College Basketball

Coaching basketball at Davidson is a family affair

Matt McKillop, left, often acts as a buffer between the players and his dad, head coach Bob McKillop, right.
Matt McKillop, left, often acts as a buffer between the players and his dad, head coach Bob McKillop, right. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

In the heat of a basketball game, Davidson coach Bob McKillop will sometimes hear a voice giving him some – shall we put it – well-intentioned advice.

You’d better call timeout!”

“We can’t do that!”

“Get him out of there!”

That voice doesn’t belong to an overzealous fan or courtside broadcaster, but to McKillop’s top assistant and son, Matt McKillop.

“He doesn’t care what he says to me,” said Bob McKillop, whose team faces Iowa in a second-round NCAA tournament game Friday at KeyArena. “He’s not intimidated, not hesitant, not tentative. He tells me point-blank what needs to be said.

“And sometimes it’s attention-getting.”

Matt McKillop, a former Wildcats point guard, is in his seventh season on his father’s staff and first as lead assistant after Jim Fox left in 2014 for Appalachian State.

“It’s a lot easier coaching for him than playing for him,” Matt said. “He doesn’t micromanage, he lets all the assistants bring new ideas to the table. He’s a good head coach to work for.”

Still, Matt has dealt with the “coach’s son” syndrome for most of his life. He remembers hearing whispers at Alexander Middle School in Huntersville that the only reason he’d made the basketball team was because he was Bob McKillop’s son.

“So, I’ve heard those kinds of things at every level,” Matt said. “I don’t pay any attention to it.”

Matt went on to become a star at Charlotte Catholic, then played at Davidson for his dad – again hearing the “coach’s son” whispers from Southern Conference foes for four seasons.

Matt McKillop called himself a “grinder” in college, but he was more than that, finishing fourth on Davidson’s career list for 3-pointers made (223).

After a brief professional career in the Czech Republic, Matt returned to work in the Charlotte Bobcats’ marketing department. That’s when a yearning to coach bit him.

He headed to Atlanta in 2007, taking an assistant’s job at Division III Emory (Ga.) under former Wildcats player Jason Zimmerman. A year later, Matt was back at Davidson as a low-rung assistant.

Bob McKillop tackled any potential nepotism issues by getting special permission from then-Davidson president Tom Ross.

“They trusted me to give Matt a scholarship that was worth $50,000 a year,” said Bob McKillop, who is in his 26th season at Davidson. “Now you can’t trust me to give him a job that at the time paid $25,000?”

Bob and Cathy McKillop have two other children: Brendan, also a former Davidson player, who works in the NBA offices in New York, and daughter Kerrin, who is married and lives in Virginia.

“What I like most about having Matt is that Bob is so proud of Matt,” Cathy said. “He will come home and say, ‘Matt did a beautiful job today.’ ”

Matt’s job can be to sometime serve as a buffer between his dad and the players.

“He knows all my moods, all my reactions, all my questions, all my doubts,” Bob McKillop said. “He knows me like the back of his hand. He’s a great bridge between myself and the players.”

“If coach is getting up into someone, Matt can go up to him and tell him to tone it down,” guard Tyler Kalinoski said. “He knows what it’s like as a player. He’s not afraid to approach coach, which is really nice for us.”

Sometimes, however, watching the McKillops interact can provide some entertainment for the team.

“Every once in a while you’ll look over at them and they’re bickering, well, not bickering, but being so forceful and passionate,” guard Brian Sullivan said. “They’re just Davidson through and through.”

Said Matt: “I don’t know what it is, I’ve talked back to him my whole life. When I was a little kid I’d get in trouble and get yelled at, whether it was missing curfew in high school or maybe making a mistake or two growing up.

“But we’re comfortable enough with each other that he trusts me to speak my mind. If he told me to shut up, I’d probably shut up.”

Matt, whose 33rd birthday is Sunday, has seniority among Davidson’s assistants, with Ryan Mee arriving in 2012 and Will Reigel in his first season.

“Some of the words that are exchanged between us are different than others,” Matt said. “But he does trust me to a good extent. Also, he’s been doing this a lot longer than most people in college sports.

“So his word is final.”

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Twitter: @davidscott14

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