Here in the spring of ’09, as the people who care about Davidson basketball spend quite a bit of energy thinking about a decision over which they have no control, it’s important to remember that there have been essentially two constants in this program as it’s become what it’s become over the last decade and a half.
Over the years, and especially these last couple years, as I’ve started again to watch Davidson basketball more closely, I’ve often thought that Matheny brought certain intangibles to the operation that were so much in line with the way the program does what it does.
He grew up in Statesville. He comes from a lineage of Matheny men who are small but tough and who absolutely bust tail. In high school he was 5-foot-9, maybe, and he guarded the best player on the other team, always. He came to Davidson to play football but also ended up on the basketball team as a walk-on who became a captain. That happened in part because of that trait. The story goes that he earned his keep because in practice among other things he’d get in the face of 7-foot-tall Detlef Musch. He was a little guy who didn’t play small.
“Defense is heart. It’s desire,” his father David told me last spring when we talked for the book over lunch at the Brickhouse. “I think Bob had that and I think he saw that in Matt.”
Matheny joined McKillop’s staff in August of ’93. He had been in Germany that summer playing some low-level professional football but he had taken the LSATs. He was going to go to law school. One year on the bench next to McKillop led to another, and another, and another, and other assistants came and went, and Matheny stayed, and here, too, is where I think his own narrative really began to dovetail with the program’s compelling, instructive anti-get-rich-quick quality.
Sometimes, seems to me, going is easier than staying, and this past season was Matheny’s 16th as a coach at his alma mater. That title as associate head coach that he’d had since ’03? It’s not something McKillop throws around lightly. By last March, though, he was calling Matheny “the architect,” and like a “kid brother.”
All that came because of two things. Time and trust.
This afternoon in his press conference at Elon, Matheny didn’t say much about McKillop, because it looked as if he would’ve started crying had he said any more. But anyone who’s paid attention to Davidson basketball and watched the Internet feed of that press conference heard a lot of Davidson in there.
Get better every day.
“Bite by bite.”
There are some mixed emotions here. The first emotion, the main emotion, is that Matt is a good, good man, a son, a husband and a father, as likeable and as genuine and as competent and as capable as they come. But after being really, truly happy for Matt, and for Jennifer, and for Brock and for not-yet-month-old Ava, and for the rest of the extended Matheny family -- well, the second emotion is: On the Davidson staff, which has had such atypical continuity for a staff at the mid-major level, Matt’s going to be a heck of a difficult person to replace.