For a head coach at the college level, success isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to deal with.
Generally speaking, if your team is good, it probably means you are going to lose people in the offseason. Underclassmen that have successful seasons are going to head for the NBA while assistant coaches that contributed to the winning are going to be looking for better jobs with higher salaries and more responsibility.
St. John’s will be forced to deal with both heading into next season. Moe Harkless looks like he could end up being a lottery pick after a terrific freshman season with the Johnnies, while assistant coach Mike Dunlap will follow Harkless to the next level. He shocked the basketball world on Monday night when he beat out the likes of Jerry Sloan, Patrick Ewing and Brian Shaw to be named head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats.
And it is Dunlap, not Harkless, that is going to create a void that will be incredibly difficult to fill.
Dunlap was one of the most highly-regarded basketball minds at the collegiate level. Coaches raved about him. So did players. The praise that media members were lobbing at him when news of the hire broke bordered on being NSFW.
“The Johnnies basketball family is ecstatic for Coach Dunlap’s opportunity,” Lavin said in a statement Monday night. “Mike’s selection as the Charlotte Bobcats’ head coach is a well-deserved honor. To make the unprecedented jump from college assistant to NBA head coach is testament to both Mike’s abilities as a teacher and our basketball program’s marked improvement over the past 27 months.”
“Mike Dunlap absolutely elevates every player and team he comes into contact with,” George Karl said of Dunlap, who was on his staff in Denver. “He is our guy. He will take you from good to great. Name any top-level, elite coach in the game – the only difference between Mike and them is their address. There is no higher level of coaching ability than his. There is absolutely no one better.”
That is precisely why losing Dunlap is going to be such a big blow to the Johnnies.
Last season was not exactly a banner year for St. John’s, but given everything they went through during the season — Lavin spent the year recovering from prostate cancer; three of their nine recruits were declared ineligible prior to the start of the season; third-leading scorer Nurideen Lindsay left the team in December, a month before Malik Stith (the team’s only returner from 2010-2011) left the team — it was a borderline miracle that St. John’s finished up 13-19 with six Big East wins.
And that credit goes to Dunlap. He’s the guy that took over the reins of the program with Lavin sidelined. He’s the guy that made a team that went six deep with five freshmen and a JuCo transfer competitive. He’s the guy that created defensive schemes and made in-game adjustments.
Tony Chiles, Rico Hines and Moe Hicks are excellent recruiters. Chiles and Hicks have plenty of connections in New York. Lavin is a great recruiter himself. But no where in that group is someone that knows the game as well as Dunlap.
And with a team that, once again, will be short on experience, losing their best basketball mind and the disciplinarian of the coaching staff is going to hurt.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.