The Anatomy of Building a Winner

Joe Robbins

Every year the coaching carousel spins and spins and spins but what does it take to stop spinning for some programs and what is the best way to build a winner. Mount St. Mary's Jamion Christian and Radford's Mike Jones are two coaches currently making the journey with similar backgrounds and different immediate results.

If you don't know by now I'm a Longwood University alum and a proud Lancers. For the first time in ten years Longwood will be entering a basketball season with a new coach at the helm. In April LU Athletic Director Troy chose longtime Cleveland State assistant Jayson Gee to lead the program. In going through a coaching change for the first time on the Division I level I keep asking myself what the is the right way to build a program and what's the fastest way to garner success?

Two programs that I've kept an eye on in my mid-major "neighborhood" are that of Radford and Mount St. Mary's. Both coaches at these programs, Mike Jones and Jamion Christian, are Shaka Smart disciples and have had their own unique way of building a program with an on court philosophy that I deem similar to what Longwood might strive for.

Jones certainly had an up hill battle at Radford taking over a program that Brad Greenberg left in controversy and eventually NCAA penalties. Despite success in 2009, Radford is not a place known for basketball prominence and the Highlanders had quite a rough stretch of years in the early and mid 2000s.

Before the ball was even tipped Jones lost 10 players from Radford's previous roster and began from the ground up. He infused the team with young, local talent and took a seriously lump his first year winning only 6 games. The Highlanders then improved to 13 wins this past season. The success may not be gratifying to some, but things are certainly trending in the right direction for Jones. Clearly this next year is the biggest step in front of the program to see if they can climb above .500 for the first time since 2010.

But are the lumps that the Highlanders taken over the past two years necessary or is there another way to do it? Jamion Christian took over a team at Mount St. Mary's who had not seen a winning season since 2009-10. Christian also saw an exodus of players at The Mount and brought in some new talent to spearhead his "MAYHEM" style of basketball.

Unlike Jones' story Christian experience immediate success at Mount St. Mary's and nearly broke into the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers went 18-14 and made it to the NEC Championship game.

The makeover continues this year in Emmitsburg as at least four players have transferred away from the program. For the most part the players aren't leaving on bad terms rather leaving a system where they may not be the best fit. In this case the transfers make sense for both parties. Christian also has remained aggressive not only in recruiting but in the transfer market landing Chris Martin from Marshall and possibly others. Mount St. Mary's seems to be a program on the rise to say the least.

As a fan I've often found it tough to see players transfer. You feel as if something went wrong or the player didn't like the university. Sometimes that is the case, but in examining Christian and Jones I've come to realize that there is certainly a business-like mentality even at the mid-major level and that these moves may be the best for both the players and the program.

So where does this all leave my Lancers? Five players have transferred away, some by choice (Michael Kessens to Alabama) and others...well...not so much. Longwood will bring in nine new players next year and the whole philosophy of the program has changed in a very positive fashion thus far. I can't help but wonder though should I get ready for a quick assent to competitiveness and winning seasons or buckle in and get ready for some of the bumps a program like Radford has taken?

Christian and Jones are just two examples that I'm familiar with in my own backyard, but obviously there are countless others. I'd love to hear from other Mid-Major fans about coaching transitions, expectations, and results that you have experienced.

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