Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good article on McKillop (I added a little to it in one'll see)

LI native McKillop builds Davidson into contender
Shaun Powell
March 18, 2008

He's been away almost two decades, long enough to raise a few kids and forget what rush-hour traffic is like on the LIE, but Bob McKillop never forgot his local basketball roots, which remain stronger than his New York accent after all these years.

"There's a mentality you kept when you grew up playing ball in the parks and playground," he said. "You have to win and stay on the court because someone's got 'winners'. For me, whether it was Hickey Field, or Centennial Park, or Rockaway, or Prospect Park in East Meadow, you had to respond. I treasure those times because it toughened you and if you lost, you sat. It ruined your night."

Well, he's back on the playground, in a sense, and he hopes to ruin someone else's night - or, at the very least, plenty of NCAA office pools. As the tournament begins, everyone's looking for the next George Mason, a little team that can go a long way. And the school most qualified is Davidson College in North Carolina, a speck on the Division I level, coached by McKillop, now officially a long way from Long Island.

Davidson (26-6) brings what you need to win in March. For your bracket consideration, the Wildcats offer terrific guard play with Stephen Curry and Jason Richards and have an eager group of role players. They also have 22 straight wins, one of the longest streaks in the country.

This season, the homely academic school with an enrollment of only 1,700 students lost to N.C. State by a point, to North Carolina by four and to Duke by six, proof that it can hang with the bigs. Everything feels right for the Wildcats to shake up the tournament the way Gonzaga used to, which is pretty interesting, given that Davidson opens with Gonzaga on Friday.

Any advancement through the tournament would be the crowning achievement for McKillop, a legendary high school coach on Long Island back in the day and star player at Hofstra. He's looking for his first NCAA Tournament win (NOT ANY MORE!!! GO CATS!!!) but is respected on the Davidson campus for what he isn't looking for: his next job.

Most coaches, especially those on the mid-major level, spend their careers chasing bigger programs and better shoe contracts. McKillop was one of them, always surveying the landscape, checking the vacancies at State U., plotting his next move. But, 19 years and counting, he's still at Davidson, having long ago realized that it's better to tackle the job you have rather than the one you don't.

"I was not ready for the college game when I arrived," said McKillop, 4-24 in his first year. "I thought I could wave a magic wand and fix everything. I also had my eye on the next step rather than my eye on the program. In my fourth year here, I was on the last year of my contract. I made a decision to put my total focus on the players and my energy into this job."

Ever since, Davidson and McKillop have flourished. He's now an eight-time 20-game winner and generally regarded as one of the top mid-major coaches. Even more remarkable is how McKillop built a winning program at a school that's not only small but rigid academically. There aren't many cat burglars who can sneak into Davidson, much less honors students, because the school admits only about 35 percent of those who apply.

Davidson did, however, welcome a coach who did everything possible on Long Island from a basketball standpoint. McKillop was big-time at Hofstra as a player, then won big at Holy Trinity and Long Island Lutheran as a coach.

Over time, while turning around the Davidson program, he wondered about working at the next college level, possibly even returning home for a dream job. Who wouldn't? But he was never quite on St. John's radar - which, given the struggles of our local Division I team, was St. John's loss.

Should Davidson cause a stir in the tourney and McKillop become the "hot coach" that everyone wants, would he leave? Well, it would take something special to pry McKillop, 57, from what he regards as a special situation. But first things first. He wants to feel the warmth of a tourney win for the first time, get folks in North Carolina excited about a team other than Duke and the Tar Heels, then brace for a projected second-round match with Georgetown.

"We just want to be at our best," McKillop said.

If it all goes right, Davidson will beat a few teams and maybe even tie another: George Mason.

Davidson College

Founded: In 1837 by ministers of the Concord Presbyterians.

Located: Davidson, N.C., 19 miles north of Charlotte.

Enrollment: 1,700

Famous alumni: Dean Rusk, secretary of state under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961-69; Patricia Cornwell, author of contemporary American novels

Team nickname: Wildcats

NCAA history: Tenth appearance, and third consecutive.

Long Island connection: Nineteen-year coach Bob McKillop, who played high school basketball at Chaminade (one of his fellow classmates was Bill O'Reilly). Played college basketball at Hofstra after transferring from East Carolina. Coached high school basketball at Holy Trinity (86-25 from 1973-78) and L.I. Lutheran (182-51 from 1979-89).

No comments: