TERRE HAUTE —
When it comes to no-choice scenarios, the Indiana State men’s basketball program could have done a lot worse.
When Kevin McKenna resigned to take an assistant coach position at the University of Oregon, ISU was left without a leader just 16 days before the crucial July recruiting period began.
A long, exhaustive search was out of the question if ISU’s program was to remain viable in the next few seasons.
Associate Head Coach Greg Lansing was the only realistic choice for the head coach job.
The benefit for ISU is that instead of dealing with what could have been back-breaking uncertainty at a key time, the program had the choice of continuity.
During his current stint on ISU’s coaching staff, Lansing has been on staff for four years. He’s recruited or coached every player on the team. He has worked with assistant coaches Lou Gudino and Deryl Cunningham a minimum of two years apiece.
“It’s a relief. With July coming up and all of the guys we have coming in, all of the questions have been eliminated,” Gudino said.
In other words, aside from changing offices, little has changed in the ISU program. That was a relief to everyone involved with the program.
“This is big for us. Everybody was wondering who was going to get the job, but everyone was happy it was coach Lansing. We sat in the room the other day talking about it. We said we have to let someone know that’s who we want to get the job. We’re glad that’s how it happened,” ISU center Isiah Martin said.
Though Lansing said that hiring the best man for the job was paramount, continuity was key to keeping the program together. Pending approval from ISU’s administration, Lansing had been assured by Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman that he had the job. To keep things as smooth as possible, he wanted to tell the players before a public announcement was made.
“The biggest thing is that those guys had a firm belief that I was the guy. I had to talk to Ron first and he assured me that I could make those guys feel OK about it. There’s always a little worry that someone might take off, but our guys have been great and have had a good time with all of this,” Lansing said.
Gudino, who has been promoted to Associate Head Coach, indicated that no players have asked to leave to date and he takes that as an early sign of faith.
“The most important thing Greg talked about was chemistry with the players we have. The fact that none of the guys have asked for a release when they found out Greg was going to stay is the proof in the pudding they made the correct decision. They all want to be a part of this,” Gudino said.
It helped that Lansing has a personal rapport with many of the players. For many, he was the go-to coach when they needed to confide in someone on staff. For others, he was instrumental in their recruitment to ISU.
“He was at more of my AAU games than Coach McKenna was. Knowing that he’d seen me play and that he knows what I can do and that he still wants me around. That means a lot to me,” said incoming freshman Jake Kitchell.
• Waiting game — Though much of the public was unaware that McKenna might leave until Sunday, Lansing has been aware of the possibility since Dana Altman left Creighton for Oregon in April.
Since then, he’s been on pins and needles. When McKenna thought he might get the Creighton job (Greg McDermott was hired instead), Lansing was certain he’d slide into ISU’s head coaching position.
“It started when Creighton opened. Kevin being a great player there and having a great affection for that place, I know they’d talk to him. I might have made a mistake in getting my hopes up a little bit then,” Lansing said.
When rumors began two weeks ago that McKenna was mulling a move to Oregon, Lansing didn’t want to get psychologically burned again.
“This time, when the rumors got out there, I thought it was a possibility, but I didn’t get my hopes up this time. I felt comfortable that if something happened, Ron would hire me. I did a lot of pacing around, but it was good to have Lou and my family on. It was long, but it was worth it,” Lansing said.
The players had to wait too. Kitchell hasn’t played a game for ISU, but he’s already been part of one coaching transition.
“We’re just taking it all in. I have faith in coach Lansing that he’ll keep taking us in the right direction and that he’ll make the best out of it and we’ll keep winning games,” Kitchell said. “I’m just trying to take it all in stride and be positive about it. There’s obviously a lot to think about, but I think things will work out for the best.”
• Lansing’s philosophies — Though Lansing is familiar to ISU fans, what’s not well-known is his on-court philosophy.
Lansing has worked for motion offense coaches (Royce Waltman, Steve Alford) and a spread offense philosophy (McKenna) that relied more on set plays.
Even the players wondered what Lansing might do.
“I think we’ll run more. I think he’ll do some of the same stuff coach McKenna did, but I’m not sure what to expect. I know we’ll do a lot more running,” Martin said.
Former ISU standout Nate Green would agree. Green played for Lansing during his last head coaching gig at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines.
“He was very tough, he was very, very disciplined, but he was always fair. Back then, coaching the high school game, he coached kids that never picked up a basketball after the lights went out. For him it was always about chemistry and making sure he had good guys on the team. Along with that, X’s and O’s wise, he played tough defense and to this day I remember that we ran … a lot,” Green said.
For his part, Lansing said he would employ a mix of the styles he’s been exposed to as an assistant coach and as the son of Dave Lansing, a Hall of Famer as a high school coach in Iowa.
“I’m more along the lines of coach Waltman and coach Alford as far as with motion and a freestyle offense. But we’ll do sets with ball screens and different things. Coach McKenna did a lot of that, we did a lot of motion and moved out of the spread a little.
• McKenna contract details at Oregon — The Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard published salary details of McKenna’s contract on Tuesday.
McKenna will receive $250,000 per year in guaranteed annual compensation for two years and $300,000 for his third season. McKenna can also receive bonus incentives for NCAA Tournament appearances ($10,000), NCAA tourney victories ($5,000) and $20,000 if Oregon’s APR surpasses the NCAA minimum.
The Register-Guard reported that McKenna is being paid less than two of Oregon’s assistants were paid last season.
Oregon will also pay Indiana State a $50,000 buyout clause in the contract he had with ISU.
McKenna was paid $200,000 when taking into account his base salary and media stipend at ISU.
TERRE HAUTE —
When it comes to no-choice scenarios, the Indiana State men’s basketball program could have done a lot worse.
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