The Charlotte 49ers introduced Ron Sanchez as their new men’s basketball coach Tuesday, but there was some potential good news for Sanchez coming from what’s been the team’s starting backcourt over the past three seasons.
Guards Jon Davis and Andrien White, both of whom have one season of eligibility left, told the Observer they intend to remain with the program and play for Sanchez.
There’s a caveat with for Davis and White, however. They both have said they will enter the NBA draft, although without hiring agents. That means they can test the waters with teams and at pre-draft camps, but return to school if they withdraw 10 days prior to the draft. That’s the likely scenario for both Davis, who made his announcement last week, and White, who told the Observer on Tuesday of his decision.
“We’ll see what the NBA presents, so those decisions are down the road, but for now, I’m a Niner,” said Davis, the 49ers’ leading scorer (17.6 points per game) last season. “I want to finish what we started three years ago.”
Davis said he would be comfortable playing under Sanchez rather than transfer. Sanchez would be his third coach at Charlotte. Davis and White played for Mark Price for two seasons and, after Price was fired last December, for interim coach Houston Fancher for the season’s final 20 games. The 49ers finished 6-23.
White, who came to Charlotte with Davis as a Price recruit, said he also doesn’t plan to transfer.
“My intent has been to stick around this whole time,” said White, who averaged 15.0 points last season. “I believe in (Sanchez’s) vision.”
Having key players remain with a program after a coaching change is always an iffy proposition, something the 49ers know first-hand. Guards Torin Dorn and Keyshawn Woods had outstanding freshman seasons with the 49ers in 2014-15, but transferred after former coach Alan Major was fired and replaced by Price. Dorn (N.C. State) and Woods (Wake Forest) went on to have solid careers in the ACC.
Sanchez is sensitive to that whole dynamic. Coming to Charlotte after working for nine seasons as an assistant to Tony Bennett at Virginia, Sanchez said his first priority at Charlotte has been the players’ welfare.
“They didn’t sign up to have three coaches in three years,” Sanchez said. “That’s not what any athlete signs up for. So my first order of business was to make sure they were OK emotionally and for them to get to know and meet this new person in front of them. Once we’ve established that, they felt more comfortable.”
The 49ers practiced under Sanchez for the first time Monday. There will be definite on-court adjustments the players will need to make for Sanchez, who said he will bring to Charlotte the deliberate offense, lock-down defense philosophy espoused at Virginia by Bennett.
“It’s going to take some building,” said junior forward Najee Garvin, who also said he plans on staying at Charlotte. “It’s going to take some time. It can come within a year; we can go right to the NCAA tournament. It could take five years. We don’t know. But he’s here. We’ve got to stick with him. If we grab each other and lock arms, a lot can get done.”
Sanchez was part of a coaching staff at Virginia that helped resurrect a once-proud Cavaliers program that was underperforming 10 years ago – a situation he finds himself in now with Charlotte. He’s hesitant to put any kind of time frame on how long it will take to get the 49ers back to the days when they were consistent threats to make NCAA tournament – something they haven’t accomplished since 2005.
“Right now I don’t have a single quantifiable goal for this team,” Sanchez said. “It’s all going to be about quality. For us right now, it’s just about quality, the simple things. We want to eliminate losing. Can we win tomorrow’s workout, tomorrow’s practice? I’m not looking too far ahead. We’ve got to figure out why this team didn’t have success and start attacking that.”
That’s the kind of talk players like Davis want to hear and what’s making them want to play for Sanchez.
“At this point in my life, I’ve been in college for three years,” Davis said. “If I transferred I’d have to sit out another year and not graduate until I’m 24 or 25 years old.
“What would make me transfer? If we didn’t have a coach. And we have a coach.”