|After rough start, Bob McKillop is at home at little Davidson|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 19 March 2008 08:17|
He thought it would take about four years to turn around the Davidson basketball program. Then he'd move on to that bigger coaching job he was convinced he deserved.
``Arrogant, abrasive, cocky high school coach,'' McKillop said in describing himself then. ``Thought he could come in and wave a magic wand, not realizing the challenges of Division I basketball.''
McKillop, who starred at Hofstra before becoming a decorated high school coach on Long Island, saw his plan shattered when Davidson went 4-24, 10-19 and 11-17 his first three seasons.
His job on the line, McKillop realized he had to change.
``I had to get brought to my knees with a very humbling experience before I learned what the real importance in coaching is,'' McKillop said. ``That's teaching young men to be responsible, to be accountable and to work as a team.''
While he stubbornly clings to his New York accent, every other part of that young and grating coach is gone, as the 57-year-old McKillop prepares to lead Davidson (26-6) against Gonzaga on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Now 337-224 in 19 seasons, McKillop has not only turned Davidson into a mid-major power, he's become a fixture and father figure at this tiny liberal arts college.
He lives in a house that sits across the street from campus in this quaint town 20 miles north of Charlotte. You can sometimes see him chatting with neighbors on the sidewalk. Both of his sons have played for him, including Brendan, a freshman on this year's team.
``When I came, Bob was still learning about the culture at Davidson and it's not an easy task,'' said athletic director Jim Murphy, who arrived as McKillop started his seventh season in 1995. ``But I think each year he assimilated a greater sense of the community and a greater feeling for the intricacies of the Davidson College community.''
McKillop has led the Wildcats to four straight 20-win seasons and three straight NCAA tournaments, but this year's team is his best.
Davidson has won 22 straight games, the longest streak in the nation. Seeded 10th in the Midwest Region, the Wildcats have their best chance to win their first NCAA tournament game since Lefty Driesell put this school on the basketball map with two Elite Eight appearances in the 1960s.
``He's done a great job there,'' said Driesell, still considered royalty around town. ``I love his team. I think he could win a couple of games in the NCAA and I'm pulling for them.''
Like Driesell, McKillop has overcome rigid academic standards at this school of 1,700 students with a unique recruiting philosophy. Davidson's roster has players from Canada, France, England, Turkey and Nigeria.
But McKillop didn't have to venture far to get the best player to wear a Wildcats uniform in decades. McKillop eagerly went after Charlotte's Stephen Curry when the big schools shied away because of his size.
Curry, the son of former NBA player Dell Curry, has since grown four inches to 6-foot-3. With a lightning-quick release, the sophomore has scored 1,533 points in less than two seasons under McKillop's guidance.
``You see his decision-making has improved quite significantly,'' said McKillop, who clearly relishes coaching such a talented player. ``His defense, his rebounding have improved significantly.''
But Curry isn't immune from McKillop's demanding style. Neither is senior point guard Jason Richards, who leads the country in assists per game.
The self-proclaimed ``tough guy from Queens'' gets on everybody.
Thomas Sander caught McKillop's wrath at practice on Monday, when the senior forward was sluggish after staying up most of the night before finishing a paper.
``He came up to me afterward and said, 'Thomas, I'm not that kind of coach. I'm going to be on you no matter what time of the year it is. If you want a different coach, go someplace else,''' Sander said.
``I said, 'Coach, I'm a senior. Where am I going to go?'''
It's clear McKillop no longer plans to go elsewhere.
``There is no doubt in my mind that Bob could be very successful at any number of Division I college basketball programs,'' Murphy said. ``It's just a question of how much would he enjoy his success at those programs. I've heard him say, 'How many Division I coaches can say they've raised three children in the same house?'''
A house that allows McKillop to walk to work, while running into excited residents who think Davidson can become this year's big NCAA tournament surprise.
``Sometimes when you put your eyes on your next job rather than put your eyes on what's in front of you, which is your team, you fall into that trap very easily,'' McKillop said. ``I've been fortunate that my family has been afforded the opportunity to grow up here.''