“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise, seek what they sought.” — Japanese poet Matsuo Basho
Matt McMahon is in his second season as the head coach of the Murray State Racers and has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of two of the most successful coaches in program history: Steve Prohm and Bill Kennedy.
Kennedy is now in charge at Texas A&M after leading the Racers to a 107-53 record in his five seasons in Murray, KY, while Prohm is now at Iowa State. In his four-year stint at Murray State, Prohm went 104-28, including a 31-2 season (2011-12), as well as a few NBA draftees in Cameron Payne (Oklahoma City) and Isaiah Canaan (Chicago).
That gave McMahon a tough act to follow.
Though fans may not realize it, Murray State ranks No. 15 in college basketball history in overall winning percentage — a history that McMahon only hopes to improve upon.
“It’s an unbelievable place to coach,” he said. “The support is off the charts. It really gives you everything you need to be successful here.”
McMahon had the difficult task of starting the 2016-17 campaign with eight new players in the Racers’ lineup, which is no doubt a contributing factor to the team’s 7-8 start this season.
“When you combine four returning players with eight newcomers in the team, chemistry is so critical,” he said.
But the Racers have taken steps forward and picked up a huge win to open Ohio Valley Conference play, taking down league favorite Tennessee State 92-83 on New Year’s Eve.
The pieces that McMahon hopes are starting to right the ship include a few key transfers. 6’8 Juco transfer Terrell Miller Jr. has been a dominate force so far for Murray State, averaging 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and will be counted on heavily for the Racers during OVC play.
Then there’s senior guard Damarcus Croaker, who played two seasons for the Texas Longhorns before transferring to Murray State. He is one of four starters who average double figures in scoring, with 10.4 points per game.
6’0 guard Jonathan Stark was a Freshman All-American while at Tulane and has started every game so far this season, leading the Racers with a 20.8-point-per-game scoring average. Stark’s best performance this year was a 32-point effort that saw him drain nine three-pointers in an OT loss at South Dakota State.
“He’s a relentless worker and very skilled with the basketball and he makes people around him better,” McMahon said of Stark.
Instead of trying to overhaul the system at Murray State, McMahon seems comfortable with the challenges ahead.
“I don’t think it’s any pressure,” he said. “We would like to stay with the same system and philosophy that’s been so successful here at Murray State under coach Prohm. “
The OVC is as competitive from top to bottom as it has been in many years, with a handful of teams, including Belmont, Tennessee State, UT-Martin, and Murray State all expected to be in the mix. Murray State as a program has always sought and expected success. No matter who is at the helm.