There are 351 teams playing Division I basketball, 160 of which have been in the NCAA’s top tier since it was formed before the 1948-49 season. Of those original members, five — Army, The Citadel, Northwestern, St. Francis of Brooklyn and William and Mary — have never played in its signature event, the NCAA tournament.
For five weeks leading up to the conference tournaments, The Washington Post has examined each of them.
CHARLESTON, S.C. — On a small coffee table next to the window in Duggar Baucom’s office sits a single book: Pat Conroy’s “My Losing Season,” which chronicles Conroy’s senior year as point guard and captain for The Citadel, when the Bulldogs went 8-17 in 1966-67.
Baucom keeps the book visible because Conroy, a best-selling novelist, is one of the school’s best-known graduates, but also because it reminds him why he was hired in spring 2015 as the 30th men’s basketball coach at the South Carolina military college.
“They hired me to change that,” Baucom said with a smile. “Since I took the job, people have said to me, ‘Duggar, they’ve never really come close to making the NCAA tournament.’ My answer to that is, ‘That’s why I’m here.’ ”
Norman Sloan, who would go on to win the 1974 national championship at North Carolina State, is the last coach to leave The Citadel with a winning record: 57-38 from 1956 to 1960. He also came the closest to making the tournament: In 1959, the Bulldogs reached the Southern Conference championship game against West Virginia, led by Jerry West. The Mountaineers won, 85-66, and went on to play in the national championship game.
“And that’s the last time we were even close,” said Bill Schupp, a 1962 graduate who runs the pregame buffet for boosters and alumni that is held on the top level of McAlister Field House. “Folks are excited about Duggar, though. Everyone likes the way he plays. It’s fun to watch.”
Baucom’s teams mirror the style that Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount teams famously played in the late 1980s and early ’90s: run, run and run some more. Trade layups for three-pointers. Try not to possess the ball for more than 10 seconds, less than five being ideal. This season, Baucom’s first at The Citadel, the Bulldogs rank second in the country in scoring at 86.6 points per game. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’re giving up 93.3 points a game — last in the country. The latter is why they are 10-21, having lost nine games in a row entering the first round of the Southern Conference tournament.
Baucom is unfazed. “It’ll take some time,” he said. “I knew that coming in. I was taking over a team that won 11 games last year and lost its top four scorers. So I didn’t expect to turn it around right away. But I’m pretty optimistic about things. I know a little bit about working your way up the hill.”
Baucom, 55, grew up in Charlotte and was, by his own description, a mediocre high school basketball player. He dropped out of college as a freshman, when his father developed a serious heart condition caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — thickening of the heart muscle — that would kill him at 42. Rather than go back to college, Baucom decided to go into law enforcement. He was a Charlotte city cop for five years before becoming a North Carolina state trooper. At one point he was a resource officer, which meant that part of his job was going into elementary schools to talk to kids. Sometimes, he went as McGruff the Crime Dog.
“There were two of us who did it,” Baucom said. “We took turns going to school in the costume.”
His life took a sharp turn on Christmas Day in 1990. He came home from work, got into the shower and felt a sharp pain in his chest. It was a heart attack, caused by the same condition that had killed his father and one of his uncles. Baucom was rushed to the emergency room and had a pacemaker put in his chest.
“Because they put a pacemaker in me, I couldn’t go back to my job,” he said. “I was one year short of being able to retire [on disability] with a full pension and benefits for life. Instead, I got one year with no benefits after that. I had to start my life over again at the age of 30.”
If he was going back to square one, Baucom decided, he would go all the way back. He enrolled at UNC Charlotte and, having just gone through a divorce, moved in with his mother. His new goal: to be a basketball coach.
He began working at any summer basketball camp that would hire him, using his modest Charlotte-area hoops connections to get in the door. After he had graduated, Davidson Coach Bob McKillop offered him a job as a part-time coach.
“I was thrilled,” Baucom said. “I mean, a real job. I said, ‘Coach, I’m thrilled, thank you. How much will I be paid?’ He looked at me and said, ‘Duggar, it’s a volunteer job.’ ”
A year later, he got a job as a full-time assistant coach at Division II Mars Hill in North Carolina and was paid $17,000 a year. He was rich — and on his way. In 2005, he was hired at VMI, a school rife with recruiting disadvantages. After a 7-20 first season, Baucom lost two key players to honors violations before his second season began. It was then that he decided to go all in on Paul-ball.
It worked. VMI led the nation in all sorts of offensive categories and became a team no one really wanted to play. Three times, the Keydets reached the final of the Big South Conference tournament. Twice, they won more than 20 games, including the 2013-14 season, when they went 22-13 and reached the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament. It was VMI’s first postseason appearance since the 1977 team reached the NCAA round of 16.
Ed Conroy was well aware of the challenges of running a basketball program at a military school when he took the coaching job at The Citadel in 2006.
