RICHMOND —- The most fascinating aspect of the first opening round game at the CAA tournament, a 70-59 victory for UNC Wilmington over eighth-seeded James Madison, is the possibility Dukes coach Matt Brady won’t be back for a fifth season.
Brady is 67-67 after a disappointing 12-20 season wound to a close at the Richmond Coliseum. He also played all season without projected starter Rayshawn Goins (labrum tear) and nearly all of conference play without forward Julius Wells (viral infection). Several other players, including Devon Moore and Andrey Semenov, played through injuries.
In short, it wasn’t going to be easy for James Madison to crack the top third of the league. It didn’t, losing nine of its last 11 (with both wins against 1-30 Towson) and going out feebly in the conference tournament. Up 13-4, the Dukes yielded a 49-17 burst to effectively end their season with more than 10 minutes to go.
Which brings things back to Brady, who was his usual candid self (“We did not play well. For the first time all year, we did not have one guy play well.”) even before his job status was mentioned.
And then it was, which led to a response of pure gold:
“Here’s the funny thing. if you told me a year ago today that we’d be talking about that, I’d have said you were out in left field. But sports in America is a different deal. I hope my administration doesn’t judge me on this season. If they judge me on this season, yeah, this might be my last game. If you judge me on what we’ve done my first three years —- and the other thing people forget is we’ve been the most injured team in this league three of our four years. It’s not even close. It’s not even like ‘Who’s second?’ Second is across the street and down the road. It’s not even close. If there’s going to be change, I’m going to stay positive and wish everybody well.
“I’ll tell you I love the school and the administration has been very fair to me. My family would love to stay. When I started the season, I thought we’d been in the top four. You know what? If I’m going to be judged by everything that went down like that, then good luck to the next coach who loses three starters.”
The Dukes have cycled through Sherman Dillard (seven seasons), Dean Keener (four seasons) and Brady over the last 15 years, and Brady inherited a program that had absorbed eight straight losing seasons. In a league where the three best programs are well-entrenched and two are a direct byproduct of continuity (George Mason and Old Dominion), a little stability is going to be needed for a program to push into the top shelf (see: Drexel and Bruiser Flint).
It will be curious to see what Madison opts to do. A traditional measuring stick of five years has shrunk to four seasons (and sometimes less) in many places. Whether Brady’s record to date —- a pair of low-level postseason appearances, two 21-win seasons and one finish in the top half of the CAA —- earns him a pass for problems beyond his control this year will be known soon enough.
—- Patrick Stevens