Despite a 31-94 record in four years and a school-record losing streak this season, Citadel basketball coach Chuck Driesell still believes he can win at the military school.
At The Citadel
Year Overall Pct. SoCon Pct.
2010-11 10-22 .313 6-12 .333
2011-12 6-24 .200 3-15 .167
2012-13 8-22 .267 5-13 .278
2013-14 7-26 .212 2-14 .125
Totals 31-94 .248 16-54 .228
And he'll get a fifth year to try to prove it.
Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby said Wednesday that Driesell will return for a fifth season in 2014-15. It will be the final season on Driesell's current contract. He currently earns a reported base salary of $185,000 per year.
Judging by Leckonby's reaction to the question of whether Driesell would return next year - As far as I know, he will be back," Leckonby said - there was no real consideration among Citadel brass of dismissing Driesell after a season in which the Bulldogs went 7-26 overall and 2-14 in the Southern Conference, losing 17 straight games at one stretch.
Other mid-major programs have not been as patient. This week, Appalachian State fired coach Jason Capel with a four-year record of 53-70. UNC Wilmington fired coach Buzz Peterson with a four-year mark of 42-82, and will pay Peterson a reported $880,000 to settle the final two years of his contract.
Driesell's Bulldogs did put together a three-game win streak late in the season, including an 86-76 upset of UNC Greensboro in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament.
"I think the program is in good hands," said Leckonby, who hired Driesell in 2010. "Academically, we do well. Athletically, we were disappointed in some of the injury problems that key kids had this year. I've never seen injuries of that type all on one team at one time."
The team did endure injuries to forwards P.J. Horgan and C.J. Bray, while junior point guard Marshall Harris battled through foot problems. Little-used reserve Dylen Setzekorn missed games with a staph infection in his knee.
The most damaging injury was to Horgan, a 6-8 junior, who averaged 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 2012-13 as a complement to all-SoCon center Mike Groselle. But back problems threatened to end Horgan's career, and he missed the first 15 games this season, averaging 3.8 points and 5.4 rebounds after his return. Bray, a 6-7 redshirt sophomore, missed 11 games while recovering from nerve damage in his shoulder and averaged 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds.
There injuries forced freshmen forwards Brian White and Tom Koopman into early starting roles. White averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds and made the all-SoCon freshman team; Koopman started 17 games and averaged 2.8 points and 2.5 rebounds.
"We went into the season with the idea that we'd be able to start two juniors in the backcourt, with a sophomore at small forward and two juniors up front," Driesell said. "We'd have a little bit of experience and maturity out there on the court. But the injuries that came up were freaky injuries that no one could plan for, and they put us in the familiar position of having to play true freshmen. I thought we'd finally get away from having to rely so much on freshmen."
The emergence of junior guard Ashton Moore and the steady play of swingman Matt Van Scyoc were two bright spots this season. Moore averaged 23 points and shot 50 percent from 3-point range over the final six games of the season, boosting his season averages to 14.1 points and 41.2 percent. Van Scyoc, a 6-6 sophomore, averaged 14.3 points and 5.3 rebounds, shooting 36.5 percent from 3-point range and 86 percent on free throws.
"I think Ashton will be a guy who can make a difference night in and night out next year," Driesell said. "He was just lacking some confidence, and now he's got that. After our last game, he was very upset, but he said, 'Coach, we'll be really good next year.'"
Leckonby said he and Driesell have not discussed the coach's contract, which ends on April 30, 2015. Driesell said he's prepared to coach next year even without an extension.
"I've been in this business a long time," he said. "I've learned that you just focus on the things you can control, and for me that's on trying to get better for next season."
The Citadel has one player signed for next year, 6-4 shooting guard Jake Wright of Minnetonka, Minn. With no seniors on this year's team, all the current Bulldogs could return. But it seems likely that at least Setzekorn, who already has earned his degree and did not play in the final 10 games even while healthy, will seek a transfer.
Driesell's best season at The Citadel remains his first, when he inherited the senior core of a team that won 36 games in the previous two seasons under Ed Conroy. Driesell's first team, led by Citadel all-time leading scorer Cameron Wells, went 10-22 overall and 6-12 in the SoCon in 2010-11. The rebuilding began the next year, with records of 6-24 in 2011-12 and 8-22 in 2012-13.
"I really had envisioned that this year we'd be back closer to the .500 level," Driesell said, "and that we'd take this class into next year and go from there. And if you look at how we played in the last four games, if we had been healthy all season, that might have been a reality."
And, according to Driesell, it still can be.
"Absolutely, no question," Driesell said when asked if he can win at The Citadel. "I believe this is a special group of young men, and that they will come in next year and use their experiences to make it a really memorable season."