Team preview: Wright State
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
Losing a promising young coach to circumstances beyond its control was tough luck for Wright State's program. But the Raiders appear to have landed on their feet by hiring another one just as promising, if not more so.
Paul Biancardi left the Wright State program better than he found it three years ago. And the fact that he left it at all was in no way attributable to any shortcomings during his stint with the Raiders. The school and the coach parted ways last March after the NCAA penalized Biancardi for his role in violations while he was an assistant at Ohio State. Biancardi, who was voted Horizon League Coach of the Year in 2003-04, was prohibited from any recruiting activities until October 2007 as part of his NCAA penalty, so he and Wright State reached a negotiated termination.
Three weeks later, Wright State athletic director Mike Cusack introduced his new man -- Brad Brownell, still aglow from his excellent showing at UNC Wilmington. The Wright State players had been pulling for an in-house replacement, namely Biancardi assistant coach Brian Donoher. But Brownell's credentials and the buzz of recent success made him a win-win hire, both on campus and in the community.
He comes to Wright State with the Colonial Athletic Association 2005-06 Coach of the Year plaque in his suitcase. More eye-catching, though, was the fact that he guided UNC Wilmington to two NCAA Tournaments in the last three years, no small accomplishment in what had been a one-bid league. His four-year record was 83-40, including 25-8 last season.
Dayton was not entirely foreign territory to Brownell. His dad grew up there and met Brownell's mother while playing basketball at nearby Wilmington College. Brownell grew up in Evansville, Ind., and played college hoops at DePauw University in the Hoosier state.
Why leave a job where he was on top of his conference? A somewhat cool relationship with the athletic director at UNCW might have been a factor. The fact that Wright State is in a basketball town was attractive. So was the school's willingness to pony up an average of $220,000 a year (base salary) over a six-year contract, a nice raise from Wilmington. Also, the Raiders' sparkling, year-old practice, training and administration facilities in the Setzer Pavilion didn't hurt.
Brownell saw some similarities between UNCW and Wright State when he first toured the campus.
"Both were young schools that don't have football," Brownell said, "so basketball is the place that the athletic department has as a kind of flagship. The challenges at Wright State are the same ones at Wilmington 12 years ago when I went there to be with coach [Jerry] Wainright. And both places have very good basketball fans who are supportive of the university and want to come out and see good players."