, that’s awesome. It’s really been interesting for me to see just the development of volleyball in that area of the country and the rise of some of the midway schools tapping home grown talent in the mid-west.
Kevin: Yeah, I think it’s still even underutilized in most of the surrounding states but Illinois gets high marks for their curation of boys volleyball which didn’t exist as a high school sport until my junior year of high school, so you are talking 1991 and I ended up playing my senior year. So I knew nothing of the sport until 1992. I’ve had to learn everything prior to that point.
Chris: Okay well, you’re a quick study, ended up at Pep with Marv.
Kevin: Yeah, first went through junior college and then to Pepperdine.
Chris: Okay and where were you at JC?
Kevin: That’s LA Pierce and big daddy Kent Stanley gets mad if I don’t mention LA Pierce, so there you go big daddy. I’m not sure he’s ever going to listen to a podcast but if it gets back to him, here’s Scott mentioned.
Chris: Pierce of course another absolute juggernaut in terms of producing great volleyball players and sending a ton of them off to Pep of course.
Kevin: Yeah, I got to the right spot. It was kind of a random set of meetings and I ended up in a good spot and I don’t know if there’s another junior college out there, someone will have to tell me if Orange Coast or Golden West or somebody else has produced three Olympians. I doubt anyone’s even close to that, and LA Pierce has had Riley Saunders, he is a gold medalist in ’08, Bob Samuelson bronze medalist in ’92 and myself, fourth place in Athens. I guess we’ll slide down there.
Chris: Yeah exactly, and so Pep with Marv and then you played in 2000 and 2004 for the national team in Sidney and in Athens.
Chris: Much different experiences, those two Olympics I’m assuming.
Kevin: Yeah one I hated; the other one I felt really good about. The first one we were the third ranked team in the world and we finished dead last. We did not win a single match. We went 0-5, we opened the Olympics by losing to Argentina to whom I think we had played 15 times in the intervening four years and we had beaten them all 15 times and we started off with a loss and things kind of cascaded from there with a team that was individually talented but not a terrible effective or cohesive team. 2004 was a much different story. We were fifth ranked in the world and not anyone was expecting much from us given the performance in 2000 and we ended up playing in the bronze against Russia and we lost that one after losing semifinal to eventual champion Brazil who was at the height of their powers in ’04.
Chris: Yeah that was maybe the best volleyball team, I don’t know, ever to take the court. Those guys were unreal and they were doing things that just hadn’t been seen before.
Kevin: Definitely an arguable point. We have brought that up on this trip down here at Rio where I currently sit and that’s an arguable point. I would put them up against the Netherlands or Italy from the ’96 final. I would definitely put them above the Brazilian team that won in ’92. I think that the Yugoslavian team in 2000 would probably give them a pretty good run just because they are so technically pure, but I don’t think anyone before that has a shot. I don’t think the ’84 men from the United States have a shot. Everything’s just too fast, way too fast.
Chris: You are down there now with NBC as a broadcaster and this has been kind of the career move for you from the onset when you were done playing, jumped into broadcasting?
Kevin: My initial move was a stay at home dad. That was my first move as far as careers went. My wife went to work and I went home and had boys who were two and four and started taking care of them fulltime in California. We ended up moving from Colorado where the training center and the program had been based. Six months after I retired we ended up moving back to LA where my mother and my in laws live. So at that point I was just a stay at home dad and got a call from USA Volleyball saying, “We’d like someone to do World League? Are you interested?” I said yes I am and things cascaded from there forward and it really didn’t become a career, full time career. It was a nice hobby where I could take summers and do some volleyball. Volleyball collegiately wasn’t on TV the way it is now. Even back in 2007, it was nothing close to what it became starting probably around 2012. I began on television in ‘07 but began full time in ‘12 and began full time as a play by play and host. You’ll see me in the Olympics here, hear me in the Olympics from Brazil as an analyst and that remains, this product remains my one legacy product where I serve as an analyst for the entire time. Everything else I do play by play which is the professional broadcaster position rather than the ex-quarterback, ex point guard, ex racer, ex volleyball player.
Chris: Right, and so how did USA Volleyball in the beginning even think to tap into you? Was that something that you had experienced with in the past at Pepperdine? Do they have a broadcast journalism degree?
