Three Years of Skinner — My Opinions and Facts

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Photo from KSUOwls.com

Coach Al Skinner just completed his third year at Kennesaw State, so I thought now would be a good time to do a recap. His contract was for 3 years guaranteed with two mutual option years. So yes, now is decision time for new AD Milton Overton and now it’s time for me to start evaluating what’s been done so far under Coach Skinner.

A few years ago I was talking to a friend of mine who coaches in basketball circles, and he made a really good point, and told me that he would judge college basketball coaches in 3 years time. He said in year 1 coaches assess, begin to change the culture, implement their systems and make improvements to the team. In year 2 you begin to assess, and observe and get a feel for which direction the program may be headed. Following year 3 you should be able to have a fully formed opinion as to whether the coach deserves more time or should be let go.

The wins and losses record in year 1 is not that important – because you have to remember the new coach becomes saddled mostly with the prior coaches players and has to install a brand new system. During year 1, coaches should begin to determine which players from the previous regime are system and culture fits and would be useful until his own recruits get up to speed in the following years. During that year you begin to recruit your own guys, and have your own players that fit your own style to have them ready on the court for season 2.

In season 2, the recruited talent shows up and the new coach begins to put his stamp on the team. Fans and administrators start to assess the performance and try and figure out which direction things will go in the future.

In season 3, the players on the court are primarily brought in by the new coach, the system is sturdy and in place and it’s time to show the product the new coach has put together.

Here’s how KSU did the past 4 years
2014-15 (Lallathin) 10-22 (4-10 conf) (8 D1 wins) (blown out in round 1 of A-Sun Tourney as #6 seed)
2015-16 (Skinner Y1) 11-20 (7-7 conf) (9 D1 wins)
2016-17 (Skinner Y2) 14-18 (7-7 conf) (12 D1 wins) (14 wins includes 1 A-Sun Tourney win)
2017-18 (Skinner Y3) 10-20 (6-8 conf) (8 D1 wins) (blown out in round 1 of A-Sun Tourney as #6 seed)

I used to watch How I Met Your Mother many years ago, and I don’t remember much, but I do remember that the main character Ted Mosby, always made Pros and Cons lists. I’m going to architect (see what I did here?) a list of my own called “Facts and Opinions.”

