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Three New Coaches At The Poker Table

October 24, 2011

There are three new basketball coaches in the Colonial Athletic Association, and all three say they want their teams to play energetic basketball and win right away.

But Northeastern’s sixth-year man Bill Coen may have put it best when describing the situations of George Mason’s Paul Hewitt, Towson’s Pat Skerry and Georgia State’s Ron Hunter.

“Each guy has been dealt a different hand,” said Coen, who knows all three personally.

The analogy fits. Let’s take it further.

If we’re playing the popular poker game of Texas Hold ‘Em, here’s how I see each coach’s starting hand.

Hewitt (King-Jack, off-suit)- Hewitt doesn’t walk into a surefire winner, but he starts with one of the most talented teams in the CAA. He shouldn’t be afraid to push money into the pot early, and demand a lot of his cards. Drexel, right now, is the Ace in the deck that appears to have an advantage on Mason from the start, but if some good things happen throughout the season, Hewitt could be sitting on a jackpot. The former Georgia Tech coach said he will maintain the same style of play at Mason that helped him win 189 games as a Yellow Jacket: “Up-tempo, pressure, high-scoring style.”

Skerry (2-5, off-suit)- Skerry has a very low starting hand, and just based on talent alone, he’s overmatched against his opposition from the very start. Not all is bad in Towson. The Tigers have a new athletic director – Mike Waddell – who seems aggressive and focused, and Skerry has already shown that he can recruit. In Year 1, with one of the nation’s youngest teams, he’s going to have to grind and bluff a little if he wants to take some pots. It appears he already has that in his playbook. “I want to be good right away, honestly,” Skerry told me at media day, which prompted me to ask him if that was realistic.“We’ve got to find a way,” he answered. “We need to find a way.”

Hunter (7-8, suited)- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder with this hand. Sure the cards aren’t all that high – Georgia State doesn’t have any preseason first-or-second team representatives – but it’s got a great chance to materialize over the course of the season and become a winner. No-gap suited connectors are fun in poker because they have nice odds to turn into flushes and straights. While the Panthers don’t appear to be winners from the get-go (they were picked 11th in the conference), you’ve got to appreciate them as more than a sum of parts (I picked them seventh).

We know George Mason will be a top-tier team and that Towson will be at or near the bottom this season. But Georgia State… their mystery is intriguing. And so is their head coach, Hunter, who won 293 games in 17 seasons at IUPUI, and is probably best known for coaching barefoot for charity.

“Georgia State didn’t lose because it had a lack of talent,” Hunter said at media day. “Georgia State lost because it had a sense of always losing – them making excuses. That’s what’s changed.”

Count me as a believer that the Panthers will soon snap a seven-year streak of losing seasons.

They have as much athleticism as maybe anybody in the CAA, but never seemed to play with any offensive synch during former coach Rod Barnes’ tenure. Led by still-blooming senior power forward Eric Buckner, who Hunter called “a specimen,” the Panthers have enough to make any new coach titillated with their talent.

“If we’re the 11th-best team in a league of 12, then this is the best league in the country,” Hunter said about his group’s preseason ranking. “We should be in the Big 12 or the ACC [if we’re 11th best], because I’ve got a talented basketball team.”

Hunter believes that sophomore guard Davonta White will be perfect in his run-and-gun system. He raved about senior Jihad Ali’s length and freshman Tony Kimbro’s athleticism.

Add in senior wings Brandon McGee and Josh Micheaux, and the pieces really do seem to fit into what Hunter is trying to build. But system takes a backseat to attitude, and that’s the aspect that might boost a previously stagnant program.

“At the end of the day, the kids have to buy into what you’re doing,” Hunter said. “It doesn’t matter what system you run, it doesn’t matter what offense [or] defense; the kids that you have, have to buy in. And once you get them to buy in, then you’ve got yourself a winner.

Hunter said his recruiting strategy is to nab “Kids. Who. Know. How. To. Win.” Your high school win/loss record is as important as your vertical leap measurement, to Hunter, who said he doesn’t want to have to teach his players how to win.

How does he relate this season to a group of seniors who still need to learn how to win at the college level?

“I’ve got seven seniors that have never won before,” Hunter said. “I told them this is the last time you’re gonna play college basketball, let’s make this the best basketball year you’ve ever had.”

And maybe they’ll hit a winning hand.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. aroundthehorns permalink
    October 24, 2011 4:16 pm

    Solid, except I would change Skerry’s hand to the rule card and a cocktail napkin.


  1. Hoop Links: CAA chatter – UNCW Basketball - Wilmington Star News - Wilmington, NC - Archive

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