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-   -   Kay Yow Coach of the Year: Jabir Ahead of the Pack (http://www.udpride.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22899)

Chris R 03-04-2013 09:01 PM

Kay Yow Coach of the Year: Jabir Ahead of the Pack
 
DAYTON (OH) -- Sunday afternoon was a milestone moment for the UD women’s basketball program. The Flyers ran the table in the A10 with a perfect 14-0 record. Not only did they capture their first-ever A10 regular season title with a 73-66 victory over St. Joseph’s, the win came before a crowd of 5,288 Flyer fans – some say a program record for a non-Math Day event where thousands of children are bussed in to fill the seats. Arena staff members had no need to paper the house this time. The season-long buzz of watching a one-loss Dayton team continue to defy expectations, youth, and inexperience were enough reasons to make paying customers out of the formerly apathetic.

At 26-1, the Flyers are now #11 in the nation – their highest ranking ever. Only #1 Baylor and #2 Notre Dame are also once-beaten. To appreciate a moment like this, the journey getting here provides the context.

Head Coach Jim Jabir arrived on campus the same year as Brian Gregory, but that’s where the common thread abruptly ends. Gregory inherited an NCAA contender with a barn full of seasoned racehorses while Jabir adopted the keys to a Ford Pinto with a ruptured gas tank. Assigned to clean up the failed coaching experiment of Clemette Haskins and the ineffectiveness of Jaci Clark, the UD women’s basketball program was living in a state of irrelevance since the blockbuster teams of the AIAW days. The good news: there was nowhere to go but up. That was also the bad news.

To make the bad news more unpalatable, the cupboard was essentially bare and things were going to get worse before they got better. Not that “JJ” wasn’t the right hire at the right time. Like Oliver Purnell, he made a living by taking over struggling programs and turning them into winners. Jabir won two Great Midwest championships at Marquette after working his Midas touch at Siena College. After leaving a good thing at Marquette for the glamor of the Big East however, he endured six losing seasons at Providence despite improving their overall competitiveness within the league. Following his exit with the Friars, he spent a season as an assistant at Colorado to re-charge the batteries. When asked about leaving an NCAA-caliber program at Marquette for the herculean task of competing at Providence against the resources of Final-Four juggernauts UConn, Notre Dame, and Rutgers, he said it was the dumbest coaching move of his life. He had a great thing going in Milwaukee – with his own fingerprints – and left it behind.

Under the radar as second mate at Colorado, UD made a phone call. Jabir came highly recommended and Providence didn't overshadow the strong body of work at Buffalo State (his first coaching job), Siena, and Marquette. If given the same tools and resources as everyone else, his record spoke for itself. As the first male coach in program history, Jim Jabir took a chance on the moribund Dayton program as much as Dayton took a chance on him.

Jabir went 3-25 in his first season (2003-04) at Dayton, the worst year in program history. For a first impression, things didn’t look good. To make matters worse, coaching nearly killed him. He suffered an undiagnosed heart ailment that required the paddles to save the day. Nobody took the losses harder in those early years than Jabir himself. John Mad Dog Churan and I were invited to follow his team behind-the-scenes from early morning shoot-around, to pre-game locker room talk, to halftime speech, to post-game breakdown with his players after another painful loss at home. Under the UD Arena tunnel just minutes before a game with Cincinnati, we asked him what his thoughts were:

He hated the lead-up. All the coaching and whiteboard stuff was over. For the most part, players either knew it or they didn’t. Epiphanies happen during the week in practice, not minutes before tip-off. We asked him again what he really thought. He came clean. He said if UD kept it under 20 points it was a step forward. Over the next two hours, the Flyers played the Bearcats to within 8-12 points, but eventually ran out of gas and lost by 22. UD couldn’t shoot all day despite some good looks. The game was actually there for the taking against a much better Cincinnati program.

In the locker room after the game, Jabir knew the team was too fragile for the Napoleonic approach. Instead, he spent the next 10 minutes telling his team how proud he was of their hustle and competitive fight. Were it not for missing easy shots they would have won the game. He told them to use “The Gun” (automated shooting machine) and promised to buy more basketballs if they wore them out. Over the remainder of the season UD won just twice, but the seed was planted: attitude is everything.

Basketball was a lot of things for these players, but being fun had gotten lost in the losing. Jim Jabir took that burden off their shoulders and owned it on their behalf. It’s one of the most selfless coaching acts I’ve ever seen and allowed his players to shed their self-conscious impressions.

Jabir also talked about needing to land a recruit that “has every reason to go elsewhere”. The first one was California product Nikki Oakland, a burly post player that gave the program some much-needed toughness. She wasn’t a magic bullet fix, but helped change the temperature in the room. The second important recruit was Canadian product Kendel Ross.

Suddenly, the recruiting doors were opening and Jim Jabir found himself fishing in a larger pond for the first time at UD. Ohio Players of the Year Kristin Daugherty and Justine Raterman were the kind of kids Ohio State wanted. No longer was Jabir obligated to coach for the future because the future had arrived.

Year five was the breakthrough. After finishing 12-19 a season prior, UD went 25-9 and made it to the WNIT. Since then, the Flyers have never failed to win 20 games or make it to the postseason.