Kevin: They used to have a pretty good broadcast program but I was never in it. I was a bio major planning to do pre-vet. I was going to get a bio degree from Pepperdine and become a veterinarian. That was the plan heading into Pepperdine. Volleyball continued to go well so I transferred to psychology to try and get out because in psychology as long as you can justify your answer you are never wrong, so that’s kind of fun. So, I did that and then went to the national team and actually never made it back to finish school because the national team went well and I ended up staying for a decade. In ’02, I was home hurt and I ended up getting word that there was some guy in town who was looking for someone to do analyst work on volleyball and basketball for a local high school sports channel, Adelphia Sports Network back when Adelphia cable existed.
Kevin: I met with him in his office and he said “Sure, okay.” Actually, Phil Atherton went and met with him first because he found out about it and he and I had talked about it and Phil said, “Well, if I don’t want to do it, I’ll just tell him to talk to you.” So Phil came back and said, “I don’t want to do it. So if you want to do it talk to him.” I think I called something in the order of 20 or 30 basketball and volleyball matches and games and then had an opportunity to go up to Denver to do football and this was all as an analyst. I actually did a college. I did the RMAC, Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference basketball tournament as an analyst which was kind of hilarious at one point.
This started with a guy by the name of Dan Cochell who would run the center camera, he would run the switcher and the audio and do play by play all while having vision in one and a half eyes. So it was quite entertaining and quite an introduction, but I know that USA Volleyball had seen that in the past so I think that memory from ’02 came around in ’07. I was the guy who would pick up the mic in the bus and talk anywhere we were, so I think those two things put together got me an opportunity to start showing up and doing World League.
Chris: This guy can put together some coherent sentences, we understand him when he speaks, you are our man here, kind of deal, huh?
Kevin: Right, mildly funny to some people also.
Chris: Mildly to some, all right, that’s a good space to be in there. So now volleyball’s become as you talked about, kind of something that there’s a future in this for people and you can start looking at, “Hey, I’m going to be a volleyball specific broadcaster” and could conceivably have a lot of work.
Kevin: Yeah, especially on the female side of the game, there’s a lot of women’s volleyball matches on and there’s a big push right now to get some better analysts, and by better I mean trained not anything to say of quality, just to get them trained in broadcasting and get them experience and feedback on broadcasting because there’s been such the explosion of opportunity that a lot of people have started to come in and it’s a very strange business where you…You are not in the gym everyday with the coach giving feedback. You do a broadcast, you leave; you don’t necessarily get any feedback on it. So there’s been an influx of talent which is great, there’s been an incredible increase in the level of number of games that are on and all that’s been terrific for the sport, and I think that we are training some people up in the level of commentary, analysis and education going out to the viewers is all rising.
Chris: All right. For you guys now, you’ve talked about it you’re doing all the women’s matches, all the men’s indoor matches for the USA. Do you guys do any other countries or it’s just the USA?
Kevin: Oh yeah, we have 39 matches in 15 days coming up for everybody here.
Chris: So yeah more than just USA here, yeah.
Kevin: Yeah, so you’ll be hearing some volleyball. There is no doubt the opportunity for you to see volleyball on television.
Chris: You’re part of the NBC contingent but who else is…NBC obviously has an interest in showing USA matches but who else are you doing?
Kevin: We will do select matches that make sense. So on day one we have the women because it alternates between the women, and men and day one we start with the women. We’ll have Japan-Korea in the morning, and then we will have USA-Puerto Rico in the afternoon. The next day we’ll…
Chris: Japan-Korea taps into a large enough English speaking audience that that’s one that makes sense?
Kevin: No, it’s just an interesting match to watch. They picked it probably because the timing is right because we were going to do China-Netherlands but that one I don’t think the timing worked out right. That’s a better match. Japan-Korea is a rematch of the bronze medal from four years ago even though both teams are kind of sinking.
Chris: Okay. And then, sorry to interrupt you, but USA-Puerto Rico with the women day one and then off to the men?
Kevin: Correct. The men the next day, so you get France-Italy in the morning.
Chris: That’s going to be a phenomenal match.
Kevin: That will be good and then USA-Canada.
Kevin: Now, I suspect you will not get all of some of these matches. The US matches you will probably get all or 90% or 80% of.
Chris: Right. So what kind of prep do you guys do…I guess the first question I have is one that everybody has; how are things down in Rio? You hear everything from total horror stories about all the bad things that potentially could happen and then you hear just no everything is perfect, it’s wonderful, it’s beautiful. I imagine that the truth lies somewhere in between, but how’s it been for you guys and then what do you hear from the athletes?
