What has Jeff Starr's wife, Kristi, racing out to Chick-fil-A on specific nights for dinner? It's the Wildcats' undefeated season. Starr is quick to point out he is superstitious, and this season, his game-day rituals are paying off.
Heading into tonight's showdown against Annapolis, the No. 9 Wildcats are 13-0 this season and playing excellent team basketball.
A 1995 Arundel grad, Starr spent two years on varsity as a guard and helped the 1994-95 team go 21-4 and reach the state tournament. He went on to play two years at Chesapeake Community College, then two more at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Starr has an 88-20 mark in his five seasons coaching at his alma mater.
His wife, formerly Kristi Ellenberger, has also coached girls basketball at Northeast and College of Notre Dame. The couple lives in Federal Hill with their St. Bernard, Biggie. In addition to basketball, they enjoy traveling and taking in Orioles games at Camden Yards.
We asked Jeff about the Wildcats' undefeated season, having a wife who also is a coach and exactly what he eats before each game.
What's been the key to the team's success this season?
You always hear the "We're taking it one game at a time" approach, but we really are. More so this year because while we are 13-0, there have been a couple bumps in the road along the way. It hasn't been a 20-point win every night, so we could easily have two or three losses already. So to get through those games, we're very fortunate. We really take each game as it comes and focus on each opponent. My assistant coaches [Ron Ward, Rodney Ramsey and Cory Ross] do a great job of scouting and preparing practice. If you asked me who we played in two weeks, I couldn't tell you because I really focus on the week we're at. We were fortunate enough to get through and hit a buzzer beater at Annapolis, and Glen Burnie, we were able to hang on at the end, so there's definitely been a couple hiccups.
What's the best advice you received as a player that you apply now as a coach?
Never get comfortable in your position. Whether you're a starter or a bench guy, never get comfortable because as soon as you do, then you relax and lose that position. I always tell my players the starting lineup and the rotation is never set until you decide it is. Once the starters and bench guys decide they are comfortable with where they are, that's when someone else beats them out. So the uneasiness about needing to be productive and being on top of your game -- I hope that kind of pressure and motivation helps the team.
What's it like having a wife who also is a coach?
Sometimes people hear from their spouses or friends about the game and instead of saying, "so and so didn't rebound," she'll say, "they didn't box out" or "they played bad help-side defense." She's more specific. When I get home, I'm always waiting for it. She waits to see what kind of mood I'm in first before she offers up her advice, but either way she still offers it, and it's healthy because I know she's been successful in her coaching and she's not going to tell me anything to steer me in the wrong direction.
What will it take to make an extended playoff run?
It's going to take continued hard work. The last couple years, we haven't made it as far as I wanted to in the playoffs and we really want to take that first step of winning that first game and going from there. We're not overpowering teams, so hopefully we can do what we're supposed to do defensively. You hear about teams in the playoffs that, if they play strong defense, they can advance. My teams in the past have been known for their offense and getting up and down the court. This year, I think we're still averaging about 70 points a game, but we're only giving up around 50, which I think is very good. If we can continue to bring that defensive effort every night, then we have a chance to advance.
You've mentioned being superstitious. What's your game-day routine?
If we're on a winning streak, I'll wear the same kind of outfit -- like a white shirt and green tie combination. Every game this year, I've worn a white shirt and green tie. I always have the same pre-game meal. It was to a point one time that my wife had to take off work early and pick it up and drive it to me because she forgot to get it the night before. It's Chick-fil-A nuggets -- two eight-piece boxes and I have a diet Pepsi that I get from Royal Farms in the morning. I did it the first game and we haven't lost, so I have to continue it. If we lose, then I'll change my routine. It's almost like a chore now that I have to finish the second box.