BOGACZYK: Daniel Still Building Herd `Home of Higher Hoops'
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 13, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Matt Daniel is confident he can turn around women’s basketball fortunes at Marshall.
After two seasons of his four-year contract, Daniel owns 9-21 and 11-20 seasons. And when the Thundering Herd opens the 2014-15 season Friday against host Rhode Island in the URI Tip-Off, it’s with a team that has been picked to finish 14th – and last – in Conference USA.
At the Henderson Center, he’s still working on the Herd "Home of Higher Hoops."
"What I’m looking for is a high level of consistency," the 38-year-old Daniel said. "Let the results take care of themselves. I’m really comfortable with how we’re approaching things and the direction we’re moving, how we’re going about that process.
"I’ll give you an example. (On Nov. 4) we practiced for three hours. I’ve never practiced a team for three hours, but I think that’s what this team needed for that particular practice. I’m trying to show them that change is both inevitable, and possible."
Daniel’s Herd remains a program in transition. He has only 10 active players this season, and three of those are junior college transfers who are only in their second MU seasons, as seniors. There are no freshmen, but Daniel has commitments from seven high school seniors for 2015-16, including four players from southern West Virginia or the Tri-State.
In his first season as a head coach – 2008-09, Daniel guided Central Arkansas to a 6-23 record. The next season, his Sugar Bears were 21-8 and on the way their to Southland Conference success.
"It’s kind of an interesting blend (of players) because this is something I’ve learned to appreciate … I have a new-found respect for how hard it is to turn around a program," he said. "Because it was so broken of a winning culture that players that were here had not had any success, and they were still on the roster (in the first two seasons) as you were recruiting new kids. And even if it doesn’t affect the new kids’ mentality overall, it could on game day when you don’t have success.
"So, we’re still trying to break that mold, but it’s a grueling process that hopefully everyone involved in our program understands."
Only one among the Herd – 6-foot-3 senior post player Chukwuka "Chika" Ezeigbo – played for previous MU Coach Royce Chadwick. Ezeigbo will start, Daniel said, along with junior point guard Norrisha Victrum and seniors Leah Scott, AJ Johnson and Aja Sorrells. He’ll play an eight- or nine-player rotation.
Sophomore post player Chelsey Romero has been out almost three weeks with an MCL sprain. She is expected back in workouts by this weekend.
So, is having only 10 players a plus or a minus?
"It’s good and bad," Daniel said. "You can’t have injuries. When you have fewer ingredients, it makes the ingredients that much more important. So, you can’t take nights off, you can’t have injuries, but you’ve got less to worry about.
"People can get comfortable with, ‘This is going to be my role.’ I know somewhere I’m going to get an opportunity because of numbers. But every situation is how the young lady decides to look at it. We’re putting them in situations where we feel they can be successful, but whether they want to be or choose to be, that’s completely up to them.
"When you have a smaller nucleus, they know they’re going to get time, know they’re going to get opportunities, so that’s easier to accept or deal with."
What concerns Daniel more than his roster is his schedule. He accurately calls it "road-heavy." Five of the first six and seven of the first nine games are away from the Henderson Center. The Herd also has two C-USA voyages to Texas (UTSA/UTEP and Rice/North Texas) as the league schedule also expands from 16 to 18 games.
He knows the program’s followers are anxious for success, but Daniel is as keenly interested in the construction process as the finished product.
To those who ask when the Herd will win, Daniel said, "I tell them we are winning now. If you know what we inherited, and know where we are internally, we are winning now. What they’re taking abut is stuff that you have less control over.
"I can help (the players) with a class, but I can’t help the ball go in the basket. An injury here or there …being without Chika three weeks last year (for her father’s funeral in Nigeria), things like that. It’s a culture we have to continue to build."
Daniel’s 2013-14 team became the rare No. 16 seed to win a conference tournament game. The Herd had several C-USA regular-season games in which they took opponents into the final minute, but couldn’t finish while going 3-13.
So, if not the W-L, how would Daniel define a successful 2014-15 for the Herd?
"That we compete … compete together, not as individuals, but as a collective unit," he said. "That we handle adversity and success with the same high level of consistency, and then let the results be what they are… and that’s for somebody else to judge.
"The true measure of what we’ve done this year will be seven years after they leave. I’m also a believer that we’re part of the higher education system. That’s really why we’re here. This is an educational institution, and we’ll handle ourselves academically accordingly."
On and off the floor, Daniel wants his team to follow the advice that appears on a wall-hanging behind his Henderson Center office desk:
"Don’t Get Lost in the Woulds."