Track Record Suggests Dunlap Can Succeed In A Difficult Situation With BobcatsPosted by EJacoby on June 20th, 2012
Mike Dunlap did an admirable job leading St. John’s as its unexpected interim coach last season to a 6-12 record in the Big East with an extremely young roster. Starting five freshmen for much of the conference season, Dunlap never complained about the tumultuous situation surrounding his team that lost coach Steve Lavin to health issues as well as several players to ineligibility or transfer. He was considered a major asset in the young players’ developments last season and heading into next year, but it was a major shock when Dunlap was announced on Monday as the new head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats. NBA analysts were completely caught off guard, immediately pointing out that Dunlap has never been a head coach at the Division I college level or in the NBA. The detractors should consider his previous history in challenging situations such as the one he will face with the Bobcats, a team that just finished 7-59 for the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Dunlap has twice before stepped into tough spots as an interim head coach and got young players to buy in. He did it first in 2008-09 at Arizona when Lute Olson stepped down early and then last season with St. John’s. Highly regarded in terms of player development and game strategy, Dunlap is a better fit than some other big names despite his lack of professional experience.
After a decade coaching Division II Metro State, a stint that included two National Titles, Dunlap has bounced around several notable teams as a highly-regarded top assistant, including with the Denver Nuggets from 2006-08 under George Karl. And Karl, the future Hall of Famer, shared some terrific praise of Dunlap when he heard his former assistant got the Bobcats job. “[He's] probably the most intelligent guy I ever talk to about the game of basketball,” said Karl. “Mike provides insight that I’ve never had anybody deliver. When you talk to him off the court, he could be Socrates. On the court, he’s an intense, competitive SOB.” It’s these kinds of recommendations from his prior stops that got Dunlap on Charlotte’s short list. For a team that struggled so badly and doesn’t have much talent or ego to deal with, the Bobcats needed someone willing to work endlessly in search of developing young talent. “To hire a guy of knowledge and character and service more than spin and perception is something that makes me feel great,” added Karl. When you think about it that way, Dunlap seems like a progressive hire by the Bobcats, a team that’s made such a mistake with these moves in the past.
Dunlap obviously isn’t expected to turn the Bobcats into a winner right away. Charlotte has a few intriguing young players – Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Gerald Henderson, and the upcoming #2 overall pick – but there’s not much there in terms of guaranteed future starters. However, the same thing was said when he took over St. John’s last season. The Red Storm were without three of their top freshmen recruits due to ineligibility and starting point guard Nurideen Lindsey transferred after nine games. Nonetheless, the Johnnies turned some marginal recruits into big-time players. D’Angelo Harrison wasn’t even a consensus top 50 recruit but averaged 17.0 PPG last year, good for seventh in the Big East. And Moe Harkless barely cracked the RSCI top 40 at #39, yet he quickly developed into one of the best freshmen in the country as he averaged 15.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 1.4 blocks before entering the NBA Draft. The youngest available prospect, Harkless is somehow also one of the most mature players at the Combine, and Dunlap’s development work is very noticeable to the pro evaluators.
Charlotte hopes that Dunlap can work similar wonders with its young players. St. John’s, meanwhile, is hoping it can recover from losing its top assistant who left such a strong impression on the program last season. The Red Storm have hauled in a great recruiting class for next season, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Dunlap’s taking over while Lavin recovered. The coaching carousel spins quickly in college basketball, especially at the assistant level, so St. John’s will find answers elsewhere. But the man it loses will become a major asset for the Bobcats, as the future Hall of Famer Karl knows, “He’ll do everything they want him to do. He’ll take the bullets, he’ll take the losses and he’ll build a good foundation and a good culture.” Dunlap’s first task is working with the top prospect his team drafts with the second overall pick on June 28.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him on Twitter @evanJacoby.