Conroy is a 1989 graduate of the school and Pat Conroy’s cousin. He decided to play at The Citadel in spite of reading “The Lords of Discipline,” Conroy’s 1980 book that discussed life as a cadet and then, as coach, had to deal with the perceptions of life at The Citadel that grew out of 2002’s “My Losing Season.”
“I told Pat he almost kept me from going to The Citadel and then he made it harder for me to recruit as a coach,” Conroy said, laughing. “The funny thing is, I really wasn’t at all aware of the fact that we’d never been to the tournament when I was playing there, but became aware of it after I graduated when I was working in Chicago and started going to Northwestern games. When I was asked to come back, one of the first things I said at my press conference was, ‘I want to get us off the list of five. That’s my goal.’ ”
Conroy believed he had a team capable of doing that in 2009. The Bulldogs won 20 games for only the second time in their 104-season history and were invited to play in the CollegeInsider.com event. It is the only time the school has played in a postseason tournament.
“We hung a banner,” Conroy said. “That was a step. We had recruited a really good class of kids after my first year. They were very close-knit. The only thing we didn’t do was find a way to play in the Southern Conference when Davidson didn’t have Steph Curry and a bunch of other great players.”
Conroy left after four seasons because he believed the head coaching job at Tulane was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. “Hardest decision I ever made,” he said. “I hated leaving those kids.”
The Citadel job intrigued Baucom. The dorms were newer than at VMI, and air-conditioned; cadets slept two to a room, not five. Plus, there were palm trees on the campus. “I always wanted to coach near the beach,” he said. “There are four palm trees outside my office window. I love that.”
Baucom was a finalist for the job at The Citadel in 2010. Five years later, he got an unusual second interview — so to speak. It was a basketball game.
“We were playing VMI at home, and we wanted to make it a big deal,” said The Citadel President John Rosa, a retired Air Force general and a 1973 Citadel graduate. “So we came up with a ‘Pack the Mac’ promotion and put 5,000 people in the place. It was as loud as I can remember. We were up double digits in the second half. Duggar’s kids never blinked. They just kept coming and coming and pulled away to win the game [84-69]. That got my attention. We’d almost hired him five years earlier. When we decided to make a change, I think [Athletic Director] Jim [Senter] and I were convinced he was the right guy.”
No one expected The Citadel to win very much in a Southern Conference dominated this season by 25-5 Chattanooga. But Baucom’s style of play has been welcomed by fans, players and, Baucom hopes, future recruits.
Of course, that won’t help Quinton Marshall, the senior captain of this year’s team.
“I’ve thought about it for four years, ever since I got here,” he said. “. . . I came here for two reasons: I know that being a Citadel graduate is going to be a big deal for me in the future — the contacts you have, the prestige of having graduated from here. But I also wanted that feeling of going to the Dance. I’m still believing it can happen.”
The Baucom era did not get off to an auspicious start — and it had nothing to do with basketball. In December, a group of cadets appeared in a photo posted online showing them singing Christmas carols while wearing pillow cases on their head that looked as if they were Ku Klux Klan masks. Fourteen cadets were disciplined. But damage was done. One Washington-area recruit, Mohammed Kabir of National Christian Academy, had signed a letter-of-intent to play for The Citadel but requested to be released from his commitment after learning about the incident.
“When it was first brought to my attention, frankly, I was” angry, Rosa said. “We’ve come so far in terms of promoting diversity in the past few years and then something really stupid like this happens.
“We let them take their final exams because you’re innocent until proven guilty, but they had to wear civilian clothes. Everyone knew who they were and what they’d done. There was no hiding. I consulted with a number of African American community leaders, and they all said the same thing: punish them, but don’t ruin their lives. That’s why they were suspended but not expelled.”
Marshall and leading scorer Derrick Henry, both African American, say they were upset by the incident but have moved on.
“There are always going to be people like that, no matter where you are,” Marshall said. “I honestly believe they don’t reflect what this place is about. I’ve been here four years. I’ve really never encountered anything like that in the past.”
Baucom knows that any reminder of The Citadel’s past — there’s still a Confederate Naval Jack flag that hangs in Summerall Chapel — doesn’t make his job any easier. In June, the school’s board of visitors voted to remove the flag after the mass killing of nine people at the AME Emanuel Church, not far from the school’s campus, by a man who had posed for photos with the Confederate flag. But a South Carolina state law, the Heritage Act, has to be amended before the flag can be moved and the legislature hasn’t done that yet.
“The flag should be in our museum, not in the Chapel,” Rosa said. “It is a part of our history, but nothing beyond that. The sooner that happens, the better for all of us.”
Baucom isn’t deterred by setbacks.
“Remember where I’ve been and what I’ve been through,” he said with a smile. “This is my last rebuilding job. It won’t be done until we hang a banner in the building with four letters on it: NCAA. It’s really that simple.”
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