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EMU 2011-12 men’s basketball preview: coaches

October 29, 2011

As most Eagle Totem readers probably know, the biggest change for the EMU men’s basketball team isn’t on the court. After a 68-118 record in six years, including three seasons of single-digit wins and topping out at 8-8 in the MAC, Charles Ramsey was fired in the spring. I really don’t think anyone can argue with that. Six seasons is more than enough time to turn around a basketball program, and Ramsey wasn’t bringing in any huge new future stars that could obviously replace guys like Brandon Bowdry, Justin Dobbins, and Carlos Medlock. In other words, things never got particularly good, they’d gotten worse lately, and they looked like they would get worser still if Ramsey were retained.

After a lot of chat-room chatter about former Butler and Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter, EMU Athletic Director Derrick Gragg made what was probably the best-possible decision when he hired Rob Murphy as the new head coach. Murphy quickly filled all the assistant coach positions with his own picks.

Rob Murphy (head coach) appears to meet all the criteria for this position: a native of Detroit (knows the area), he coached for six years in Detroit (has local contacts), then spent two years as an assistant coach at Kent State (knows the MAC), and most recently spent seven years as an assistant coach at Syracuse (has been part of a successful program). He was highly successful as a high school coach in Detroit, first as an assistant on Detroit Central’s 1998 state champion team and later winning a 2001 state championship as the head coach of Crockett Technical, a team that went winless for two seasons before his arrival.

Shortly after Murphy’s hiring, Detroit News columnist Terry Foster wrote a snapshot profile of him. “Murphy plans to play Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense. The twist will be an aggressive, push-the-ball offense with some man-to-man defense thrown in.” He also gave a great quote from Derrick Gragg: “A lot of people just want to be a head coach. He wanted to be the head coach at Eastern Michigan University.”

Mike Brown (assistant coach) meets the same basic criteria: he’s from the area originally, has coached in southeastern Michigan, and coached in the MAC. He hasn’t coached with a top-tier program, but then, if he had, he might be looking for a head coaching job instead of being EMU’s assistant. (Incidentally, his wife is an EMU alumna who ran cross country and track.) Brown played basketball in the mid-1990s at Ann Arbor’s Huron HS before spending two years each at Siena Heights (MI) and then Wayne State. At Siena Heights, the team won their conference and appeared in the NAIA National Tournament each year, with one trip to the  national semifinals. As a sophomore he led the team in scoring, assists, and steals, was a third-team NAIA All-American and first team all-conference. At Wayne State he was named to the all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team as a junior after leading the team in scoring, assists and steals, and was named the pre-season player of the year as a senior but played in only seven games after suffering a season-ending injury.

Brown graduated from Wayne State in 2002 (Bachelor’s degree with a business major) and 2004 (Master’s degree in sport management) and began his coaching career at Belleville HS as an assistant boy’s basketball coach, helping the Tigers to a 21-2 record and the MEGA Red Division championship in 2004-05. The next year he was an assistant coach at Schoolcraft CC, following which he was promoted to head coach. He led Schoolcraft to a 23-10 season in which they won the MCCAA and he was named MCCAA Coach of the Year. In 2007-08 he was the director of basketball operations for Kent State’s men’s team, who won the MAC regular season and tournament titles and achieved top-25 rankings in both the AP and Coaches’ polls. For 2008-09 he was the head men’s basketball coach at Motlow State CC, who went 22-8, won their conference (TCCAA), and were ranked in the top 30 nationally (NJCAA). For the last two years he’s been an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at South Alabama.

Kevin Mondro (assistant coach) grew up in Brownstown, Michigan and graduated from Riverview Gabriel Richard HS. He played college basketball for Detroit in the mid-1990s, then worked as director of basketball operations for Detroit’s men’s team from 1997 through 2001. He remained at Detroit as an assistant coach (2001-04), then an associate head coach (2004-08). During the second half of the 2007-08 season he served as interim head coach while head coach Perry Watson took a leave of absence. From 2008 through 2011, Mondro was an assistant coach at Loyola (Chicago).

Benny White (assistant coach) brings a rather different, but no less valuable, set of skills to the team. A Detroit native, he was an all-State basketballer for Northern HS, then played four years at Michigan State, where he was a co-captain and the team assist leader in 1975-76. He was a graduate assistant on the Spartans’ 1976-77 Elite Eight team, a part-time assistant coach at Wayne State in 1977-78, and then a graduate assistant at Detroit the next year. He hired in at Dave Bing’s company, Bing Steel, when it was a brand-new start-up in 1980, and stayed six years as an account executive (which usually means sales rep); he returned to Bing Steel in the late-1990s as a safety coordinator/trainer. From 1986 to 1989 he was an admissions counselor and assistant coach at Albion College, then an assistant coach at San Jose State from 1989 to 1991. His official resume is blank for two years, after which he spent two years as an assistant coach for Detroit (where he would have coached Mondro).

In 1995, as I mentioned, White returned to Bing Steel (through 1999), simultaneously working as a special education/substitute teacher in Detroit Public Schools (through 2007) and as the head coach of the Martin Luther King HS (Detroit) boy’s basketball team (through 2010). In 2007 he was inducted into the Detroit Public School League’s Coaches Hall of Fame, and he eventually compiled a 201-89 record. From 2006 through 2009 he was also a regional scout for the Detroit Pistons. With Dave Bing’s election as Mayor of Detroit, White became the Executive Assistant to the Mayor, where he stayed until hired by EMU.

Jake Presutti (director of player development – men’s basketball/assistant sports performance coach – men’s basketball and men’s golf), from Belmont, New York, played basketball at Syracuse from 2005 through 2009, staying on through 2010 as the men’s basketball graduate manager while he finished his master’s degree (Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation). Even while playing for the Orange, he was involved in support, working on the Team USA men’s basketball support staff in 2007 (Pan-American Games), 2008 (FIBA Americas), and 2009 (World University Games), as well as video coordinator for the Canadian Men’s National Team in 2009 (FIBA Americas). For the 2010-11 season, he was a basketball operations assistant for the Houston Rockets, involved in video breakdown and preparing reports on draft-eligible prospects and trade targets.

Victoria Sun (director of basketball operations), is one of the very few women working on a Division I men’s basketball staff. Originally from Hong Kong, Sun played college tennis at Syracuse from 1993 to 1995. During the same two years, she was a student manager for the men’s basketball team. She graduated from Syracuse with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1997, and worked as a sportswriter, first for the Los Angeles Sun and then for the Cincinnati Post, until they folded in 2007. Since then she’s worked as a freelance sportswriter and also helped run several AAU-style basketball tournaments. Murphy expects that Sun’s primary responsibilities will be to coordinate academic efforts (more important than ever, with the recent NCAA changes regarding APR) saying that while “if she wanted to become a coach, I think Vic could”, her career track is more likely toward athletics director than coach. “She has a really good understanding of the game. She’s coming to it with an open mind, understanding how important academics are, overseeing the budget, getting our team camp going and making it one of the best camps here in the state of Michigan.”

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