Kevin: So I think 36% if Wikipedia is to be believed of Americans possess a passport. That’s not much. It might even be lower than that depending upon some of these passports, like why just 3.5% of us travel, there’s all these kinds of headlines if you look it up. There aren’t a lot of people with passports that travel abroad, and fortunately in my life I’ve travelled abroad a tremendous amount.
Kevin: Yeah, Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South America many times, anywhere else you want to go, Antarctica, not yet, as soon as they get a volleyball team I’m sure I’ll get there. But Rio looks like any other South American city I’ve ever been to. It’s a little dirty, things aren’t really finished and there’s crime in bad areas and that’s about it. That’s how South America is. There’s more chickens than you would expect in areas, that’s what South America looks like. Rio itself as far as the setting goes for a 450 year old city is gorgeous. The mountains are incredible. The traffic is unbelievably bad, Tokyo bad, way worse than LA or New York. It’s amazing it took us two and a half hours to go 28 kilometers the other day, and that’s not going very quickly. But it’s like any other city. If you watch what you are doing, you are aware of your surroundings, you’ll be fine. If you’re not, if you’re just sort of wondering about and you get yourself off on the wrong spot, bad stuff can happen, but I would venture to say that some of the areas in Argentina that I’ve been are far more dangerous. I think Sao Palo where we stayed when we played Brazil many years ago was far more dangerous than 90% of the surroundings here. The military presence and the police presence is heavy. If you just go to the mall next door to my hotel in the Baja region, there is an unbelievable amount of security. I don’t think anything is going to happen, I don’t think the likelihood of anything happening is any higher than it’s been in any other city where you have a sprawling event that encompasses hundreds of venues across multiple locations and in the case of soccer multiple cities. So I think all that stuff’s overblown.
The Zika issue, I haven’t seen many mosquitoes, just a couple. I don’t have a mosquito bite yet so I’m still Zika free. As the Rio mayor put it, you should not go to south Florida…If you’re scared of coming to Rio, you shouldn’t go to south Florida either.
Chris: Yeah exactly. There’s some of that going on down there I know, yeah.
Kevin: Yeah. I think Zika’s in the category of everything else that was going to kill us. You remember the Avian Flu, the Swine Flu, West Nile Virus, H1N1. It’s just something to talk about to scare people to get them to watch your news program or behave or do whatever it is your agenda would like them to do. I’m kind of tired of the media in general and certainly of the scare America tactics. When I’m seeing Zika on the front of the off displayed Target in Southern California, I pretty much had it with what’s going on.
Chris: You’re done yeah.
Kevin: Take a picture of that, that’s a little aggravating and symptomatic of what’s happening in our country.
Chris: Yeah. So you’ve, I’m assuming had a chance to get a really good look at all of these teams. Tell us a little bit first about the women. Who do you like over there, what do you see, who’s going to be good?
Kevin: I think the women’s tournament is not as deep as the men’s tournament. I think you can divide it, the women’s tournament pretty easily into a top three. You are going to have the United States, China and Brazil. Those are the top three teams that you are looking for. Who can get in the mix with them? I believe it’s Serbia who certainly has had the talent for many years to be a factor but hasn’t really been able to put it together the entire time through a tournament. Certainly injuries and situation in 2012 just wasn’t the right timing for Serbia to be a factor. I think Russia could be a factor as well.
Chris: That’s a little bit of a surprise because Russia you would have normally counted them in that top group.
Kevin: Yeah. They’ve lost a couple of players, they’re not playing I think quite at the same level. They still play that old Russian style of high ball offence. Natalia Goncharova, however you’d like to say it, we’ll figure it out before we are on air, she is amazing. She is 6’4, 6’5 hammer on the right side. She is not only impressive volleyball wise, she is also beautiful so that’s a good combination if you are an athlete to have the technical skill and proficiency along with good looks.
Chris: Yeah, yeah.
Kevin: She is a big deal in Russia and I think people here who come to watch tournament she will be a big deal here.
Chris: So within that top three, what kind of sets them apart? Is it just the athletes, is it systems, all of the above?
