Mike Dunlap is a basketball savant.
The credentials seem almost too good. Two-time Division II national champion at Metro State University; coaching experience at the University of Arizona and St. John’s University; and a few stops in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets and the Charlotte Bobcats.
And he’s a 1985 alumnus of LMU? This sounds like the perfect fit.
LMU Athletics Director Dr. William Husak may have finally found the right person in Mike Dunlap to help return this school’s basketball team back to the glory days of the Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and Paul Westhead era.
Yet again, LMU basketball finds itself in a phase of transition. Dunlap is the program’s fifth different head coach since 2000 with his past four predecessors all compiling losing records in their respective tenures.
Most recently, Max Good was promoted to head coach after Bill Bayno resigned three games into the 2008-09 season. Good compiled a 77-117 record in six seasons, stumbling to consecutive last-place finishes in the West Coast Conference (WCC) in the past two seasons.
Can Dunlap reverse this cruel run of losing on the Bluff?
According to his colleagues, the answer is a resounding yes.
In Dunlap, you can expect a smart, reserved and serious leader. If you were a fan complaining about Max Good’s undisciplined, freewheeling and unpredictable LMU teams, Dunlap will ease your concerns.
“It’s impressive on how he intellectually analyzes the game and gives it to the players and coaches,” said long-time NBA coach George Karl. “His basketball IQ is off the charts.”
Under Karl, Dunlap served as an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets from 2006-2010 – just one of the 11 different jobs listed on Dunlap’s resume since he was an assistant coach at LMU from 1980 to 1985.
LMU’s offense will be crisp, disciplined and methodical. He’ll transform raw athletes into controlled basketball players.
“It’s going to be different, but it’ll be good for
us,” said freshman guard Evan Payne. “I didn’t really get disciplined as much because they didn’t really have anyone else to go to, so I could basically have four or five turnovers and not get into trouble. This year, that’s not going to fly.”
Dunlap’s nine-year stay at Metro State was the longest of any of his tenures prior to LMU. He created a Division II powerhouse, leading the program to nine NCAA appearances and an overall record of 248-50.
Metro State Athletic Director Joan McDermott praised Dunlap’s work ethic and believes his style of coaching will result in mutual respect between Dunlap and his players.
“He’s very tough, demanding and expects a lot,” McDermott said. “His players will run through walls for him.”
Dunlap added, “The days of flat out out-coaching somebody are gone, in my opinion. But what you can do is compel your players to work harder.”
While Dunlap may have the Xs and Os knowledge to succeed in game situations, he’ll also need to recruit high-level talent if he wants to create a sustainable winning program.
At Metro State, Dunlap built an Australian pipeline. His coaching staff at LMU has connections to international, junior college, Pac-12 and Big East recruiting networks and landscapes.
“We’d like to recruit from winning programs; there are plenty of them in the Los Angeles basin,” Dunlap said. “I want to just really work hard in California. California has plenty of good ballplayers. There’s plenty for everyone.”
Good’s staff often exploited the prep school circuit, landing players like Anthony Ireland and most recently Payne and freshman forward Gabe Levin. Redshirt sophomore forward C.J. Blackwell, sophomore forward Nick Stover and redshirt senior forward Alex Osborne were the only Los Angeles-area basketball products on this past year’s team.
“Mike Dunlap will figure out his recruiting niche and what type of player can get into Loyola and succeed there,” Karl said. “He’ll magnify that niche and intensify it at LMU.”
McDermott added, “Expect him to recruit internationally.”
As for the current roster, any concerns of a mass exodus of transfers after the departure of Good’s tenure were put to rest on Tuesday at Dunlap’s introductory press conference. According to freshman guard Evan Payne, only walk-on sophomore guard Max Heller has asked for a release and incoming freshman recruit Kyron Cartwright has asked for a release from his letter of intent.
Of course, this optimism surrounding Dunlap must come with some caution. LMU is really Dunlap’s first ever experience as a Division I college head coach. During his interim stint with St. John’s University, he compiled an 11-17 record in the 2011-12 season.
At the NBA level, Dunlap led the Charlotte Bobcats to 21-61 record, the second-worst record in the NBA during the 2012-13 season. According to Scott Fowler from the Charlotte Observer, Dunlap alienated some players in Charlotte because of his “snappish” demeanor.
However, instead of dealing with multi-millionaire professionals, Dunlap will now be coaching and mentoring young men who maybe could use a stern voice in their lives.
After being fired by the Bobcats, Dunlap spent the past year with his family and traveled across the country to keep his network active. He observed several coaches to see how they ran their winning programs, including the legendary Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University, Buzz Williams at Marquette University and Frank Martin at the University of South Carolina.
“The dream was to never be in the NBA,” said Dunlap. “I went up there to learn the pick-and-roll game on both sides. Doing all of that prepared me for this. I was a college coach, and I wanted to be that.”
There are questions surrounding Dunlap’s hire, but I’m cautiously optimistic that the Lions may have found their guy.