- The Detroit Lions drafted Ndamukong Suh and appear to be on the right track for the first time in years. Yes, I am a Lions fan despite their perennial losing. And yes, I know people in Iowa don’t care about the Lions. But until you get a team of your own, I’m going to act like you do.
- The Detroit Red Wings are approaching a game-seven battle with the Phoenix Coyotes (again, the lack of team for Iowa). The Wings haven’t had their greatest season, limping through countless injuries to barely sneak into the playoffs. Fortunately, I have confidence in this star-studded roster. Lets get to round-two Wingers.
- Oklahoma City won their second-consecutive home game to even the Lakers series at 2-2. I’ve liked this team from the beginning, but really Kobe? Twelve points in a 20-point game 4 loss. Thats very un-Kobe-like.
- The short-handed Utah Jazz have looked far superior to a talented Denver Nuggets team. Even with Kyrylo Fesenko (from Dnipropetrovsk, and no I didn’t spell that wrong) as their starting center. (More on him coming soon)
However, the big news comes straight from Omaha, Nebraska. Longtime coach and MVC godfather Dana Altman is headed to Oregon to become the Ducks’ head basketball coach. This time, it’s for real.
In 2007 we heard a similar story. The classic Pig Suey incident, when Dana left to become Arkansas’s head coach, only to return to Creighton within a day after seeing the state of SEC basketball. Altman sprinted back to Creighton with his tail in between his legs. He vowed to remain at the University for the rest of his career. Fortunately for him, Creighton opened him back with open arms.
Three seasons later, Altman’s streak of 11 straight 20-win seasons was snapped. His BlueJay team looked over-matched, maybe even outcoached for the first time in years. Long gone are the days of Rodney Buford, Ryan Sears, Kyle Korver, and Anthony Tolliver. Instead, players like P’Allen Stinnett dominate the headlines with off-the-court issues. Dana Altman looked at the future of the Creighton program and decided it was time for a change (again).
Ultimately, the Valley has changed. Power has shifted. For almost an entire decade, Creighton and Southern Illinois were top-dogs. Often ranked in the top-25, both teams were perennial post-season contenders. Now, UNI dominates headlines. Illinois State moved from bottom-feeder to contended. And even Drake had one good year (come on, you knew I was throwing that in somewhere).
I can’t blame Altman for leaving. He’s done everything he could for Creighton. Sixteen seasons after arriving in a place without basketball heritage, Altman turned them into a team no one in Division-1 wanted to play. One season under 20-wins and the fans are grumbling. How is that fair?
Look at it this way – as a college coach, you are the focal point of the team. True. Accepted. So you are going to receive a disproportionate amount of credit either way. Ditto. But, fans expect loyalty to the school. They also expect perfection.
When Keno Davis left Drake a few years ago, some fans were upset. How? Would you really turn down someone quadrupling your salary? I wouldn’t say no. Especially if, like Dana’s case, people are always expecting more. He raised the fans level of expectations. One season with less than 20-wins and Creighton fans are grumbling about his ability to coach.
Believe me, I am not blaming the fans. Its just the nature of the business. Fans want their school to win. Coaches need to do whats best for themselves and their families. As much as we like to think college basketball is wholesome, it really is a cut-throat business.
Basically, I’m just trying to say congrats Dana. I wish you the best.
Looking to the future, it will be interesting to see how the BlueJays proceed. Greg McDermott looks to be a perfect fit. After planting the seeds to get UNI to their current level, McDermott’s struggles at Iowa State have been well documented. The Valley and the Big 12 represent different beasts. At Iowa State McDermott has to recruit a different type of player. And these players haven’t exactly fit to his system. Moving from the hot-seat at Iowa State to a storied Valley program in a conference he’s very familiar with seems like a good move. (Oh, and it helps that Creighton can offer more money than Iowa State. Remember, its a business.)
Succeeding in the Valley requires hard-work, tireless recruiting, and having an eye for the diamond in the rough. Coaches have to know how to recruit to this level. MVC teams are too good for average players. But outside of the power-six conference teams, it is extremely difficult to get top-100 caliber athletes. Finding the best of the rest is imperative for Valley success.
To win against the big boys, Valley teams have to play together. And coaches have to find the right mix of players. Kansas is going to be more athletic. But what does UNI do? They stick to their strengths: play great team defense, get Kansas out of their rhythm, and make timing baskets. What they lacked in athleticism, they made up for with size and hustle in the frontcourt, strength and shooting ability in the backcourt. Of course, an Ali Farokhmanesh doesn’t hurt.
It also helps to have mature teams. The last three MVC champs have been junior/senior laden groups. The 2007-2008 Drake Bulldogs had a fifth-year senior, two four-year seniors, and two four-year juniors in their rotation. UNI from 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 boasted a similar mix.
As more prime-time players become one-and-dones, the advantage often resides in experience. Valley coaches don’t recruit these players. They can’t. But they have a knack for picking the next best thing. No way Ali Farokhmanesh goes to Kansas or Kentucky. But with the right teammates, in the right system, the kid can shine.
This is what Greg McDermott struggled with at ISU. And this is why Greg McDermott is a great fit for Creighton. The Valley is a special place. But each school needs to have the right kind of coach.
Ultimately Altman leaving will be good for everyone. He needed a change. Creighton needs a change. And McDermott and Iowa State could definitely use a positive way to get out of that situation. This could be a win-win-win for all three programs. Stay posted.