Kevin: It’s a little different for China. I think Brazil and the United States are quite similar and they’ll tell you that. They’ll tell you that particularly for the United States when they play Brazil it’s like playing themselves. The same kind of system volleyball, they don’t necessarily have a big hammer, a huge arm, they don’t want to hit high balls all day. Transition is going to have to still be fast. They are going to rely on speed and system volleyball. They are going to rely on passing the ball to put pressure on the block. China has more leeway there. They’ve put a 6’5 and 6’6 middle out there and two 6’4 high hitters both of whom have good arms but number two is Zhu Ting for China. Watch this player. All you have to do is see her in warm ups and watch her arm swing. She is probably the best outside hitter in the world technically. As far as points it could be arguable, but she is an unbelievable volleyball player. Watch the way she hits the ball. It looks like a guy flying out of the back row or crushing on the left. So they have a bit more leeway when they have to come and transition out of system. They can throw a high ball out there to either of their outside hitters but particularly there’s Zhu Ting, and watch her detonate on people.
Chris: Yeah. USA has played them a number of times in the Grand Prix and just over the last quad and it’s kind of been…maybe the USA has a slight advantage but China has won some matches.
Kevin: Rarely have we seen a matchup of China’s number one team and the United States number one team. That’s because China hasn’t shown it. We’ve only seen it a couple of times. I think at UC Irvine, we saw nearly a full team from China. During Grand Prix this year we saw one matchup that featured both of them and the United States won that match up, so I’m not quite sure what to expect from the USA/China match up. If they both arrive undefeated into the final match of pool play, if they’re both 4 and 0 which is entirely possible, the final match is between US and China in pool play in pool B. I think you’ll see the number one team from both sides because getting the number one seed will be huge.
Chris: Because of crossover against the Brazil/Serbia side of the pool?
Kevin: Yeah. The Brazil, Russia, Japan, Korea, Argentina, Cameroon to the other side.
Chris: Okay. Serbia is on the US pool. Yep.
Kevin: Correct. Pool B is far more difficult. It’s the United States, China, Serbia (who we talked about before), the Netherlands who is another team that is rising, world ranked 14 but definitely better than that, a young Italian team that if you let them get on you, they’re dangerous. You can beat them if you keep the pressure up but if you let them get a little bit, they’re a dangerous team…And then Puerto Rico who will not matter. But you want to be number one because you’ll crossover…If I had to lay it out right now, you will crossover against Korea or Japan and I’ll probably say the fourth place is Japan. We’ll know more after Korea and Japan play in two days. Argentina, it’s their first Olympic game, Cameroon they’re from the African zone which is never a factor, so you’re going to see either Korea or Japan if you’re the number one seed coming out of pool B into that quarter final crossover, and you’d like to do that versus getting in the shuffle because they take the two and three and they draw lots. So you’re not guaranteed a particular opponent due to the manipulation in 2004 by Brazil who threw a match against my team to get us on their side rather than…I forget who the other…
Chris: I think Russia. They didn’t want to play Russia.
Kevin: Yeah. That possibility no longer exists thanks to Bernardinho and his buddies there from 2004, so you want to be the number one seed getting that number four coming out of pool A so that you can get yourself into the medal round. That’s the way it is.
Chris: Yeah. Taking a look at this USA team, even from quad to quad there’s been a pretty massive mixing of the players, changing of the line-up, and then even in the last maybe two years or one year some maybe unknowns or people that we didn’t even see on the kind of Olympic roster radar and here we are.
Kevin: You’re talking about the women’s sides?
Chris: USA women, yeah.
Kevin: Yeah. Karsta Lowe, out of nowhere absolutely…It’s been good for the United States to have some of the youth and as talented as that gym was, it was hard to believe you can have somebody step in and matter at this point. I think you can throw probably into that category as well Kelsey.
Chris: Yeah, and Hill. Looking at that, Larson is kind of a no brainer but everybody else is basically worked their way into that spot, earned that spot kind of rising up.
Kevin: Yeah. People have earned spots no doubt. I think Kelsey Robinson has earned that spot, that outside hitter. She beat out Megan Hodge, now Megan Easy who was in the previous Olympic Games. Kelly Murphy at the opposite spot, and Karsta Lowe took a spot away from a player who a lot of people thought was going to stick in there and faucet. It’s always a battle, and we’ll get to the men in a moment for the US. There’s a team that’s really on but it’s always a battle to get these roster spots. Carli Lloyd comes back kind of off the scrap heap and gets to be a part of it, and she’s only been a part of the B team for much of her international career. She’s been playing excellent volleyball overseas and can do some things nobody else can do in the game so she ends up in that spot. And of course the contention over the selection of Courtney Thompson. People wonder why you have three setters and you don’t really have three setters, you have an incredible teammate and someone you want in your gym. That’s what you have in Courtney Thompson who will give you whatever you need and you get some insulation if a setter gets hurt.
