New basketball coach brings fresh attitude, determined to win first SLC Championship

In the Jan. 29 issue of The Echo, I voiced my support for interim Men’s Basketball Coach Clarence Finley being retained to see what he could do with UCA’s program.

In that article, I talked about the struggles Finley had to deal with while coaching this year’s team.

Size, free throws and classroom grades have been a big issue for the team.

Despite this, Finley was able to coach this team to eight wins on the season.

While that may not look good on paper, Sacramento Kings Assistant Coach Corliss Williamson, whom Finley replaced, won five games in his first season as the men’s basketball coach and eight wins his second year.

I had all the confidence in the world that Finley could have turned this program into a Southland Conference contender within the next few years.

My confidence in Finley came to an end March 5 when it was announced he would not be returning and new Head Basketball Coach Russ Pennell took his position.

While Finley may have been told earlier in the season that he would not be retained, the official announcement came with two games left in the schedule March 7.

If the team had won both games, it would have had a chance to make the Southland Conference for the second consecutive year.

If I were in Finley’s shoes, I also would have had trouble getting the team motivated to win the last two games.

It was almost like he was set up for failure, but he was given the interim label, which means it was tough to keep his job.

Pennell’s hiring should have been delayed until Monday but  realize these kinds of things are just business.

In fact, this has happened to Pennell last year.

He coached Grand Canyon University to a 23-8 overall record and 14-4 in the Pacific West Conference.

Despite this record and making the Division II NCAA tournament, he was told he would no longer be the coach after this season.

GCU made a transition to Division I and wanted a more marketable name to the area, so they hired former Phoenix Suns player Dan Marjele two days after Pennell learned he wouldn’t be back.

The men’s basketball team now has the best coach it has had since it has moved to Division I in 2006.

The men’s baskeball program has not had a winning season since moving to Division I.

Pennell is the coach the program needs.

He hasn’t coached a game at UCA yet, but he has a great mentality on how to run a basketball team.

Pennell said he runs his basketball teams like he runs his family.

For me, this says a lot about a coach because it shows his teams will be close, but he will play the disciplinary role when he needs to.

Pennell knows what it takes to win games.

He holds a 93-58 record as a head coach at the collegiate level.

For comparison, Williamson had a 26-62 record in three seasons as UCA’s men’s basketball team.

Much like the hiring of Head Football Coach Steve Campbell, Athletic Director Brad Teague has done a great job with this hire.I am excited about the chance to see a successful team in the near future.

Pennell admitted this will be a tough transition period, and said fans and students shouldn’t expect a great season next year as it is hard to turn a program around in one year.

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