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Inept UCLA, St. John’s just don’t get it

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  • Inept UCLA, St. John’s just don’t get it

    By Dana O'Neil Apr 18, 2019

    Frustrated, embarrassed and disgusted, Mike Repole took to the New York airwaves on Wednesday and threw a vat of ice cold Vitamin Water on his alma mater. The sports drink founder and horse racing aficionado decided St. John’s had reached peak ineptitude, having been summarily rejected by Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom, Tim Cluess and the dude playing pickup at Rucker Park, so he let loose on WFAN. He called the place toxic and said it had leaped mere New York laughingstock status and achieved national embarrassment level. His points seemed valid.

    Meanwhile over on the Left Coast, UCLA raised a glass in appreciation of the attention-sucking, coach-bumbling Red Storm administration. The Bruins, having fired Steve Alford all the way back in December, entered the hiring market with all of the organization of decapitated poultry. They low-balled John Calipari into a lifetime contract at Kentucky and essentially revealed they were too cheap to buy out Jamie Dixon and Rick Barnes. Eventually, they landed on Mick Cronin, a fine coach who would have been available on the first phone call and in fact became the candidate in waiting.

    That the two schools on the two coasts have engineered the worst run coaching searches of the offseason is really no surprise. Both suffer from the same affliction: an inflated sense of self-worth. Perched in their ivory towers and kneeling to their own altars, they call out to the little people, We are St. John’s. We are UCLA. Come ye, and worship before us, O lucky coaches and recruits. To which basketball people reply, “Dude, it’s 2019.’’ The last time St. John’s was relevant, Chris Mullin, the recently resigned 55-year-old head coach, was a short-short wearing college kid. UCLA enjoyed a good run under Ben Howland — more than a decade ago — and although those in Westwood would be loathed to admit it, the John Wooden years are little more than dusty artifacts from the history books. High schoolers don’t care where you’ve been; they want to know where you’re going. For too long, St. John’s and UCLA have been spinning on a hamster wheel.

    Yet both schools refuse to get over themselves, convinced somehow that they needn’t offer anything more than the privilege of wearing their gear to lure coaches and players to their campuses. We have built it; you should come. That’s simply not how the basketball world runs anymore, not for teenagers and, as both are finding out, not for adults. Coaches have gotten as wise to the game as the kids they recruit, well aware that they create the value of the job and not the other way around. Is Villanova a great job, or is Jay Wright a great coach? Was Texas Tech a Final Four waiting to happen, or did Chris Beard get the Red Raiders there? Was Chris Holtmann lucky to get a chance to coach Ohio State, or were the Buckeyes fortunate to entice him away from Butler? The answer to each is obvious.

    Where once people would have crawled to St. John’s or UCLA, college basketball is no longer the world of the landed gentry, with the same families feasting at the banquets while the little people scurry about. Anyone can be a player, with the right coach and the right commitment from the university, and if these searches have proven anything, it is that these two schools simply don’t get it. They have allowed their pasts to become obstacles rather than building blocks, clinging to ideals that simply no longer hold true while refusing to offer anything more.

    The West Coast has been a basketball wasteland for years, with Arizona’s 1997 championship the last title the western U.S. can claim. Sidetracked by any number of distractions, fans hardly flock through the Pauley Pavilion turnstiles — even when the Bruins were competitive — and the school’s skinflint budgeting (the Bruins didn’t fly charter until this year) did little to prove it was anything more than a has-been masquerading as blue blood. UCLA couldn’t work around Dixon’s $8 million buyouts, reportedly trying to negotiate the number down to $1 million, and Barnes this week admitted that if the folks in Westwood could have covered his deal, he’d be the UCLA coach right now. There is a place, certainly, for fiscal prudence. It is not, however, typically in college coaching searches at a school that considers itself among the game’s biggest and best and is, at least according to Forbes, still the 11th most valuable commodity in college hoops. To quote a wise man, “Show me the money.’’

    St. John’s, in the meantime, has followed one bad hire with the next, experiencing all of eight NCAA Tournament berths since Lou Carnesecca hung up his sweater in 1992. The school thought hiring Mullin would bring back the good times, failing to recognize that coaching experience works better than pixie dust. The job is no picnic, not with the rise of Villanova down the road and with a fertile recruiting area all but plucked dry by rivals. But the university still has plenty of fans desperate to rally around the Red Storm if the team would just give them something worth celebrating and a coach who knew what he was doing.

    Instead, the school couldn’t lure New Jersey native Hurley back home — Repole insists it could have with a better offer — and dithered with Cluess long enough that the Iona coach removed himself from consideration. Moser would have received a substantial raise from his Loyola-Chicago salary, but he decided to put a premium on the price of happy, and Odom, the coach at UMBC, said no too. Frank Haith, also rumored to be in the mix, reportedly is staying at Tulsa. Mike Anderson, formerly of Arkansas, Yale’s James Jones and Oklahoma State’s Mike Boynton are now on the clock, according to various reports.

    There is a word to describe all of this: (rhymes with pit) show.

    None of this is to say that both schools can’t stumble their way into good decisions. Cronin might not scream sexy hire, but he will win games at UCLA, and in the Pac-12 that immediately makes you competitive. If St. John’s actually hires someone who knows how to use a wipeboard and diagram a play or two instead of a graduate figurehead, it might accidentally right its ship as well.

    But going forward both schools would be wise to make sure that the mirrors they’re looking into aren’t from the funhouse and understand what they are — and more, what they aren’t. Otherwise, they’re destined to the land of faded glory, clinging to the past while the game marches forward without them.


  • #2
    Great article and read, thanks for posting Ryno.
    Go STRONG to the mouth


    • #3
      good read, Ryno. amazing that UCLA continues to allows their ego to rule.... Now they pay the price