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Bucky McMillan is ready for his opportunity at Samford

Getting inside the mind of the Bulldogs’ new basketball coach

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 19 Samford at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

From Buzz to Butch, the SoCon has had some great names for its head coaches over the years. Now, it has a Bucky, in new Samford coach Bucky McMillan.

It’s been a wild summer for all of college athletics, and few have had more of an adjustment to make than McMillan. Becoming a first-time head coach amid a pandemic is rough, but at age 36, he seems to be taking things in stride.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from Samford SID Joey Mullins, informing me that coach McMillan could do our interview 30 minutes earlier than previously scheduled. When I got in touch with McMillan, I found out that it was actually his first day in the office.

“It’s been crazy so far,” McMillan said. “The most important part of the job is putting the right personnel together and I feel like we have put together a really good staff. We’ve signed some really good players, but I haven’t even gotten to meet with our players yet.”

McMillan inherits a Samford team that is coming off a 10-23 season and a 4-14 record in the SoCon. The challenge at Samford is a unique one, as the program hasn’t seen any sustained success since joining the Southern Conference, though the talent has been there.

In fact, it’s been a topsy-turvy 12 years for the Bulldogs, who experienced only minimal success under its three previous coaches — Scott Padgett, Bennie Seltzer and Jimmy Tillette. Times under Seltzer and Padgett were particularly concerning because many players transferred out of the program.

The Bulldogs will look like a much different team without their two best players from a year ago, as point guard Josh Sharkey has graduated, and wing Robert Allen transferred to Ole Miss. Brandon Austin, who was the other wing guard, has also graduated, meaning the Bulldogs must replace their top three scorers from a year ago.

Throw in DeAndre Thomas and Logan Padgett’s transfers, and the Bulldogs have lost 54.6 PPG of the 74.2 they averaged as a team last season.

Despite the losses, the good news is the new head coach returns a serviceable big man, in Jalen Dupree and guard Myron Gordon, who redshirted the 2019-20 season. Triston Chambers has found his way back to Samford after being a SoCon All-Freshman Team selection way back in 2016-17, and Preston Parks, who started at The Citadel, joins him.

Parks was the 2016-17 SoCon Freshman of the Year before transferring to UT Martin and finally ending up at Samford. He will look to fill the void left at point guard with the departure of Josh Sharkey.

While McMillan hasn’t been a coach at the college ranks, he knows success on the sidelines. He coached one of the top high school basketball teams in the nation for the past seven years, leading Mountain Brook High School to unprecedented to success.

McMillan led the program to the state championship game for seven straight seasons, winning the state title five times. From 2013-20, Mountain Brook was ranked No. 1 in Alabama at some point during the season. During his 12 years at Mountain Brook, McMillan helped the program to 333 wins — an average of 28 per season. This past season, Mountain Brook ranked 13th among public schools nationally.

McMillan credits his staff with helping him ease his transition, including his former mentor, Duane Reboul.

“I reached out to him and asked him to come on and be a part of my staff here at Samford and I lean on him a good bit,” McMillan said. He also lauded Sergio Rouco, Tra Arnold, Dave Good, and Matthew Powell — the rest of his staff.

Part of rebuilding a program entails getting guys back involved with your program, and that’s exactly what McMillan has done.

“We have had a lot of good players come through Samford, but more importantly we have had a lot of good people come through Samford and we want to bring those guys back and make them feel involved in the program,” he said.

On the court, McMillan will introduce his own version of 40 minutes of hell in the SoCon.

“In terms of style, we’re going to play like we did in high school,” he said. “We’re a pressure team and we’re going to get out in transition and we’re going to play in the 90s. I don’t know of another way to play. It’s all I have ever known and that’s the way we are going to play. We are going to be successful, but if we aren’t I am going out on my own sword.”

In the meantime, McMillan is researching his future opponents.

“I remember Furman went down to play Alabama and played Auburn and they took both of those teams down to the wire, and I know ETSU beat LSU and I got a lot of respect for the coaches in the league,” he said. “Even some of the teams that weren’t towards the top of the league, I watched these teams and some of them recruited some of our players. I watched VMI play and [Dan Earl] does a great job there. So I am looking forward to coaching in the league and that’s why you compete because you want to be in those situations.”