By CHRIS RAIMONDI
KENNESAW, Ga. — Kennesaw State men’s basketball team has had its share of turnover since making the jump to Division I in the 2005-06 season. Recently, the team hasn’t won more than 10 games in the last five seasons and had three different head coaches in that span.
New head coach Al Skinner wants to start a fresh legacy.
Skinner has 22 years of Division I coaching experience after spending 13 years at Boston College (1997-2010) and nine at Rhode Island (1988-1997).
Though, there is a bit of a misalliance between KSU and Skinner. The Owls have an 85-301 record at the Division I level — Skinner is 385-291 during his entire coaching career. KSU has never finished higher than fifth in its conference (Atlantic Sun), while Skinner has been to the NCAA tournament nine times.
However, there is one link between the 2001 National Coach of the Year and Kennesaw: Director of Athletics Vaughn Williams.
“Vaughn and I worked together at Boston College. He knew what I had accomplished, and he also knew what he wanted,” Skinner said. “He felt that I could possibly help him achieve that.”
Williams served as the assistant athletics director for operations and facilities at Boston College from 1998-2004. All it took was one connection and KSU received its most experienced basketball coach in school history.
The Owls had an accomplished history at the Division II level. Former head coach Tony Ingle led KSU to three appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament and won a national championship in 2004.
Since then, the Owls have not won more than 13 games in a season at the D-I level. Three out of the last four years, KSU hasn’t won more than six games.
“When I visited I was quite pleasantly surprised,” Skinner said of his first trip to KSU. “I felt that it was something that I could really enjoy, but maybe create a little legacy as far as establishing something at the Division I level.”
Al Skinner at his KSU introductory press conference. (Photo by Chris Raimondi)
Skinner stated his first season at KSU will strictly serve as a year to lay a foundation. He did not set any specific team goals and he has no expectations for the 2015-16 team, in terms of wins and losses.
Skinner has one main objective for the season: Give the three seniors more success and stability.
“That means a lot to me,” senior point guard Yonel Brown said. “We’ve hosted a few recruits and a lot of people want to talk to them about what we are looking to do in five years, six years, but [Coach Skinner] is worried about right now. He’s trying to win now.”
That “win-now” mentality is being stressed on the court, but off of the court Skinner is looking much further down the road. So far down the road, he is analyzing what his successor will have to achieve.
“You are looking to, if not equal, surpass what has happened in history,” Skinner said. “Fortunately for me, there hasn’t been a lot of positive history here at Kennesaw State, so I can put the bar where I would like it. I’m going to try and get it as high as possible so that the next person that comes along will have to reach that.”
After accomplishing so much over his coaching career at the collegiate level, Skinner admittedly was forced with the decision whether or not he wanted to risk his reputation to take over the Owls’ losing program. Upon making that decision, he immediately assembled his coaching staff.
Similar to his hiring through Williams, Skinner found familiar faces to fill in his staff. Associate head coach Michael Cotton and assistant coach Carlton Owens each played under Skinner at Boston College and Rhode Island, respectively.
“I know what he wants and I know what his expectations are because I am a product of it,” Cotton said. “When the opportunity presented itself and he called and asked me to come, it was a no-brainer.”
Cotton previously coached at North Carolina Central from 2013-15 where he helped the Eagles to 53 wins in two years and an NCAA tournament berth.
Skinner and his staff were immediately at a disadvantage upon stepping in, as they had just three months to prepare, seven of last year’s players either graduated or transferred, and the Owls’ schedule this season includes road matchups against Louisiana State, Arizona State, Louisville, Indiana and West Virginia.
No matter the circumstances, Skinner believes KSU has the potential to become a great basketball school, and he wants to be the coach to pave the way.
“We want to consistently be competing for the league championship, but there are some steps you have to take before you get to that height,” Skinner said. “I like to believe that I will be able to accomplish that.”