The Mocs basketball program was harmed. It was not dead, but it was not doing well. A lot of what has happened since the 1997 Sweet Sixteen run is not necessarily any one coaches fault, or one administrator, or one player. There are many things to blame for the problems. That may be a discussion to be had at some point, but it is not a discussion to be had today.
Today, we want to think about what we hope the program is advancing toward. To understand where we are in the process, it's time to look at the steps it takes to rebuild.
Step 1. Have an AD willing to do dedicate resources to the basketball program and give the coaching staff as much freedom as allowed by school and NCAA rules in allowing kids into school.
Step 2. Hire an hard-working basketball coach with a plan. It doesn't matter if he wins the fans over immediately or how energetic he comes off. If the program needs to be rebuilt, the fans will be excited to have a new face regardless of who it is- eventually. If he is hard-working, the energy will come into the fanbase regardless. The plan is the key. If the coach has a plan, then that plan will capture the fanbases imagination.
Step 3. Recruit, recruit, recruit. This seems obvious. But this helps give the fanbase something to feel good about before the season ever begins and gives them something to point to as a sign that things are indeed getting better.
Step 4. Get out and meet the fanbase. This, too, will energize the fanbase and get them in the coaches corner, creating some real positive momentum, before a game has ever been played.
Step 5. Win the games you're supposed to win. In other words, no losing to Gardner-Webb in your second game if you are Kentucky. Call this the Billy Gillespie Corollary.
Step 6. Develop a home court advantage. Hey- the fans are excited about the new guy. Win the games you should win at home. Maybe even pull a major upset at home. Give the home crowd some things to really get excited about.
Step 7. Stay competitive with the best teams on your home court- all the time. This obviously goes hand in hand with Step 6, but stop being blown out at home, regardless of who you play.
Step 8. Stay competitive with every team, regardless of home or road. Once you've started being competitive at home, it's time to be competitive on the road as well. Stop losing to teams in your ballpark by 30 points.
Step 9. Breakthrough win. There's always a moment where the program has been keeping it close, but finally breaks through with the big win that changes the trajectory of the program. Think Mocs football and how they have been struggling to come up with that breakthrough win for years, until this year, when you could argue any number of breakthrough wins (Appalachian State or Wofford are the two easiest to identify).
Step 10. Win win win. Now is the time to reap the benefits. It's time to win at the highest level that your school can deliver.
You always have to continue recruiting and you can't give that up. Obviously, the first steps can take the least amount of time, but they may be the most important steps in the whole process. You can't get to those later steps without first doing the earlier steps.
So let's think about where the Mocs basketball program is at the moment.
Step 1 seems to have been completed. David Blackburn has been named the AD and he has been nothing if not supportive of the basketball program to this point. He announced that the basketball program would be allowed to recruit junior college players again. That had been discouraged in the past.
Step 2 seems to be done. Will Wade seems to be one of the hardest working people in all of college basketball. He was not universally loved by the fanbase immediately, but he has become so because of his wortk ethic and the desire for the fans to embrace the new coach. He has a clearly defined plan- "Chaos." That gives the fans plenty to get excited about.
Step 3 seems to be going on. Wade has been recruiting like crazy. Justin Tuoyo joined the Mocs from VCU. Greg Pryor was a late recruit and is starting for the Mocs. There are four future Mocs lined up to sign this weekend- Brandon Maxwell, Shaquille Preston, Anthony Ethridge and Jacolby Mobley. They appear to be a notch above many of the Mocs recruits in the past. We'll see. There certainly seems to be recruiting momentum.
Step 4 was a big part of Wade's plan from the beginning. I got to interview him this summer. He went out and did a lot of meetings and did every interview his schedule would allow. He said that he would never turn down an interview opportunity if he had the ability to do it. He passed this with flying colors.
We don't know where we are from that point forward. What we do know is that attendance was over 4600 for the opener against Covenant. If attendance continues at that spiked level, the Mocs will have a distinct home court advantage, it would appear.
But that is exactly what makes these next two home games against Montreat (on Saturday) and Kennesaw State (on Tuesday) so important. Montreat is definitely about winning the games you are supposed to. Kennesaw State is about ensuring the devlopment of a home court advantage. Remember- last year, the Mocs went 9-9 at home, which is all part of what was not acceptable. Kennesaw State and Montreat are very important to re-establishing a home court advantage. These are two semi-important games this early in the Wade era.