FACT: In Y1, Skinner took a team that went 4-10 in conference the previous year, and led them to be 7-7 in conference. The 3 game improvement in conference meant the team was stronger at the end of the year. The number of double digit conference losses was cut in half from the previous year under Coach Lallathin which meant they were more consistent. Also, instead of losing by 36 in round 1 of the conference tournament as we did in 2014-15, we lost by just 10 and did not embarrass ourselves.
FACT: Skinner inherited two all conference guards for Y1, so he certainly didn’t have any problems finding people to run his offense. Both of these guards are now playing professionally overseas.
FACT: In Y2, Skinner had 14 wins, a “record” for the KSU D1 era. This is a bump in total wins from Skinner Y1, but the conference record stayed the same.
FACT: Out of the Y2 “14” wins, only 12 were against D1 opponents. When KSU won 13 games in 2006-07, 12 were D1 games.
FACT: You have to go back to 2007-2008 to find a Georgia State team that won less than 12 D1 games in a season.
FACT: The program is healthier than it was under past coaches. I no longer hear about shenanigans and drama going on behind the scenes.
FACT: Skinner brought in freshman James Scott, who made the Atlantic Sun All-freshman Team in Y2.
FACT: After 3 years, the only players who have made a postseason all conference team have been players that Skinner either inherited (Brown, Ray, Masterson) or were recruited by the previous regime (Aubrey Williams).
FACT: Skinner’s first real recruiting class was Y2 because he was brought in so late in Y1 that he didn’t time to gather players.
FACT: Skinner brought in 6 players for Y2. 2 of those players (big men) left after Y1.
OPINION: It appeared that the coaches did not have any scholarship worthy players in their back pocket ready to go after losing the two 6’10” bigs.
OPINION: It’s hard to replace 6’10” bigs on short notice.
OPINION: You don’t need 6’10” bigs in the Atlantic Sun.
OPINION: James Scott is a very talented player, but did not make postseason conference honors, but is on his way.
FACT: Skinner does not like going JUCO. The only JUCO we have now is Bryson Lockley, and he was only taken because we lost both bigs after Y1 and needed somebody ready to play right away.
FACT: The only D1 transfer Skinner has taken has been Danny Lewis, a guard from UCF, who will be eligible in Spring 2019.
FACT: We are still not successfully recruiting GA. As of now, for the 2018-19 season, we will have 3 players from Texas, 2 from Florida and 1 from Georgia.
OPINION: Skinner might be the best X’s and O’s coach in the conference.
OPINION: If you’re not replacing your departing talent with more/better talent, you’re not getting better.
OPINION: The longer a coach is with a program, the more visible the product is becoming, which means more data recruits have to work with them making their decisions.
OPINION: It’s not going to get any easier from here on out. We don’t recruit Georgia well at all. 2. We run a style of offense that a lot of kids don’t want to play in. 3. Going backwards makes the program even harder to sell.
FACT: We are 30 minutes from Atlanta, in a relatively safe suburban community with a great campus. Look what Coach Bohannon did with the football team by selling a vision, FROM SCRATCH.
FACT: Our football team won 11 D1 games this past season. Our basketball team won 8.
FACT: KSU does not have an actual President right now since Olens left.
OPINION: Milton Overton, who was just hired as AD this past Fall, might wait to observe some more, and wait for a new President, before pulling the trigger on a coaching change.
OPINION: Coach Skinner was brought in 3 years ago to add stability to the program.
FACT: The program is more stable now than it was 4 years ago.
FACT: Skinner’s contract is 3 years with 2 mutual option years.
FACT: Skinner spent most of his life in the northeast before coming to KSU.
FACT: The AD that hired Skinner is no longer here.
OPINION: Who is to say that Skinner wants to come back? Full disclosure, I have no idea what he’s thinking, but if he wanted to, he could get out any time, say he did his job putting KSU on track, and wish the program good luck. All he has to do is “retire” and nobody would ask any questions.
OPINION: Lack of players from Atlanta doesn’t help attendance or bring hype.
OPINION: It’s hard to hype up recruits from Texas, Oregon, etc, because there’s not much video on them and I don’t know people who have seen them play.
FACT: In 2017-18, KSU was the only Atlantic Sun team from Georgia or Alabama.
OPINION: Atlantic Sun teams from Florida and EVEN NEW JERSEY are out-recruiting us in Atlanta.
FACT: The 2017-18 A-Sun Freshman of the year J.D. Notae is from the Atlanta area, he chose Jacksonville over KSU. 2 of the 4 other members of the A-Sun freshman team are from Atlanta and chose schools in DeLand, FL and Newark, NJ. 1 other member of the A-Sun freshman team played high school in Alabama but is from Columbus, GA.
FACT: Media coverage of KSU Basketball is basically zilch from what it used to be, even in the dark days. Also, Coach Skinner does not have a Twitter.
FACT: There used to be video pressers after every home game, and some on the road, with Coach Preston and Coach Lallathin. Win or lose (mostly lose lol) they would sit there and answer questions from the Sentinel and even from the SID. Even if no media was there, the SID would ask the coach questions and it would be posted online after each game. After the loss to Jacksonville there were no quotes on KSUOwls.com or in the Marietta Daily Journal. The only quote from Coach Skinner was in a Jacksonville paper.
OPINION: I spend so much time each year talking about, promoting, and watching the Owls. After an embarrassing playoff loss to JU, I feel that us few but loyal fans deserve a public explanation and some accountability.
OPINION: Al Skinner deserves one more year.
OPINION: I say he deserves one more year, but I think we’re going to be having this same discussion next year at this time.
OPINION: Coaching is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ business.
OPINION: Transferring is an epidemic, but it’s part of the game. Every year teams lose players. If you asked me this time last year if Johannes Nielsen would leave, I would have laughed. But the bottomline is, we don’t know what’s going on in each player’s life. We don’t know how each player feels. All we can do is wait and see who comes back.
OPINION: As I mentioned earlier, if you’re not improving your talent, you’re not getting better. Skinner is an old dog, and it’s hard to teach them new tricks. We’re losing Nick Masterson, one of the best shooters you will ever see at KSU (or college basketball) in your lifetime. Go ahead, look up your favorite three point shooter from college and compare their stats. KSU is also losing leadership and a player that strives to win. Just like when we replaced YB with Hooker, and Ray with Scott, I guess we are going to try and replace Nick with transfer Danny Lewis. Are we getting better? Lewis might be a fine player, and eventually more well-rounded, but he has never played D1 basketball before.
FACT: In addition to Lewis, none of the 3 other new players we are bringing in (Spencer, Agostini, Obineke) have played in a D1 game before.
OPINION: Replacing Sr. Masterson with Fr. Lewis or So. Jarrett is a likely downgrade for 2018-19. Replacing Jordan Jones with a freshman big is not a good gamble for too much improvement.
OPINION: We are banking on Scott, Hooker, Wilson, Lockley, Mbuyamba and Jarrett to take another step forward (assuming they all return). Losing Masterson might make life tougher for returning guards because he required so much attention.
OPINION: Building through freshmen and prep players without supplementing through JUCO and D1 transfers is risky business.
OPINION: Why does it take Coach Skinner’s teams until February to take off?
OPINION: Hard to believe, but next year we will have a veteran team with 7 rotation players returning as Jr. or Sr. There should be absolutely no excuses for Coach Skinner to put a product on the floor that wins less than 15 games and wins less than 8 in conference.

In the recruiting game, I think we have attempted the “work smarter, not harder” philosophy which means getting decent enough players out of state instead of working overtime to forge relationships with coaches in high school gyms in Georgia. While we are no longer a joke of a program to many, we are looked down upon by a lot of Atlanta high school coaches, who ultimately have a say in where their players go. Georgia State has 11 players on their current roster from Georgia. Bottomline is, you can be a great coach, but without players you aren’t going to win. Lately we have been treading water in the recruiting game, and because we usually don’t recruit JUCO, it’s going to be tough to get back to .500 next conference season with the returnees being supplemented by freshmen. Also, the Atlantic Sun should be a much tougher league next season with veteran teams from FGCU, Lipscomb, North Florida, Jacksonville and NJIT.

In conclusion, the teams of the past 3 years have been inconsistent but are more well-coached than most KSU teams dating back to the D2 Tony Ingle days, so I would say that Skinner’s 20-22 conference record deserves another year. Who knows, maybe he will turn it around, but unfortunately, I don’t think the arrow is pointing up.

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