By Darryl Slater
Richmond Times Dispatch
Apr 22, 2010
Now that men’s basketball assistant coach Bill Courtney is leaving Virginia Tech to become Cornell’s head coach – he said he accepted the job earlier today after interviewing last week – the Hokies will try to keep one of the recruiting commitments Courtney just secured. And it is a big one, perhaps the biggest for head coach Seth Greenberg since he came to Blacksburg in 2003.
Point guard Marquis Rankin, of Charlotte, N.C., committed to the Hokies on April 1. He was initially recruited by Stacey Palmore. When Palmore left after last season to become an assistant at Georgia, the man who took his job, Courtney, also inherited Rankin’s recruitment and “didn’t miss a beat,” said Rankin’s father, Lamar.
Rankin is rated the No. 26 player in the Class of 2011, which, if he signs with the Hokies, would make him the highest-rated recruit Greenberg has landed at Tech.
But even though Courtney was the point man on Rankin, Greenberg also was heavily involved in Rankin’s recruitment. That figures to give the Rankin family some reassurances even though Courtney is leaving. It will be interesting to hear Lamar Rankin’s take on Courtney’s departure, though it is too late tonight to bother him with a phone call about that.
As for Courtney, he will be introduced as Steve Donahue’s replacement at 3 p.m. Friday in Ithaca, N.Y. Donahue was hired by Boston College to replace Al Skinner, who was fired.
Courtney, 39, has never previously been a head coach. He was at Tech for one season after working at Virginia from 2006-09. He was briefly an assistant at Virginia Commonwealth, after last season, when Virginia coach Dave Leitao resigned under pressure. But he took the job at Tech before he could ever coach a game at VCU.
Despite his lack of head coaching experience, Courtney has a strong resume. He was the recruiting architect of George Mason’s 2006 Final Four team. He worked at Mason from 1997-2005 and signed the core of that squad before spending the 2005-06 season as an assistant at Providence.
“He’s like a one-man wrecking crew,” George Mason coach Jim Larranaga told David Teel of the Newport News Daily Press last summer. “He’s like the Michael Jordan of recruiting. He’s relentless, competitive, a great personality.”
Courtney will need to use some of those recruiting chops at Cornell, which loses four of five starters and the top three scorers – moreover, five of the top six scorers – from a team that went 29-5 and lost to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. Cornell became the first Ivy League team to advance that far since 1979. Cornell is 38-4 in the Ivy over the past three seasons.
“Especially recruiting, I think you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Courtney said of the landmark season. “You see Cornell University, they equate it with being a good basketball program.”
But Courtney said he felt encouraged about the future while talking with Cornell’s returning players.
“They’ve tasted that success,” he said. “They’re pretty committed to experience that kind of success again.”
In terms of recruiting, Donahue was able to get players from all over the country – and maybe he had to, because of Cornell’s tough academic standards.
Last season’s leading scorer, Ryan Wittman, is from Minnesota, while the next two leading scorers, Louis Dale and Jeff Foote, hail from Alabama and Lockwood, N.Y., just south of Ithaca. That starting five also included Los Angeles kid Jon Jacques and Chris Wroblewski, from the Chicago suburbs.
“[Donahue] did a great job of identifying guys all over the country,” Courtney said. “I think I’ll continue to do that. I have a lot of contacts throughout the country.”
While Cornell had to like Courtney’s recruiting ability – “I think I just sold the person who I was and how hard I would work for them,” he said – Courtney was attracted to the job in part because of the patience Andy Noel showed with Donahue.
Noel became the AD in 1999 and hired Donahue in 2000. Donahue struggled in his first four seasons, going 32-76, 15-41 in the Ivy. He had losing overall records the next two seasons, despite going 8-6 in the Ivy each year. But in 2006-07, he improved to 16-12, 9-5. Then he won the Ivy the next three seasons, dominating the league.
“That definitely shows the character [Noel] has,” Courtney said of the willingness to stick with Donahue.
Meanwhile, at Tech, Greenberg now must replace two assistants this summer. Ryan Odom left last week to become an assistant at Charlotte. Greenberg’s third assistant, James Johnson, interviewed to be the head coach at Gardner-Webb, but the school announced Thursday that Ohio assistant Chris Holtmann got the job. Greenberg said he will meet today with Athletic Director Jim Weaver to discuss the two openings, among other topics.
Greenberg said last week he had “probably two” candidates in mind to fill Odom’s spot. So will he hire one guy for Odom’s spot and the other for Courtney’s? Seems easy enough.
“You’ve got to find the right chemistry for your staff,” he said in response to that question. “Guys have to fit roles no differently than players have to fit roles.”
Two other notes related to Courtney …
* Greenberg said Courtney’s only other head coaching interview before coming to Tech was with his alma mater, Bucknell. Cornell was one of three schools that called about him recently. The others were Mount St. Mary’s and Columbia. Cornell seems like a better job than either of those schools.
* Courtney said he has “some ideas of some guys” that he’d hire as assistants, but didn’t want to mention any names. He is anxious to get to that and his full plate of other tasks in his new job. “I don’t know what my official starting date is,” he said. “But I’m starting right now.”