The current University of Central Arkansas basketball players could have done the math and gotten the hint from new coach Russ Pennell’s first news conference.
Hours into the job, Pennell and assistant Anthony Boone already had eight potential recruits lined up for campus visits. By last week, that had grown to about a dozen. Pennell and Boone, with a network of contacts both in college and AAU, have reportedly been relentless in their work to rebuild the program by their standards.
They have 13 scholarships and lost two seniors. If most of the prospects come to UCA, there are not many spots available for current players.
Reports are that Pennell will keep at least two, speculated to be 6-foot-7 freshman forward Ethan Lee and 6-0 redshirt freshman guard DeShaun Rice.
Pennell and Boone are apparently imploding the current structure and starting over.
They pretty much have to. It is common knowledge that the men’s basketball program has serious academic problems and when the next APR figures are released, could face sanctions, including possibly a postseason ban. Also, most of the current team members are not of the quality (particularly on defense and basketball IQ) needed to be competitive in the Southland Conference and NCAA Division I.
How did Pennell get a quick jump on recruiting? He was a top candidate for two other Division I jobs in addition to UCA. When he resigned as coach of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury last fall, he was pretty confident he would have a college job this spring. So, he began compiling a list.
It appears similar to what Matt Daniel did when he took over a floundering Sugar Bear program. He cleaned house, got better players and turned things around.
This is not a case of reloading. It’s gutting, then rebuilding the structure from the ground up.
This from Jonesboro Athletic Director David Daniel, father of Matt, who was once a teammate of Anthony Boone in AAU ball.
“Anthony Boone is a prince, a real prince,” Daniel said. “He may be as good of hire as Pennell and I think Pennell is a great hire who will make a difference.”
Clarence Finley, UCA’s interim coach last year who was faced an almost an impossible turnaround situation because of so many leaks in the dam, set the template for class.
Before his final game, before broadcaster Monty Rowell could even ask him about Stephen F. Austin in a radio interview, Finley interrupted to give high praise to Pennell, whom he has known for years, Anthony Boone, Brad Teague (athletic director), Tom Courtway (president) and everybody else at UCA.
Although he wanted the fulltime job, Finley left with professionalism, class, grace and dignity.
He’s rumored to possibly have a new opportunity on Tic Price’s new staff at Lamar if he wants to leave the central Arkansas area.
Finley will land on his feet. He’s a good coach, a good teacher and did a great job of holding a flawed UCA team together.
He’s a better man.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)