For the first time in his illustrious coaching career, Mike Dunleavy Sr. is jumping feet first into the world of college basketball as he gets set to coach the Tulane Green Wave.
Dunleavy was named Tulane’s head coach in March with the hope he can revive the moribund program. He may capable of doing just that. Just give him some time.
NBA coaches taking their talents to the college level has been a recent trend of late with Avery Johnson, Chris Mullin (albeit not a coach in the NBA, but rather an executive), Eddie Jordan and Eric Musselman all dipping their toes into the college game.
Johnson, Mullin and Musselman have shown a lot of promise, especially when it comes to recruiting. And that type of recruiting success is something Tulane is hoping Dunleavy can bring to the New Orleans school.
However, it won’t be easy.
Dunleavy has to sell a school that has had its fair share of struggles in the last 20 years. The Green Wave have had just five winning seasons in the last 19 years and haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1995, when Perry Clark resurrected the program in the early-to mid-90s with his “posse passion.”
Before we look forward, we have to look to the past first for why Tulane finds itself in this predicament.
This is a program that had players—most notably John “Hot Rod” Williams—involved in a point-shaving scandal in the early 1980s. Subsequently, the program disbanded in 1985 before ultimately being restored in 1989.
In the time since Clark left, Tulane has whiffed on its coaching hires, as Shawn Finney, Dave Dickerson and Ed Conroy have done nothing to inject any enthusiasm or buzz into the program.
That’s why the hiring of Dunleavy is so crucial. His 17 years of NBA experience should certainly grab recruits’ attention.
NBA connections and the lure of playing professionally have done wonders for Johnson, Mullin and Musselman on the recruiting trail. So why can’t Dunleavy be capable of the same type of success?
It’s not like the American Athletic Conference is some juggernaut made up wholly of world beaters. Outside of marquee programs in Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinnati, the middle to the bottom of the conference is a jumbled mess
There is nothing to suggest that Tulane is not capable of becoming a player in the middle of the AAC standings.
That’s the goal Dunleavy will be tasked with trying to accomplish: make Tulane relevant and a viable options for high-profile recruits. With the New Orleans area ripe with high-major recruits, Dunleavy has a great home base to work with.
We can forget about Tulane making much of a difference this coming season. After all, the Green Wave are coming off a season in which they won just three conference games and also lose key players Louis Dabney, Jernard Jarreau and Dylan Osetkowski.
It’s all about the long-term future, though. Dunleavy is quickly building relationships and is off and running on the recruiting trail, even if he’s not worried about it.
He snagged a nice under-the-radar point guard in Renathan Ona-Embo in June while also securing a couple of major transfers in Vanderbilt’s Samir Sehic and UNLV’s Jordan Cornish.
UNLV transfer Jordan Cornish told @CBSSports that he has committed to Tulane. Very good get for Mike Dunleavy Sr.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 1, 2016
Recruits will no doubt be impressed with where Dunleavy has been and how he can get players to where they want to be: the NBA.
“If they are NBA caliber players there is no one who can prepare them better than I can,” said Dunleavy when he was hired (via WGNO.com).
“I would argue I can prepare them the best,” added Dunleavy.
It’s not like Dunleavy and the Green Wave have to jump prestigious programs to get to the middle of the pack in the AAC and therefore contend for an NCAA Tournament bid. Leapfrogging the likes of East Carolina, Central Florida, South Florida, Tulsa and a Brown-less SMU program is not insurmountable.
Piece by piece, Dunleavy is building some goodwill in New Orleans and he should have enough big-name cachet to relate with the youth of today.
In turn, Dunleavy is giving the Tulane faithful a reason for optimism.