Chris: That for me, I love that lesson. You look at her and in terms of what she can do for this team technically, physically on the court kind of thing, those contributions are so much less significant than what she does for the team just in terms of her presence. In terms of getting out there and competing and being a great teammate and buying into the systems and being coachable and just this overwhelming positivity and fun factor. Even if she’s no good at anything she does volleyball wise, you want her around your team and your program just because of who she is, and I just love that idea and that lesson for anybody that’s looking at how they want to carry themselves.
Kevin: What do you do when you travel, what do you do when you’re on a long trip, what do you do in-between practices getting ready, how you prepare, how you talk about your own job and what your responsibilities are, all those things matter. And to have someone on your team that is consistently positive and a positive influence on the people around her and doing what needs to be done to be successful and all those other things to then produce the result on the floor is something special. She is certainly someone special. She’s been cut from every team she’s ever been on going back to high school in terms of the coach’s mentality coming in because she’s listed at 5’ 8” and if Courtney is 5’ 8”, I’m 6’10”. It’s just not even close but here is Courtney who through force of personality and force of dedication to the things that are not just volleyball related, has won at every level and been successful and been valuable at every level. If you would like an analogous person, Scott Touzinsky in 2008 for the USA men’s team which won gold in Beijing…Scott Touzinsky if you just look at the box score, he served a few times, maybe passed a few balls but Scott Touzinsky is a guy you want at your gym every day. He’s a guy you want on your airplane, who you want him on the train, you want him at team meals. He’s a relentlessly positive, good dude who is willing to do whatever needs to be done for anyone to make sure he and everyone else around him are at their best, and that matters.
Chris: Yeah. That matters a ton especially in a tournament like this.
Kevin: This is every other day for two weeks. It is a grind mentally.
Chris: Yeah. Sticking with the girls just tell me, what are the things that this team, the USA women, does the best? What do you like about this team, “Hey they do this really, really well”?
Kevin: They run the middle. They will hurt you in the middle and when they pass the ball well, they will hurt you in the middle and they will kill you with speed to the outside. Those are the two things they do exceptionally well, and I think they play really nice block and defense. The symbiotic relationship between those two skills is present with these women and the plays that they will make you will notice how in tune those players are with one another from front row to back row and back row to front row. I think that’s what you’ll see. You’ll see really quality system oriented volleyball, not just hook the ball to the outside and murder it. They don’t have that. That’s their biggest weakness. You’re going to see the other side but you’re going to see excellence in terms of team concept.
Chris: All right. Moving over to the guys, the field as you talked about is incredibly deep and you’re looking, I don’t know what, eight teams that you could talk about that could medal? Is that too many?
Kevin: I think six, maybe seven if you’re going to talk about the three medal positions. Again, I would divide it into probable medalists, medal factors and the irrelevant. I would divide it up that way. And for the men again, the US finds itself in a pool that is far more difficult than the other. Trying to find all of them here but the United States pool is ridiculous. It’s the United States, Italy, Brazil, France, Mexico and Canada.
Chris: Mexico is the only team in that pool where you kind of think this is a non-factor but Canada can be scary and then everybody else is world class, top five kind of thing.
Kevin: Absolutely, and that’s just the way it’s gone. When they do these pools, it’s all about who’s rising and who’s falling. That’s what determines it because the rankings go back four years which is a grief of mine. The rankings as the points go back to London, and these teams are so radically different four years later that the world rankings don’t reflect who they are. France is tied with Canada at tenth which is world leading…
Chris: Which is preposterous, yeah.
