Bob McKillop, entering his 29th season as Davidson’s men’s basketball coach, thinks there are three keys to how this Wildcats team will fare this season.
First, the Wildcats (17-15 last season, 8-10 Atlantic 10) will need solid leadership from their six seniors, led by preseason all-conference selection forward Peyton Aldridge.
“Can they embrace the roles they’ve earned?” McKillop wondered Tuesday at a preseason media luncheon.
Second, how quickly will a talented freshman class, topped by point guard Kellan Grady, contribute?
“We need the newcomers to assimilate into our system the way we expect them to,” said McKillop. “We want to see production from them, not potential.”
And, finally, there is the matter of keeping his team healthy. McKillop said he hopes senior forward Nathan Ekwu and senior guard Rusty Reigel, who both continue to recover from knee injuries, will be ready for Davidson’s season opener Nov. 10 against Charleston Southern.
McKillop said Ekwu played most of last season with a sore knee.
Freshman guard Luke Frampton, whom McKillop says can be among the best players he’s ever coached, will miss the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in September.
Although Davidson returns four starters, the Wildcats will be without guard Jack Gibbs, the program’s third all-time leading scorer who graduated in the spring. McKillop said this team is better equipped to succeed offensively than Davidson was the season after All-American guard Stephen Curry departed.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons,” McKillop said. “They learned very well from Jack. He created a lot of opportunities for them. Last season, they didn’t stand around watching Jack. People kept moving, kept being involved in cuts, screens, catches and passes.
“In no way do I want to compare Jack to Steph, but when (Curry) departed, that team really struggled with adapting. During Steph’s (final) season, they stood around and watched him, much like I think players did at Duke did with (former all-American) J.J. Redick.”
Aldridge, the player most likely to take over Gibbs’ scoring load, agreed that Gibbs will be missed.
“Jack was a great player; he had great personality and was always smiling on the court,” said Aldridge, who averaged 20.5 points and 8.2 rebounds last season. “But we’ve got a lot of guys capable of stepping up, not just one or two players.”
What might have been
McKillop said when he was a high school history teacher and coach in 1978 on Long Island, he applied for a job as an FBI agent. McKillop, then 28, took a test on Staten Island, but failed the accompanying physical because of an old shoulder injury. McKillop’s interest in law enforcement came naturally: He’s the son of a New York City cop.
“There was a tremendous law enforcement background in my family,” McKillop said.
McKillop was back in New York this month, when he received the 2017 Lapchick Character Award along with television analysts Bill Raftery and Doris Burke. Previous winners of the Lapchick award, named in honor of Hall of Fame St. John’s and New York Knicks coach Joe Lapchick, include Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Summit and Kay Yow.
The Wildcats were recently picked to finish sixth in the 14-team A-10 in a vote of coaches and select media. McKillop at first brushed that news aside, then equated the low vote to a student flunking a class.
“I don’t put much stock in it, but it’s what we’ve earned,” McKillop said. “But that’s like 50 percent, and if you get a 50 percent in class that’s an F.”
McKillop challenged several players with how they felt about what he interpreted as a failing preseason grade.
“Not good,” said Ekwu.
533 and counting
McKillop, 67, who said he has no plans to retire, has 533 career victories, which ranks 24th among active Division I coaches. He said he doesn’t keep track of how many victories he has, although he said he does have a basketball with the No. 500 imprinted on it, emblematic of that milestone, which came against Denison (Ohio) in 2015.
Davidson’s preseason Black-Red scrimmage is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday in Belk Arena. Admission is free.
David Scott: @davidscott14