On Jan. 21, speaking to reporters, University of North Carolina at Wilmington chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli spoke for a bit about the direction in which the UNCW athletic department is heading in addressing a shake-up in the school’s fundraising arm.
“I think what we should be thinking really is how do we take some of our teams to the NCAAs, but not just the first phase,” Sartarelli said. “The second phase. The final eight. The final four, some day. Why not? It has happened, right? So how do we do that? It’s all part of this winning attitude that we have to develop. It’s all about mindset. It’s all about attitude.”
The sentiment wasn’t necessarily startling, or even eye-catching. It was a person in power professing their desire for success.
But then UNCW rolled into University City on Jan. 24, and the Seahawks overcame a halftime deficit against the Drexel men’s basketball team to pull off a comeback win.
I’ve written at length in previous columns about my admiration for what UNCW did with its men’s basketball program. After years of success, the program was in a rut. So, with the future of the team in mind, the school fired Buzz Peterson after four years of futility, and hired a young, impressive coach in Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts.
In the past two seasons, UNCW has been one of the best teams in the conference. Keatts has been aggressive in recruiting, bringing in players like freshman C.J. Bryce, who torched the Dragons in their recent meeting.
I sat on press row as the Seahawks made their comeback with impressive shooting from deep, a hallmark of a successful basketball team in 2016. A fellow reporter asked me if I thought Bruiser Flint’s time with Drexel was drawing to a close. I told him I wasn’t sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me. The reporter chewed on the thought for a second, and then said he felt like Flint could have success at Temple, a more established brand. It would be a fresh start, yet still in Philadelphia.
The question, of course, is why can’t Flint have recruiting success and program-building success at Drexel?
In part, he already has. He turned Drexel into one of the hottest mid-major names in the country in the golden years of his time at Drexel.
But the Drexel basketball brand has begun to grow stale. The recruitment of Terrell Allen was a boon for Flint; next year’s class looks less inspiring. And you can probably rule out the idea of bringing in a Damion Lee-type player, one who likely deserved plenty more looks than he received.
The “winning attitude” that Sartarelli spoke about, the attitude that is currently alive and well with UNCW’s men’s basketball team, is something Drexel’s program needs to rekindle.
Maybe it’s in the form of a rebranding, akin to UNCW’s new logo and color scheme. Maybe it requires something more severe. In any case, it requires change.
Because, after Thursday night’s 77-70 loss against Towson University, the Dragons are 3-17. For the first time in Flint’s career, he will have back-to-back losing seasons, this one undoubtedly the ugliest on record. Drexel’s men’s basketball team has won at least 10 games in each season since joining Division I in 1973. To keep that streak going, the Dragons will need to win seven of their last nine games, a feat that seems just a bit more than unlikely at this point.
To accept a failure of that size, to roll into the 2016-17 season without any semblance of change, is certainly not be conducive to developing a winning attitude.