Kevin: Totally preposterous. It was France that won the B group of World League last year, then that B group in the format got a bid into the A group finals, they got pushed up and they went and won the A group of World League. They were the defending world league champions and they didn’t even have a spot in the World Cup because they hadn’t played well during the qualifications at the Europe which was challenging. They actually finished second to Russia in European qualification later. Now they took a third in world league this year and they’re a fine team. France is in top five right now. They’re nowhere near tenth. You have Brazil whose world number one, and I don’t think where they were, certainly not in ’04, I think they’re still trying to hang on but they are still a formidable group. They threw out some good size, solid technical volleyball and can hurt you in transition with some guys who get on the ball. Then you have Italy in there who to be honest if they have one injury they become irrelevant because they at this point barely have…the seven players, needed six hitters outside the libero. Those six other positions, they barely have that. They have a guy by the name of Filippo Lanza who is playing at outside hitter who is 6’ 6” but does not get off the ground very much. He cannot get of the deck and he’s an okay ball control guy and if he plays well they’re in good shape, but they have nobody behind that. Their opposite also has struggled, Ivan Zaytsev, so keep your eye on that.
Chris: Yeah. He was really dominant and it seems like he’s dropped off the last couple of years.
Kevin: Zaytsev and their other outside hitter, Cuban defector, now a nationalized Italian Juantorena were incredible at World Cup where Italy qualified second to the United States. They were the top two hitters in terms of kill percentage, not efficiency but kill percentage in the entire tournament, a stat usually reserved for middle blockers. If those two guys go off, Italy is a medal factor for sure or medalist. If they go off, they could be a medalist. As it is they’re a medal factor, but there’s six teams in that group. The United States, throw them in that group. We don’t know what we’re getting with the United States side.
Chris: Yeah. Let’s talk about them a little bit. What do you see from the guys? You got a really close look at them during the World League and what are you seeing right now?
Kevin: We saw them play Egypt yesterday which doesn’t have a lot of bearing on what I know right now. Egypt is not very good. They’re from the other pool. They’re the irrelevant in the other pool. It will come down to serve and pass. The United States has the power. They have the ability to compete at the net with anybody. Dave Lee and Russell and then Max Holt in the middle are incredible…Sorry, no Russell Holt…Max Holt are incredible in the middle. Dave Smith is a really good side-out middle. So they’re solid there with all three guys offensively. Matt Anderson in opposite, you can put him in the top five in opposite in the world. Aaron Russell played terrific volleyball coming out of Penn State last year and on in through World Cup. Taylor Sander is back this year. It’s his third year now. I think he’s back to form. He struggled through last season quite a bit. I think he had some of that sophomore slump going on but he is back in a big way and you have the four time Olympic veteran, Reid Priddy, who is healthy and ready to contribute and we’ll see how much he actually gets in to play, but he feels like he’s ready to go even at 38 years old.
Chris: Which is just for sure one of the stories of the games, I’m sure you guys will be talking about it a lot but it’s miraculous to me. I can’t classify it highly enough in terms of the improbability of that, 38 and still playing at a level that is good enough to make an Olympic team. Just people that know the volume of traffic that has gone through his knees, through that shoulder, just the number of crushing repetitions that you get as an outside hitter, you’re lucky to be early 30s and still doing it and for him to be doing it close to 40 is just unbelievable to me.
Kevin: Yeah. He’s a 96-year-old person in volleyball years. That’s what he is. He’s just an old person. Yeah, everything you said is 100% true. It’s amazing that he’s here and we’ll see what he has to give. I was worried for Reid that he was going to, as he was coming back, injure himself again, injure something else. That’s the typical story at that age. I was concerned about that but it has not happened. As of October 1st he will be 39 so he has designs on more. He wants to play further. Not indoors but he would like to continue to play volleyball for a living, and I love the ambition, I hope it continues. He’s one of those guys that he’s doing it like John Hyden is right now; John Hyden, 57 years old, and still in the finals in the Manhattan Beach Open.
Chris: Yeah. That’s great stuff. You talked about serve and pass being kind of the key for this group. Everybody at this level can serve and it’s just finding some rhythm down there for these guys I think, huh?
Kevin: Yeah. You’re going to see Aaron Russell get targeted. He’s gotten off to a rough start in his second year and he will get targeted serving wise. Taylor Sander has been passing the ball well. I’m going to slot him in the first starting spot. I think you’re going to see him come out with a lineup of Anderson at opposite, he will occasionally pass because he still plays outside hitter for his professional team. You will see Aaron Russell, Taylor Sander at the outsides. The middles will rotate around but I would guess that Dave Lee, Max Holt is the best combination. You’ll then see at setter of course Micah Christenson, who has been setting this team already for three years. So he is in his first Olympics and only after his first professional season, but he has far more experience than that, and then Erik Shoji at libero who is hands down the best libero that the United States has had and if you serve him as an opponent of the American side, you’ve made a mistake.
