Yesterday afternoon, UNCW introduced Kevin Keatts as its new head coach, the 10th in program history. The 41-year-old Keatts coached the last three seasons alongside Rick Pitino while serving as Louisville’s associate head coach. UNCW appears to have obtained the services of a much sought-after man, and it didn’t take nearly as long as the coaching search back in 2010, which lasted 79 days.
Before his stint in Kentucky, Keatts spent a total of 10 years at Hargrave Military Academy (VA) (with a brief stop at Marshall mixed in there) where he won a pair of prep school national championships.
During Keatts’ three years at Louisville, the Cardinals won the 2013 NCAA Tournament Championship, participated in the Final Four in 2012, and made a run to the Sweet 16 this season.
With Louisville’s season ending last Friday night, Keatts is officially focused on restoring success to a once-proud UNCW program. He said as much Wednesday afternoon, frequently referencing 2006 (when UNCW last made the Big Dance) and the glory days of Jerry Wainwright and Brad Brownell:
“I am a winner. I will work as hard as I can to get this program back to where it’s supposed to be.”
His experience coaching at the graduate level could prove valuable in formulating a pipeline with post grad programs. One of the big reasons Luke Hancock transferred to Lousville was to join Keatts, his former prep coach. Hancock was the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in 2013.
We witnessed the success Blaine Taylor created with redshirt seniors, and guys who go the prep school route aren’t much different. Virginia’s got a unique recruiting landscape, as most of the high D-I prospects leave the state for the perceived greener pastures.
Many talented players that have been passed over by bigger programs are then cherry-picked by out-of-state programs. Look no further that Monte Ross snagging Hagins, Brinkley, Threatt, King-Davis, or incoming recruit Skye Johnson from Virginia.
If Keatts knows the Shenandoah Valley prep landscape well enough to snag a few hidden gems, it could go a long way towards getting a leg up on his CAA comrades.
Regarding style of play, Keatts said the Seahawks will play fast, and will be “the best-conditioned team in the country.” Let’s take a look at the holdovers from the Buzz Peterson era:
F Cedrick Williams (Senior)
G Addison Spruill (Senior)
G Freddie Jackson (Senior)
F Nate Anderson (Senior)
F Yemi Makanjuola (Junior)
F Dylan Sherwood (Junior)
G Craig Ponder (Junior)
F Luke Hager (Junior)
C C.J. Gettys (Sophomore)
F Chuck Ogbodo (Sophomore)
G Nik Brown (Sophomore) – Leaving?
G Malik Pugh (Freshman) – Still Committed?
Coaching changes are generally followed by attrition, so we’ll see how this situation shakes out. There are 10 players remaining from last season and the two pledges (Brown and Pugh) reopened their recruitments towards the end of the coaching search.
From what I’ve read, Pugh fits the mold of the quick, active guards Keatts coached at Louisville. Keatts is looking to get Pugh back in the fold, and should look for an older transfer at point guard. That’s the most gaping hole on the roster.
It’s hard to know what one could expect from Brown, a guy who’s been injury-plagued throughout the entirety of his collegiate career. His freshman year stat line screams volume scorer, but UNCW needs buckets anyway it can get them. Keatts’ system allows for plenty of offensive freedom, which should be intriguing to Brown. Brown did average 3.6 assists per game at Longwood (’12-’13), but also committed 3.9 turnovers per outing.
At guard, rising redshirt junior Craig Ponder looks to be the biggest benefactor of Keatts’ arrival. Ponder suited up for Keatts at Hargrave, and has shown potential in his three seasons at Wilmington. Last season was disappointing, but Ponder finished it on a personal high note when he dropped a season-high 24 points in the CAA Tournament play-in game versus Hofstra. If he isn’t forced to be the floor general, he could easily be the Seahawks’ highest scoring guard next season.
The returning crop of forwards is sneaky. Aside from Northeastern, does anyone in the conference have a better frontcourt? Charleston has Baru, and there are talented young forwards in Philly, Baltimore, and Newark, but I like what returns in Wilmington.
That Cedrick Williams-Yemi Makanjuola duo will be nice, and late-season breakout Dylan Sherwood brings size and shooting. Luke Hager had some productive outings. Chuck Ogbodo is still an unknown commodity, but flashed budding skills in a limited role.
I think we’ll see that with a more defined rotation, UNCW can be solid. If a guy like Ponder knows he’ll get 28 minutes a night, his production shouldn’t be as up and down.
All things considered, this looks like a great hire. It’s hard to make predictions when we don’t know exactly how Keatts will fill those three open scholarships, but I think it’s a conservative estimate to say that the Seahawks could double their conference win total (3-13 in 2014) next season.
For details on Keatts’ incentive-laden contract with a base salary of $300K, look here.
Towson‘s historically successful season officially ended last Thursday with a CIT loss at Murray State. Sometimes, a player’s biggest struggle is for our memories, and I don’t think any CAA fans will soon forget what Jerrelle Benimon, Mike Burwell, Rafriel Guthrie, and Marcus Damas did to help Pat Skerry turn around the Towson program.
Underclassmen Four McGlynn, Timajh Parker-Rivera, Walter Foster, and John Davis got some valuable postseason run, and represent Towson’s bright future going forward. Expect Towson to take a step back before rising to contention again in 2016.
The end of the first quarter of year marks the beginning of a very tumultuous time for college basketball programs. Transfers run rampant, and it’s already hit close to home.
Hofstra’s Jordan Allen will graduate in May, and plans to pursue graduate/basketball opportunities at another university. His ability to man four spots on the floor would allow him to play at plenty of D-I schools, and we’ll miss watching him compete. Congratulations to Allen for getting that degree in three years, and honoring student athletes everywhere.
6’9” sophomore forward Taylor Bessick will transfer from James Madison, as he looks for more touches elsewhere. Bessick flashed potential in his two seasons in Harrisonburg, but struggled to put it together consistently (early fouls/fouls in rapid succession were common issues). A season in the weight room could do wonders for a guy who hasn’t played basketball for very long.
It was also announced that 6’7” freshman Tom Rivard will transfer away from JMU. At the moment, JMU has nine players currently on scholarship, with high school seniors Hari Hall and Dante Sterling set to join the Dukes. That leaves Matt Brady with two scholarships to fill before next season. Brady could try to add onto the incoming freshman class, but it might be more likely that he’ll try to snag an experienced guard in the Humpty Hitchens mold. Bessick’s departure leaves a void in the post as well, so we’ll see how that all pans out.
It’s transfer season. Stay tuned.