By Ken Cross
Athletic directors across the WCC have shown a collective serious approach to challenging Gonzaga and catching St. Mary’s and BYU as four have orchestrated a list of coaching moves over the past month to try to challenge the top of the conference. However with Terry Porter’s hiring at Portland, Herb Sendek taking over Santa Clara, Damon Stoudamire at Pacific, and former Columbia coach Kyle Smith heading to San Francisco, the WCC will take on a deeper and more competitive mantra on the college hoops scene.
Once again this season, the Gaels won the league in the regular season with two victories over the Zags while Mark Few flexed in the clutch in leading Gonzaga to the WCC championship and then wins over Seton Hall and Utah in the NCAA Tournament to gain a Sweet 16 appearance and an eventual 63-60 loss to Final four participant Syracuse.
In addition, the Gaels were unnecessarily excluded from the field of 68 with the loss in the WCC championship game and a final record of 29-6 after losing at Valpo in the final eight of the NIT. BYU went to MSG and the NIT’s final four and lost to the Crusaders as well. Obviously, these three programs are the trend-setters with a sizable advantages, at this point, over the field.
These hirings add to Mike Dunlap at Loyola Marymount last year and then the foresight of the Pepperdine athletic administration in hiring Marty Wilson five years ago, as he has brought the Waves to the cusp of challenging the top three in the WCC.
Porter was a surprise although his ties to Portland make sense and should excite a fan-base that became interested when Eric Reveno led them to the second spot in the league, five years ago. Porter’s experience and notoriety should be attractive to potential players. The Pilots’ biggest need is athleticism to be able to battle with those top teams in the WCC.
Porter, of course, talked to the campus and the city about coming and supporting the program that he intends to build.
“The guys seem very excited about next year and the things that are important to us in the type of identity that we want to form,” said Porter, “it is critically important that the students, the alumni, the faculty, and the city come out to support these young men. We want the Chiles Center to become a hostile environment for everyone who comes through those doors.”
Porter has had a decorated career as a player in the NBA for the Trail Blazers as well as stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns as head coach with assistant duties in Minnesota, Sacramento, and Detroit since 2003.
— Santa Clara Hoops (@SantaClaraHoops) March 31, 2016
Sendek took a year off after a seven-year run as coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils. His 431-295 record includes stops at N.C State and Miami of Ohio over 22 years as a head coach. He is a basketball lifer and a student of the game that worked under Hall of Famer Rick Pitino at Providence and Kentucky. He had five straight NCAA appearances in ten years at N.C. State and left the Sun Devils program in a better spot that he found it. ASU enjoyed 20-plus wins in three straight years, a feat that had never been accomplished.
Sendek knows what lies ahead in rebuilding the Broncos who have been at the bottom of the WCC in the last three seasons; now, first-year athletic director Renee Baumgartner promises the resources to help make Sendek successful. He is low-key and a deep thinker as a stellar X’s and O’s coach. The interesting part is that Sendek was available and Baumgartner brought him in as her first key move in the AD’s chair. Santa Clara has a stellar history and the potential to be a major player in the WCC.
“I think the West Coast Conference is a premier Division I conference, said Sendek, who lauded the jobs of Carroll Williams, Dick Davey, and Kerry Keating who coached at SCU before him, “Having been in the Pac-12 the last nine years, I had firsthand working knowledge of this conference because we would play teams from the league and we would also scrimmage them. I know firsthand through those competitions how really, really good it is. Obviously the last several years, the top third of the league has created a gap. What Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and BYU have been able to do is remarkable.”
Pacific also reached into the depths of NBA experience in hiring former Arizona Wildcat and 13-year NBA veteran Damon Stoudamire as it’s new coach. A noted recruiter, he left the Memphis basketball staff to take the Pacific job as he spent the last seven seasons with the Tigers, Arizona Wildcats and Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant coach.
— TheW.tv (@TheWtv) March 30, 2016
“I’m going to bring great energy and I”m going to do the right thing,” Stoudamire noted at the introductory press conference. “I want my guys to play the right way. I want them to be outstanding citizens in the community the right way. I want them to understand they can touch other people’s lives.”
Stoudamire takes over for Mike Burns, who was named on the interim basis in December after coach Ron Verlin was suspended in December for an investigation into academic misconduct.
The San Francisco Dons actually got the ball rolling in coaching changes in early March when USF fired coach Rex Walters after eight seasons where he actually was able to bring back some wins while getting the Dons into the CBI and Collegeinsider.com Tournament along the way. San Francisco tabbed Columbia coach Kyle Smith, ironically, the day after his Lions won that same tournament. Smith’s 25-10 record at Columbia fed into only the second Ivy League team to win a national tournament.
“It takes time because it is a process,” noted Smith on building the Dons into a WCC contender, “What it really gets down to is having a great attitude, work ethic and pride. It is important to understand that we can compete with anybody. Those top programs aren’t going to fall off, you have to go get them. It’s about getting good players and coaching them right.”