The news that Tommy Dempsey was leaving Rider to take over at Binghamton, who went 2-29 last season, surprised many who follow college basketball in the northeast.
But that surprise didn’t prohibit Rider from acting quickly in finding a replacement for Dempsey. In fact, athletic director Don Harnum didn’t even have to leave campus to find his man.
Thursday morning the school announced that associate head coach Kevin Baggett would be promoted to head coach with a press conference coming next Wednesday.
It’s the culmination of a 16-year journey for Baggett, who played at Saint Joseph’s and held positions on staffs at five schools prior to arriving in Lawrenceville in 2006.
“I will be forever grateful to President Rozanski, Associate Vice President Debbie Stasolla and our Athletic Director Don Harnum for giving me the opportunity to become Rider’s next head men’s basketball coach,” said Baggett in a statement released by the school.
“I am looking forward to building on the tradition and success that has been established here at Rider and I am eager and excited to get started.”
Hiring a familiar face could benefit Rider on the court, as the Broncs will need their returnees to step up with the likes of Novar Gadson and Jeff Jones moving on.
There’s also St. John’s transfer Nurideen Lindsey, who will be eligible at the end of the fall semester.
Baggett’s promotion prove most beneficial for forward Daniel Stewart, who averaged 11.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season after winning MAAC Rookie of the Year in 2011.
Baggett has worked with the likes of Jason Thompson and Mike Ringgold while at Rider, and Stewart has a chance to be one of the best players in the MAAC next season.
The one question that remains answering for the Rider program: can they get over the hump and into the NCAA tournament?
While last year’s team was a disappointment the Broncs do own the third-best winning percentage in MAAC play since joining the conference in 1998.
Only Iona and Siena have been better, but those two (along with others such as Loyola (MD), Niagara and Saint Peter’s) have been able to reach the Big Dance. Is Baggett the guy who can get that done? Only time will tell.
Photo credit: Peter G. Borg/Rider University