Scandal aftermaths make second year hard
Georgia is worse in Dennis Felton's second season than it was a year ago. On the verge of the NCAA Tournament last season with wins over Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and Florida, this year the Bulldogs are 6-5 overall (0-1 SEC) and already have lost to Stetson at home.
St. Bonaventure won seven games last season. The Bonnies (1-11, 0-1 in the A-10) have one win so far, and might find it hard to get another one for second-year coach Anthony Solomon.
Baylor did win at Purdue (in the midst of a down year itself) but the Bears are expected to take a step back in the Big 12 in Scott Drew's second season. Despite a 7-3 record (helped significantly by a very soft non-conference schedule) that places them one win shy of last year's win total, Baylor might find it hard to eclipse three conference wins.
So, why are these programs taking a step back in year two?
All three coaches took over scandal-ridden programs. And year two is almost always tougher than year one. For many, year three can be even more disastrous.
"The impact is in the third year because by then you've been hurt by the sanctions," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who had to go through some of the toughest sanctions in the NCAA when he took over the Terps in 1989 after the scandal years under Bob Wade.
The Terps had scholarship reductions but, even worse, were banned from television.
"If you were an ACC-level player, why would you go to a program that couldn't get on television?"
Williams is the ultimate test case for Felton, Drew and Solomon. Sure, the Terps had history that Georgia, Baylor and St. Bonaventure only dream about, but he still had monumental odds to overcome.
"My biggest fear was that we could never get good enough to play at the level of Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech," Williams said. "We didn't have the players to beat those guys."
The amazing thing about Williams was that 12 years after he arrived, he won the national title.
That's not going to happen at Baylor and St. Bonaventure, and seems a longshot to occur at Georgia, but Williams' success could be a beacon of hope.
Williams won 19 games his first season, 16 his second, 14 in his third and then 12 in his fourth. He got Joe Smith and Keith Booth in year five and the Terps went to the Sweet 16 in 1994 after not going to the Dance in any of Williams' first four seasons.
"Any coach that goes through this should get seven seasons on his contract," Williams said. "I can honestly say that after the first two or three seasons, I really questioned if I should have moved from Ohio State. I really worried that I had dug myself a hole because after five or six years, (fans) don't care why you're not winning, they only care that you're not winning."
Maryland was fortunate to land Smith and Booth. Smith turned out to be the No. 1 player in the country.
"My advice to those guys is to concentrate on your team, shut everything else out and although it hurts not to win as many games, don't lose your confidence," Williams said.
"I was the hot young guy at Ohio State and then I come to Maryland and I can't win? It hurts your confidence and pride as a coach but you've got to keep focusing on your team, running better offense and continuing to work on the results. It's easy to say now after what happened."
Usually what happens to the new coach in these situations is they get a few holdovers in the first year. Then, through attrition, seniors or transfers, the program is usually gutted.
Arizona State coach Rob Evans had similar problems taking over the Sun Devils from interim coach Don Newman, one year removed from Bill Frieder being forced out over a gambling scandal within his program.
"We had Eddie House when I first arrived and he carried us to 19 wins, and then he's gone and we had freshmen and sophomores," Evans said. "I knew that we would struggle more the year after that. It's hard to get the recruiting going because you're recruiting during the controversy."
That's what has happened at Baylor, Georgia and St. Bonaventure.
All three schools self-imposed sanctions last year on their programs. All had various degrees of violations, with the worst of the three scandals coming at Baylor, where Drew has had to repair the program's (and school's) image after Bear forward Patrick Dennehy was allegedly murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson and an attempted coverup of violations was foiled. Baylor is expecting to learn its final penalties in April.
A number of players left Waco, including all-American Lawrence Roberts (Mississippi State) and Final Four participant John Lucas (Oklahoma State). There were seven scholarship returnees last season but the Bears had just one returning for this season.
"You can't replace the ones outgoing in that first year because there is so much uncertainty," Drew said. "But next year we've got one of the top classes we've had, with three players in the top 100."
Drew, who was talking about Texas studs Kevin Rogers, Henry Dugat and Curtis Jerrells, is the eternal optimist. The Bears can get up to 12 scholarship players in 2005-06 after having only six on scholarship this season (although they could have been up to nine if they had chosen to fill them). The removal of the five-and-eight scholarship restriction was thrown out too late in the spring to change recruiting for this season.
"It sometimes takes two or three years to clear the probation and seven years to get it all back, but in basketball, one player can change everything," Drew said. "Next year, with our recruiting class, maybe we can change it a lot quicker."
That's the thinking in Athens, Ga., too.
The Bulldogs are just surviving this season after losing four starters. But Georgia signed one of the top recruiting classes in the country, including possibly the best player in the class of 2005 in Louis Williams. Williams is still considering the NBA draft, but if he does go to Georgia, he would immediately make the Bulldogs a contender in the SEC East.
"I knew we would be starting over in year two because of the change in personnel," Felton said. "I took this job because I saw the opportunity to do something special and to build a legacy. We're in the process of trying to do something here that hasn't happened in the history of the school and that's put out a consistent high achieving basketball team."
Like Maryland, Georgia has the resources to get that done. Baylor and St. Bonaventure would struggle to do the same thing. The Bonnies don't have a headline name just yet for next season.
"We're not very good right now, but we're fighting to be good," said Felton, who has seven players on scholarship. "We're working from a serious, serious deficit and we could lose to anybody."
Despite the struggles, Drew and Felton aren't getting discouraged. They're not questioning their abilities, either.
"There might be times when I get frustrated more than I should and maybe lose perspective for a few moments and forget who we are," Felton said. "But I'm quite certain I won't lose confidence in my ability to coach and teach the game and get the most out of our team. I'm supremely confident that we can overachieve as a team. I know how to have success with a team."
But fans will just have to be patient. It's always worse a few years before it can get better at these programs struggling to get through a probationary period.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Word on college basketball is updated Fridays throughout the year.