When the news broke that Scott Sutton was going to be fired as Oral Roberts head coach, it came as a bit of a shock to some in the college basketball community. Sutton had been patrolling the sidelines for 18 years, and peaked with three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in the mid-2000s.
For all he had done for the program, the Oral Roberts administration felt that it was time to make a change due to the lack of recent success. The same administration that fired Sutton was the one that placed restrictive policies on the players Sutton could recruit, which absolutely affected the program as the results showed. The decision to fire Sutton was a controversial one, as are the policies that the administration enacted.
But it’s not time to dwell on the past for Oral Roberts basketball. A new regime means a fresh start for a program that longs for the 20-win seasons that they’ve failed to achieve since rejoining the Summit League. That fresh start begins with Paul Mills.
Mills spent 14 seasons on Scott Drew’s staff at Baylor before being named head coach in late April. He’s been through runs to the second weekend in March. He’s coached players that would go on to the NBA. But he won’t have any of those luxuries at Oral Roberts, and rebuilding the Golden Eagles program is no small task.
Oral Roberts loses four of their top six scorers from last year, including two guys that averaged double figures in Kris Martin and Jalen Bradley. Albert Owens returns to man the paint, and Emmanuel Nzekwezi showed signs of promise while being name Summit League Newcomer of the Year. Getting Javan White back from an ACL injury will help too. But outside of that, there isn’t much experience.
Mills knows how to coach bigs, though. Baylor has placed multiple big men in the NBA in recent years, and Mills will look to bring that experience to the Oral Roberts frontcourt. In a basketball landscape that is becoming increasingly perimeter oriented and benefits the fleet of foot, the Golden Eagles’ path to success might be by way of the interior.
It’s not likely the Oral Roberts will compete for the Summit League title this season. There will be growing pains under a first year head coach, as is the case in most situations. On top of that, their talent level simply isn’t on the same level as the rest of the conference.
What will define a successful season for Oral Roberts? A tough non-conference schedule will skew over all win totals, and it appears that the Golden Eagles are destined to finish towards the bottom of the Summit League once again.
First year head coaches aren’t measure by the amount of wins, though. Mills should be looking to establish a culture. He should be building his team’s identity on the court. He needs to show a solid foundation for the future of the program. If Mills can do those things and do them well, the new era of Oral Roberts could find its way back to its old habits.