Nicholls State head coach Richie Riley and his wife Jess seem like that lovely young couple who just purchased their first home and moved into the house next door to you. The house itself is a bit of a "fixer-upper" because the elderly lady who used to live there was unable to maintain it, and it slowly became an eyesore. Now, Riley plans on investing in some major renovations to his house, which should increase your property value in the long run too. The sentiment of increased property value is the same across Thibodaux, Louisiana and the campus of Nicholls State after Riley was announced as head coach of the basketball program in April.
The 33 year-old Riley has his first head coaching job after spending the past two seasons as an assistant at Clemson (as well as holding similar jobs at UAB, Eastern Kentucky and Coastal Carolina), and takes over a Nicholls State program that hasn’t won the Southland Conference or made an appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1998. Riley replaces JP Piper, who spent 12 years at Nicholls and saw them go 132-224 during that time, with only one winning season.
All the more reason to re-shingle the roof and slap on a new coat of paint.
Riley understands that he may need to repave his driveway before creating a new path of success at Nicholls, but says that he is ready to outwork his competition in the process, and understands the advantages and disadvantages of being one of the youngest head coaches in the NCAA.
"Any time you’re a new head coach, especially at 33, somebody will question you and say that you’ve not won a game yet," he said. "I can’t argue that because I haven’t won a game yet. But I also tell them that I haven’t lost a game yet either and so I’m still undefeated right now."
Fans of Nicholls State hope they won’t have to wait too long to bare the fruits of Riley’s optimism in breaking the spell of the losing culture that has existed for almost two decades at Nicholls.
"I’m not a big believer in having a three-to-five-year plan because we need to experience some winning now," he said. "When you look at the junior college guys we’ve just signed, their combined record last year was 95-26. I told my staff that I want guys that are used to winning. They come from a winning culture and it means something to them. I think that’s huge as a mindset when you’re trying to build a program, you get guys that are used to winning. "
In recent years, Riley has developed a reputation as an excellent recruiter, which has no doubt contributed to his rapid ascent up the coaching ladder. Riley and his staff of all new assistant coaches from the previous regime have been busy recruiting and have already gotten off to a great start after signing five new players, including two former elite prospects. One of them is 6-4 guard Roddy Peters, a Top 50 recruit out of high school who played his freshman season at Maryland before transferring to South Florida. He also added 6-6 guard Kamall Richards, who played his freshman season at Xavier before tearing his ACL, and then rediscovered his game at Harcum College. He averaged 16.6 points per game last season and will be an immediate impact player on offense for Nicholls, which was dead last in Southland in scoring last season, with only 67.6 points per game.
Although the team went just 11-23 last year, there is reason for hope in Thibodaux. There is a strong core of talent returning to the lineup, including four of the top five scorers from last year. That includes local product and senior guard Ja’Dante’ Frye, who led the Colonels with 12.5 points per game. They also return 7-foot senior center Liam Thomas from Australia, who is expected to be a menace on the defensive end once again, after leading the conference in blocks and contributing 8.8 points per game.
For the first time in years, the Southland Conference is up for grabs, with perennial powerhouse Stephen F. Austin in a year of transition after losing its head coach Brad Underwood and several key players. The three-time defending conference champs might still be the league favorite, but the Lumberjacks hardly have a stranglehold on the Southland like they have in the past.
"A huge selling point for me is that I tell these guys that I need you to believe in me, the same way I believe in you," he said. "Come build this program with me at Nicholls."