DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -Drake's worst fears have been realized. Keno Davis, the bright, young coach that lifted the Bulldogs out of obscurity and into the NCAA tournament, has jumped to a bigger program after just one year on the job.
Providence hired Davis, 36, as its coach on Tuesday, less than two weeks after he was honored as The Associated Press national coach of the year. Drake athletic director Sandy Hatfield-Clubb said that while the school tried to keep Davis, she believes that Davis' decision was based on factors Drake could not write into a contract.
Davis told Hatfield-Clubb and Drake president David Maxwell that his decision was based on his affection for the Northeast, where he spent time as a child when his father coached at Boston College. Davis also said he was intrigued with coaching in the Big East.
``He and I had a lot of conversations, and of course I'm sad,'' said Hatfield-Clubb, adding that she wasn't surprised by Davis' decision. ``If I had my way, Keno Davis would stay at Drake University.''
Hatfield-Clubb said that while there's no timetable for finding a new coach, the search has already begun.
Whoever takes over at Drake will have a challenge trying to keep the Bulldogs atop the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bulldogs lose three starters from last season's surprising Valley championship team, including point guard Adam Emmenecker, the MVC Player of the Year, and guard Leonard Houston and forward Klayton Korver.
Drake will build next season's team around All-Valley picks Josh Young and Jonathan Cox, who will likely form one of the league's top inside-out tandems. The Bulldogs will also return forward Brent Heemskerk, guard John Michael Hall and point guard Josh Parker, who backed up Emmenecker last season.
``If you look at our team, the thing that sticks out is our chemistry,'' said Young, who is planning to stay at Drake. ``If we can stick together as a family, I think we'll have a good shot next year.''
There are also looming questions about Drake's roster since player defections are often common during a coaching change.
For next season, the Bulldogs have signed Sean Jones, a 6-foot-11 center for Carson City, Mich., and Jared Vlastuin, a 6-foot-5 forward from Lennox, S.D. UC-Irvine transfer Adam Templeton will be eligible to play starting in 2008-09.
Perhaps the biggest challenge the program faces is in capitalizing on the momentum Davis helped build in his only season as coach. The Knapp Center, once barely half-full, was packed during the second half of the season.
Fans that had been so disillusioned during nearly four decades of futility again threw their support behind the Bulldogs, who went from Valley afterthought to conference champions in one whirlwind winter.
Those supporters now face the prospect of yet another rebuilding process at a school that hadn't won a Valley title since 1971 before this past season.
``There's a pause, because there's a shock and it's sad and a member of our family has grown and moved on,'' Hatfield-Clubb said. It will ``certainly not change the enthusiasm. That was the program. These players are here, we have a great returning cast, we have new players coming in. I'm very excited about our future, and we have a very attractive job.''

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