Fast-forward to this year and UD is on the verge of doing something the UD men’s basketball program has never done: reach four straight NCAA tournaments. No UD hoops program – male or female – has been ranked this high since 1967. Moreover, UD is recruiting against some of the best programs in the country. Ally Malott was a McDonald’s All-American that chose the Flyers over Notre Dame. Jabir has stock-piled program-changing local products like Cassie Sant, Andrea Hoover, and Kelley Austria. Two Top-50 recruits are inked for next season, and UD’s first Top-50 commitment for 2014 shares the same status.

Not only has the recruiting changed however, so has the coaching. The current players came from highly-successful prep programs and have grown up competing against the best. Jim Jabir has more meat on the bone to critique and criticize. They are less fragile; he is more demanding. The better his players get, the harder he turns the screw.

With the A10 tournament on tap this week and the Flyers holding the #1 seed, Jabir himself should be earning as much praise as his 26-1 team. The A10 preseason voters saw what none of us could fathom: predicting the Flyers to win the A10 despite the loss of four starters and seven seniors. When asked about the A10 prediction in the preseason, Jabir thought there were five or six teams ahead of the Flyers. Why? The seven seniors weren’t wallflowers. They changed the program and were the most successful class in UD history, making one WNIT, three NCAAs, and winning one A10 tournament title. Most programs would need a couple seasons to overcome similar losses.

For reasons we may never know, this year’s team has figured out how to play bigger than the sum of the individual parts. As the sixth-youngest team in the country, youth and inexperience should be holding things back. Instead, perhaps the naiveté of players not knowing what they don’t know has served Dayton well. The collection of talent is balanced and complimentary. The victories – all 26 of them – have been furnished by committee. Eight different players have led the team in scoring and the bench is as important as the starting five (UD outscored SJU’s bench 22-0 on Sunday). The Flyers are much like an MC Escher painting: they are breaking the rules of physics. Even the lousy teams have a clearly-defined “best player”. Want to know who UD’s best player is? Wait until the next game.

As a finalist for the Kay Yow National Coach of the Year Award in 2009-10, no one is more qualified than Jim Jabir to take the top prize this season. If the standard of being the best coach is doing more with less than anyone else in the country, it’s difficult to suggest another contender with a fatter resume’. Name another head coach with a 26-1 record against the backdrop of four lost starters and seven program-changing seniors. There are no Elena Della Donnes on the roster to single-handedly win games when everyone else is napping. Sam MacKay, UD’s starting point guard, never started a game before the season opener. There are wins against five or six NCAA at-large opponents: Toledo, DePaul, Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Duquesne, and St. Joseph’s. There is an unblemished league record.

Geno Auriemma? Muffet McGraw? Kim Mulkey? You or I could coach those teams to 25 victories. Would Geno or Muffet or Kim have the Flyers at 26-1 as well? Or better yet, 27-0?

Still not convinced? Consider one final persuasion: there’s a real chance nobody in a Flyer uniform will make the A10 All Conference First Team. Every player has a job to do and a role to fill. Apart, they are just instruments. Together, they are an orchestra.

There are at least 5,288 reasons why “JJ” deserves to be the Kay Yow National Coach of the Year. When he first took over the Dayton job, only family and friends showed up in cavernous UD Arena. When the phone rang on press row, everyone heard it. But that didn’t stop Jim Jabir from dreaming.

Jabir addressed the crowd at a UD men’s basketball game several years ago: “I don’t want to be greedy. Can we just fill the lower bowl?” Even the lower bowl, at the time, sounded decidedly preposterous.

The preposterous is now realized.

CE80 03-04-2013 09:36 PM

Wow. Coach Jabir started the same year as Coach Gregory.

The Fly 03-04-2013 09:49 PM

Excellent job, Chris. What a year for the coach and his amazing cast of characters.

AustinFlyer 03-05-2013 12:53 AM

Great article, Chris. I sure hope UD is lobbying for him to reach the voters who may pay less attention to the coach of a non-BCS team.

UD90 03-05-2013 08:35 AM

Well written Chris. Very impressive story. One of the best articles I've ever read here. Very uplifting in a year where it's been hard to find positive media on anything Dayton Flyer oriented.

westchesterflyer 03-05-2013 11:25 AM

Outstanding piece!

Congrats to coach and his team.

Sea Bass 03-05-2013 04:30 PM

in has last chalk talk this season Jabir pointed back to Kendel Ross specifically as the turning point.

UDBrian 03-05-2013 05:07 PM

It has been a great journey for coach jabir and it is far from over. The future is even brighter than the present. I remember speaking with coach jabir in his first season and him mentioning filling the lower bowl and I didn't consider it impossible.

It isn't impossible that a future game against UConn/Stanford/Tennessee could draw 10,000 or even sell out the arena

Radar 03-05-2013 07:02 PM

Great write, Chris.

Coach Jabir's program is one to emulate, for sure.

College B-Ball Fan 03-05-2013 07:39 PM

Chris, you've convinced me---he should win the award! Great job as usual---

Viperstick 03-06-2013 12:28 AM

Watched them play here in Phoenix back in November. Wrote then that the men could learn a thing or two from how they played. No excuses here, the women just flat out got it done. Congrats.


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