It is appropriate to see Gene Keady elevated this year to the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Most college coaches make it via special performances in the NCAA tournament, but Keady did it as a grinder. In 25 seasons at Purdue, he won 512 games (second only to Bob Knight among Big Ten coaches), won or shared six Big Ten titles, was named Big Ten Coach of the Year seven times and was National Coach of the Year eight times in six seasons.
Head to head against Knight, he won 21 and lost 20 even though Knight was perceived as the superior recruiter. And Keady finished with 262 conference victories despite going 31-49 in his last five seasons.
So Keady is deserving. But he should not be enshrined without his old antagonist, Lou Henson. Our good friend remains somehow overlooked, in great part because of a series of devastating NCAA nail-biters ... and perhaps the unfair NCAA investigation instigated by Bruce Pearl and Digger Phelps.
Henson’s Illini defeated Keady in 16 of 30 meetings, and both averaged a fraction over 10 conference wins per season even though Henson shared just one conference championship.
And Henson did something that Keady didn’t do: Lou reached the Final Four, first at New Mexico State and then with the Flyin’ Illini in 1989. He was ESPN National Coach of the Year in 1984 and Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1993.
A closer look
Consideration should be slanted by what they inherited as coaches. In 1981, Keady took over a high-flying Purdue program that was fresh off a Final Four appearance. Keady was handed a Final Four team and he never got them there again.
The Illini were 5-18 and 8-18 in the two seasons before Henson. Not only that, they were on probation and had lost contact with their key recruiting base in Chicago.
Henson had one dominant characteristic. He made dramatic improvements everywhere he went. The Coach won three state championships at Las Cruces High. He took over a destitute (8-17) Hardin-Simmons team and had two 20-6 records in four seasons there. He inherited a 4-22 club at New Mexico State (repeat: 4-22) and immediately produced five straight NCAA teams, three of which were eliminated by John Wooden’s great UCLA champions. He lifted Illinois from the depths and, after a slow start, fielded six straight teams (1984-89) that received at least a top-four NCAA seed.
But if Henson’s work during the Big Ten’s toughest era wasn’t sufficient to put him in the Hall, his reconstruction job at New Mexico State should be enough. It’s an old story that warrants repeating because Henson became head coach there just after Don Haskins led nearby Texas Western to the 1966 NCAA title. They would write books and make films about Haskins, and enshrined him in the Hall of Fame. And a year later, Haskins had most of his championship team returning — Nevil Shed, Big Daddy Lattin, etc. — while little was expected of Henson’s midgets.
You know what happened. The Aggies upset Texas Western (now UTEP) twice that season and 10 straight. I counted them again. That’s 10 straight against winning Haskins teams. And Henson’s Aggies became an immediate force in the NCAA tournament, reaching the Final Four once and falling on two other occasions to UCLA’s super-teams.
Haskins is lauded for “breaking the color barrier” because all his starters in 1966 against Kentucky were black. Well, Henson actually broke the color line at Hardin-Simmons years before, insisting that the freedom to recruit blacks be a condition of his hiring there.
Oh, and when Henson returned decades later to take over a troubled New Mexico State program for a salary of $1, he split with Haskins that season (1997-98). A year later, back on salary, Henson beat him twice (Haskins’ final season) and downed Boise State for the Big West tourney title, earning his 19th NCAA berth.
There’s enough about Henson if voters look back far enough, take note of what he inherited at each stop and consider the consistency of his accomplishments. His record at Illinois is comparable to Keady’s but without the championships. Midway in his tour here, the 13 seasons from 1979 through 1991, the Illini won 294 games.
His successes at New Mexico State, if given proper analysis, should put him over the top.
Gene is deserving, but so is Looouuuu.
A bundle of trouble
The University of Illinois has ousted two recent presidents and helped a chancellor or two out the door, while tackling scandals related to admissions, law school and elsewhere.
So we’re not in an ideal position to criticize Rutgers for a current basketball episode that has put the president on the hot seat while taking two coaches, the general counsel and the athletic director.
Furthermore, the Big Ten has waded through too many recent scandals — Ohio State and Penn State come to mind — to cite the Rutgers incident as sufficient reason to boot a conference member.
But, in what resonates negatively with Big Ten traditionalists, Rutgers is headed where it didn’t belong in the first place. And for the very reason that Jim Delany pushed to include New Jersey’s state university: its location.
You will recall that the revealing film of Mike Rice ranting and shoving players came to light last November, and he was fined and suspended for three games by AD Tim Pernetti in December. It should have been a big story at the time, inspiring a heated investigation by the media and Internet rabble rousers. Most of these incidents go viral if for no other reason than social networking.
But our brethren in the vicinity didn’t pay any attention. They never do when it comes to Rutgers. New York and its suburbs are addicted to pro sports ... the Yankees and Mets, the Knicks and Nets, the Giants and Jets, the Rangers and Islanders.
College football is a non-starter in the city. It never caught on. North Dakota State got a vote in the latest AP poll, but no school from either state did, much less the nation’s largest city and sprawling suburbs that bring the total population north of 20 million.
If St. John’s is NYC’s main college basketball attraction, consider that Madison Square Garden wasn’t half full (around 9,000) for the Red Storm’s last two home games there, and they drew 4,900 and 5,600 for the last two home games at Carnesecca Arena.
Delany undoubtedly has polled information that the BTN can be sold there, but it figured to be a challenge even without the Rutgers blowup.
Rutgers must first hire an AD, which usually takes months, before lining up a basketball coach. Meanwhile, players are leaving.
Perhaps New York’s monthly cable subscribers won’t be aware — bundling often goes unnoticed — when the BTN begins working its cable magic. But if the folks ever wake up to bundling, Big Ten viewing among New Yorkers will dip lower than South Beach.
— Darrius Caldwell, UI sophomore from Atlanta, has been suspended for the remainder of spring football to complete academic work. Caldwell figures to replace Mike Buchanan at defensive end next fall. Coach Tim Beckman will oversee the team draft Tuesday to divide the squad for Friday’s 8 p.m. spring game.
— It’ll cost more than $1 million at the Bielfeldt Administration Building to provide a control room for Memorial Stadium’s new HD scoreboard and for additional space for an athletic department busting at the seams. AD Mike Thomas also will find out soon whether a new floor will be installed at Huff and when construction starts on improvements at the indoor golf facility.
— Just because the NCAA botched the Miami investigation doesn’t mean the Hurricanes aren’t guilty ... and that Missouri coach Frank Haith didn’t have knowledge of the payoffs in the department when he was there.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.