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SOUTHERN METHODIST Team Report
"Why can't we do special things here? Why can't we be in the top 25?" Doherty said. "Why can't we be one of the elite programs in the country? You've got the city of Dallas, and maybe the prettiest campus I've ever been on. I asked the players that: 'Why can't we? Why not us?'
"Another thing we've got going for us is recognition. When you walk into a gym in California with 'SMU' on your shirt, people know SMU. When you walk into a gym in New York with 'SMU' on your shirt, people know SMU.
"And when I went to the (Texas) state basketball tournament in Austin ... there's as much talent in Texas as there is anywhere. Like it or not, Texas is a basketball state."
That status hasn't done much for SMU, especially in the past three years. Following a 12-18 finish and the firing of Mike Dement in 2003, SMU hired Jimmy Tubbs, who went 27-30 in two seasons before allegations of NCAA rules violations led to his dismissal in April.
Now Doherty, who resurrected his career at Florida Atlantic after being fired at North Carolina in 2003, inherits a young team with more questions than answers. The best player on last season's team, guard Bryan Hopkins, has completed his eligibility. The two best returning players, center Bamba Fall and forward Brian Morris, are talented-but-raw sophomores.
Doherty, hired in late April, only had time to sign one prospect, 6-9 forward Cameron Spencer from Orange, Texas, and released 6-5 guard Menghe Nyam from the letter of intent he signed with SMU during the early signing period.
Doherty also has a lot of work to do to build relationships with Dallas-area coaches, especially those in the Dallas Independent School District.
"I want to be here and recruit here in my back yard," Doherty told the Dallas Morning News. "I want to build a program. There's a difference between a team and a program. A team is a one-year deal -- a program is built for the long run. I want to put systems in place to have a program here everybody will be excited about."
THE GOOD NEWS: The hiring of Matt Doherty gives SMU a chance to start over after a disappointing and controversial 2005-06 season and the Mustangs lose only one player who played a significant role in 2005-06. Bamba Fall and Brian Morris should be much better in 2006-07 and the entire program should have a better idea of what it takes to compete in C-USA.
THE BAD NEWS: The Mustangs must replace their only consistent scorer, Bryan Hopkins, and their best players, Fall and Morris, are sophomores. They also need better play at the point than they got last season from Dez Willingham.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's a very well-respected coach. He's going to work us hard, but he knows what he's teaching. We're ready to play for him." -- SMU senior forward Devon Pearson on new coach Matt Doherty.
KEY RETURNEES: Two sophomores, center Bamba Fall and forward Brian Morris, give the Mustangs a chance to compete in the frontcourt, along with senior forwards Devon Pearson, Ike Ofoegbu and Donatas Rackauskas. The Mustangs also return sophomores Dez Willingham, Derrick Roberts and Jon Killen and junior wing Brian Epps in the backcourt.
THE COACH: Matt Doherty brought an impressive pedigree as a player, assistant and head coach when he returned to his alma mater, North Carolina, as a head coach in 2000. He earned national coach of the year honors in his first season with the Tar Heels before things turned sour. After losing his job at North Carolina in 2003 he spent the 2005-06 season starting over at Florida Atlantic, and applying the many painful lessons he learned in recent years. Doherty insists he is a different coach now, one better able to relate and communicate with his players, and he's already spent considerable time and effort in his first months on the job building relationships with boosters and local high school coaches. Only time will tell how all that relates to what SMU actually does on the court.
ROSTER REPORT: The Mustangs finished the season without Bamba Fall, their talented-but-raw 7-1 freshman center, who missed the C-USA Tournament because of a back injury. Fall missed 11 games with injuries, while freshman forward Brian Morris missed seven games with a knee injury before returning late in the season. Fall still finished with 5.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game and 53 blocks in only 18 games, while Morris finished with 7.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
--Sophomore Dez Willingham, a transfer from Kansas State, was expected to make an impact at point guard but he often struggled to run the team effectively and finished with nearly as many turnovers (64) as assists (76) and produced only four games with five or more assists.
--Doherty added his first signee in May when he signed Cameron Spencer, a 6-9 forward from Orange, Texas. Spencer averaged 14.0 points and 8.9 rebounds as a senior.
--Doherty also released, Menghe Nyam, a 6-5 guard from New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire, from the letter of intent he signed with SMU during the early signing period.
Previous Report: 06/20/2006