Defend to the end
Scott Nagy rebounds as the Raiders’ new coach
By Marc Katz
Don’t get nervous. I’m going to throw a couple of scores and stats at you this week, just for reference.
Normally, I try to stay away from scores and stats here. They sometimes get in the way of a good story, as some political leaders in our country have found out.
This was a couple weeks ago at the other school that plays Division I men’s basketball in our area, and I was quite surprised.
Scott Nagy is the new coach at Wright State University, and he looks a little like the drill sergeant I had way back in the Army Reserves—close-cropped hair, no wrinkles in his suit and a stern look on his face that says, if you’re going to make him laugh at a joke, it had better be a good one.
“He’s not going to chit-chat with you,” said one observer.
“He’s real quiet with the media,” said another.
And then he coached the Raiders to a close victory at home against a team they were supposed to beat, but did it with a strong defensive effort, especially on the rebounding side.
Sure, I noticed in the post-game Nagy was not chit-chatty; neither was he quiet.
Of course, there were no jokes, but what I noticed most is he seemed happy—almost giddy.
This was following a victory, and I was not there two days later when his team lost a game.
So this is my one-game-stand observation. Usually, after a game, unless it’s a very, very big victory, a college coach will find something to gripe about. I could easily have found several statistics for Nagy to chew on.
His team shot a horrid 35 percent. His team had 19 turnovers and five assists. His team did not score a basket the last 2:11.
Yet, this night, Wright State won, 55-51, and Nagy was, well, thrilled.
“The defensive side of it,” Nagy says. “[The players] knew they were great defensively, and they knew that’s what won it for them.
“We’re trying to score a few more points and trying to be a little more aggressive offensively, and our defensive system is a little bit different, but they’re starting to see it.”
Before Wright State, Nagy coached at South Dakota State. Not to get all smarmy about it, but it would take me a long time to locate South Dakota State on a map. Some people would say it would take a long time to find Wright State on a map. The difference is, Nagy had scant few players to recruit in the Dakotas. He can at least talk in person to players he wants at WSU without refilling his gas tank.
He not only has to win games; he has to win followers.
Nagy was born in Texas and grew up in Champaign, Illinois, where his father was an assistant with the Big Ten team there. Eventually, Scott, too, became involved in coaching and spent 21 years at South Dakota State as head coach, the last 12 as a Division I program after moving up from DII. In five of the last six seasons, Nagy’s team won 20 or more games.
“It wasn’t my goal to stay [at SDS] forever,” Nagy says. “It wasn’t my goal to leave. The main thing was I didn’t want to come to Wright State because they paid more. And I didn’t want to stay at South Dakota State because it was comfortable.”
It’s not real comfortable right now at WSU, where a winning coach (Billy Donlon) was fired because he didn’t win enough, and the program last played in an NCAA tournament game in 2007.
Across town, at the private University of Dayton, a program with a solid history has elevated itself with multiple post-season appearances and, of course, as these things go, won’t play the Raiders.
Yet the Raiders are putting together a respectable season without a true first recruiting class by Nagy and hard-working holdovers such as Mark Alstork, Steven Davis, Grant Benzinger, and Justin Mitchell.
“We have no reputation here right now,” Nagy says. “Our coaching staff, our program in terms of where we are. At South Dakota State, we had a reputation. It’s just going to take a while for us to establish that.”
“Recruiting is everything. You’re not winning games with bad players. Some coaches think they’re so good as coaches they can take bad players and win it. I’m saying, ‘no,’” he continues.
“When we won at South Dakota State—and we win here—it’s because we have good players, not, ‘we have such good coach.’”
He has to win over the players first, and he thinks he has.
“I think what started it for us was the Kent State win,” says Nagy of a game played Dec. 18 on the road and won by WSU 68-63. “We were good defensively at Kent State. Really good. We were OK offensively—not as bad as this—but that’s a tough place to play against a good team. I mean, they went on the road and beat Texas. Kent State’s good.
“We were tremendous defensively. After that game, I think our players went, ‘Ahh, this defensive thing is where it’s at. That’s where it’s at.’”
The Raiders have 12 more games prior to the Horizon League tournament and anything beyond that, starting this weekend with Detroit visiting the Nutter Center on Friday and Oakland on Sunday.
You know what would make Nagy happy?
“When we play good defensively, I’m never ticked off,” he says.