Tom Sorensen

Charlotte 49ers basketball coach brings some advantages ... and one recruiting pitch.

Ron Sanchez, at left in this 2013 file photo, will have to be a tremendous salesman to recruit McDonald’s All-Americans to Charlotte. He has one pitch.
Ron Sanchez, at left in this 2013 file photo, will have to be a tremendous salesman to recruit McDonald’s All-Americans to Charlotte. He has one pitch. AP File Photo

The last two men’s basketball coaches that then athletic director Judy Rose hired at Charlotte had no head coaching experience. Alan Major was primarily a recruiter at Ohio State. Mark Price did coach Australia’s NBL South Dragons, but he was there less than a season. I thought Price was a good hire for the 49ers. But in a move uncharacteristic for the school’s athletic department, he was dumped quickly.

Mike Hill is Charlotte’s new athletic director, and in his first major move, he hired Virginia associate head coach Ron Sanchez. Sanchez, 43, has never been a head coach.

Thus, the hire is risky. Nobody, including Hill, knows how Sanchez will react to this major promotion. Some assistants in college basketball, as well as the NBA and NFL and college football, are natural head coaches. Others are natural assistants, overwhelmed or intimidated by the responsibility of leading a program.

I’m a fan of Tony Bennett, Virginia’s head coach. Sanchez worked for Bennett nine seasons in Charlottesville and before that for three seasons at Washington State.

Sanchez has an advantage some assistants at big-time programs do not. The players he recruited, despite Virginia’s ACC cache, rarely are McDonald’s All-Americans. Virginia’s playing style precludes that.

You want to sprint down court at the slightest provocation? You aren’t what Bennett is looking for. You’re a major scorer that has little interest in playing grueling defense? See you. The ceaseless defensive drills that Virginia runs bore you? Be sure and write.

At Charlotte, Sanchez will have to be a tremendous salesman to recruit McDonald’s All-Americans. He has one pitch.

It would go something like this:

“We, the Charlotte 49ers, are better known for our athletic facilities than our athletics. The last time we made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, you weren’t old enough to read. But we are going to change that and you are going to be at the forefront of the movement. You can go to a school accustomed to winning and be part of an old tradition. Or you can help start one.”

At Virginia, Sanchez recruited players that weren’t good enough to go to the NBA after one season. He found players willing to adapt and play Bennett basketball. And they thrived. Yes, they were the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed. But before that, the Cavaliers were the best team in the country.

Sanchez has a tremendous opportunity. Charlotte desperately wants a winner. I’m not talking solely about the thousands of alumni. I’m talking about thousands of basketball fans. To see big-time college basketball, Charlotte residents have had to watch ESPN or drive to Davidson.

One more advantage: Sanchez doesn’t have big shoes to fill. He can go barefoot.

Coaching 49ers’ basketball is an opportunity.

Let’s hope Sanchez is the coach that can take advantage of it.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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