Chris: And then looking at the other way of going that the servers, Dave Lee is going to hit a float serve and maybe Russell now and then but everybody else is hitting the spike serve, huh?
Kevin: Yeah. You’re going to see some floats out of Micah. You’re going to see some floats out of Taylor when there’s some misses. You’re going to see variety and that’s what it’s come down to for the modern game right now. The more variety you can throw at people, the better. The guys that can get back there and beat it, are few, really with effectiveness. Matt Anderson can do it, Max Holt when he’s on can do it but everyone else needs some variety. I think Micah does a nice job moving the ball around and throwing the widest variety of things out there at opponents. I think if you’re going to talk about best server, I’m going to give it to Micah Christenson, because he can throw the most variety with the greatest skill at you. If you’re going to talk about the best velocity, best jump serve, I’ll go with Matt Anderson every time. And then put Max Holt in there when he’s on, but at this point he’s on maybe 30% of the time so it’s been really tough to deal with the part where Max is hitting the ball out of bounds, into the net four out of five serves and we’ll just have to keep an eye on that. That’s a couple of things to watch there. Can Max Holt serve the ball in? Can the United States itself generate enough pressure? That was the issue at World League final. They were losing the serve receive game on both sides of that.
Chris: Yeah. Well, it will be exciting tournament for sure and just some really, really quality volleyball as time goes on. What’s day to day for you guys? Two matches, lot of prep, transit to and from. Is that going to spend a lot of your day on a bus getting back and forth?
Kevin: Oh yeah. That’s how it works. We had it good last time. We were five minutes up the road walking to work last time. This time it’s an hour each way. If we’re lucky it’s an hour to get back in the busy time. That’s just part of the job. Whatever we’re going live in the venue anyhow because we have day to day two matches, two matches, three matches, three matches, one, there’s only one day like that. Two, three, two, three, three, four, two and then there’s only two matches a day after that. We will be living in the venue. We’ll be there for your pleasure.
Chris: Where can people…obviously we can watch this…Tell me, where can people watch these matches I guess?
Kevin: NBC family of networks. There’s five networks that are going to be in that group. MSNBC, NBCSN, USA, I think they use Bravo and some other things, CNBC for sure. You’ll be able to search things out on there via your DVR. You can also watch NBCOlympics.com. You can watch the NBC app which will live stream everything basically. There may not be commentary on some of the stuff but there’s live streams of near every event, so if you want to watch Cameroon face off with Argentina, by all means knock yourself out. I think that is available. That will be out there. NBCOlympics.com is the place you want to go and the NBC live app, NBC Extra has an entire Olympic section that’s kind of morphed for this thing and that was already a usable tool when it came to watching events. There will be or there should be no complaining about a lack of volleyball coverage.
Chris: All right. When you get back we can follow you again in the NET LIVE, tell us one more time.
Kevin: The NET LIVE available on iTunes or we stream live most Mondays we like to say, on Volleyball Magazine via a service called BlogTalkRadio and so you can catch us live there or iTunes anytime. And if you want to email us it’s email@example.com. When you look on iTunes, it will be a picture of me in my old red uniform staring over the head of DJ Jeremy Roueche who is my cohost that is the most consistent at this point. Look for that.
Chris: All right. Awesome. I really appreciate your time. I know you’re busy down there and wish you guys the best as you get going here and have a great couple of weeks.
Kevin: Thanks Chris. Good to talk to you and I hope that the change has been good on your end from volleyball coach to fulltime Gold Medal Squared.
Chris: Yeah. It’s been awesome and you know how it is. Anytime you leave something there, there are elements of that thing that you miss desperately and you hope that the tradeoffs that you’re making are going to be worth it down the road and so far they’ve been good.
Kevin: Are you wearing an orange robe, flip-flops and have shaved your head into a topknot? Are you now a mystic of volleyball, some sort of volleyball monk, has that happened?
Chris: I’m working towards that. That’s kind of the image I have in mind. Ultimately I’m trying to get there, so yeah. I haven’t got there however.
Kevin: All right. Well, good luck on your quest.
Chris: All right. Perfect.
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