Winds of change howled in Big South

Gary McCannJune 20, 2007 

You can call the Big South Conference a mid-major league if you like, but there's been nothing mid-major about the basketball news pouring out of the league this spring.

Randy Dunton fired at Liberty. Ritchie McKay, fired at New Mexico in March, hired in no small part because of his strong religious beliefs.

Byron Samuels quit before the season started at Radford and was allowed to stumble through the season with a team that lacked motivation. Brad Greenberg, once the last jump shot fell, or in the case of the Highlanders, didn't fall, leaves the comfort of coaching for his brother, Seth, at Virginia Tech to try and revive a moribund program.

Buzz Peterson gone from Coastal Carolina after two years to hang with his homeboy Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats. When he quickly took the Coastal job after getting canned at Tennessee, Peterson said he did it in part because he couldn't see himself not coaching.

But apparently coaching in that shoebox they call Kimbel Arena and with the progress on a new arena moving at the pace of a snail crawling into a head wind, Peterson opted for the Bobcats' front office.

No replacement has been named at the only NCAA Division I school still without a coach.

And, of course, Gregg Marshall gone at Winthrop, taking the million-dollar job at Wichita State. Randy Peele, who spent four years as Marshall's top assistant, hired quicker than you can say, "Go Shockers."

And this.

Liberty's Dwight Brewington, who would have been one of the top players in the league, declares for the NBA Draft and decides to stay in though the chances he'll be drafted are about as good as him getting a return pass from Larry Blair on a fast break.

VMI's Reggie Williams, who led the nation in scoring, declares for the NBA Draft, but realizes he has about as much chance of getting drafted as he does of missing reveille and decides the life of a Keydet ain't so bad.

Williams' return means three of the five players who made first-team all-Big South (Winthrop's Michael Jenkins and High Point's Arizona Red) will be back.

The changes at Winthrop and Coastal Carolina are the most intriguing, because Peele takes over the league's premier program and whoever replaces Peterson takes the reins of a program that seemed on the cusp of challenging the Eagles for conference supremacy.

Peele wasted no time hitting the ground running, signing the league's top recruiting class. He'll likely bring in another player before the summer ends. Plus, he's put together the best home schedule in school history -- Old Dominion, Missouri State, Akron, a BracketBuster date in February, Presbyterian, so far.

The overall schedule's going to include at least seven teams that won 20 or more games and four that reached postseason play.

Peele's not backing away from Marshall's plan of playing tough opponents anytime, anywhere.

With the first practice still four months away, the Eagles will go into next season in a familiar spot -- the team to beat -- although High Point, unless the Panthers cough up another hairball like they did in last season's conference tournament, could mount a challenge.

Coastal Carolina faces a pivotal hire if the program is going to keep pace. The players' choice is assistant coach Jamie Kachmarik, who recruited most of them. Sounds like Winthrop, where the players went to bat for Peele almost before Marshall got off the phone from telling them he was headed to Tornado Alley.

Former Clemson coach Cliff Ellis and former Alabama head coach and Kentucky assistant David Hobbs have been mentioned at Coastal, as school officials at least go through the motions of conducting a "national search."

Got to admit Ellis would be a great choice. When he's not coaching, he could head down to North Myrtle, drop in at Fat Harold's, do a little shaggin' or maybe do a couple of numbers from his beach music CD ("Charlena" is my favorite). Hey, College of Charleston recycled Bobby Cremins and that worked out pretty well.

The winds of change haven't just blown through the league this spring -- they've howled.

Even in a mid-major league, that's not a bad thing.

You never know what those winds might blow your way.

Gary McCann • 329-4074 | gmccann@heraldonline.com

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