Keeping it blue collar
Jim Whitesell formally introduced as head coach
UB basketball’s next head coach Jim Whitesell prominently displayed his 2018 Mid-American Conference Championship ring at his introductory press conference Monday morning. It was a sign of his dedication to the program and the success he expects to continue.
The Bulls formally introduced Whitesell as their 14th men’s basketball head coach, putting an end to the 10-day search. Athletic Director Mark Alnutt made his first major hire in his time at UB, after observing six finalists for the job before ultimately deciding on promoting the assistant coach.
“In terms of criteria and fit and my commitment to the university, I felt that I needed to do my due diligence in terms of seeing who is out there and what the interest is going to be like.” Alnutt said. “There was a lot of interest for the job and to be able to get it down to the right person. But at the end of the day, Jim proved that he was the right person for the job.”
UB hired a third-party search firm to find and research potential candidates for the job after putting together a list of 40. Athletics interviewed 12 candidates, including former UB player Turner Battle.
Buffalo could have gone in a different direction and taken a chance on another up-and-coming coach. Instead, Athletics decided on someone who made them a top-25 team.
Whitesell has spent his last eight years as an assistant coach. He spent two seasons with St. Louis, two with St. John’s and the last four in Buffalo. Each team has made the NCAA tournament with him on staff.
His last head coaching job was at Loyola-Chicago from 2004-2011. Whitesell brought the team its first 20-win season since 1986, posting a 109-106 overall record.
Whitesell coached at a slower pace with Loyola. The Ramblers played at a 65.6 pace in his final season ranking 228th in the NCAA. This past season Buffalo ranked 16th in the country at 74.5.
Whitesell promised to continue the fast-paced, defense-oriented style that Buffalo has been known for with Nate Oats as head coach.
“Blue collar, take those charges,” Whitesell said. “That’s got to feed our running game and that’s what we’ve always talked about, if we’re not running that means we’re not guarding.”
Whitesell encouraged fans to keep buying the “blue-collar” shirts sold at Alumni Arena.
Whitesell said his style of coaching and familiarity with players was beneficial during the search. Alnutt met with the team during the process about what they were looking for. Both Jayvon Graves and Nick Perkins said they were involved in the process.
Graves, a sophomore and the youngest returning starter, spent one-on-one time with Alnutt afterward discussing what he and the team wanted.
“I told him that I’m comfortable with how he coaches,” Graves said. “He put in the heart and he knows the Xs and Os really well.”
Whitesell said he won’t change the way he coaches despite his new role. He’ll still be on the court in his compression shorts and hands on during practice.
The Bulls had their first practice with Whitesell as head coach on Tuesday.
But the group he’s involved with will change. Under Oats, Whitesell was working with the “gold team” or scout team. He was directly involved in the non-starters’ player development.
Whitesell worked this past season with freshmen Ronaldo Segu and Jeenathan Williams, who could both be starters next season.
He said the program is stronger than it was when the current group of seniors like CJ Massinburg and Perkins came in and they had more time to grow right away. Today, the younger players have to stay patient and wait in the wings.
Their time waiting in the wings might end quicker than expected. Every member of UB’s 2019 recruiting class has requested their release from their National Letter of Intent.
This is traditional and not unexpected when there is a new coach.
UB has yet to grant the players who signed the NLI their releases. Alnutt wants those players to speak with Whitesell before being granted a release and making a decision on UB.
“You gotta respect their decision and move forward,” Whitesell said. “My thing is, like, are you Nick Perkins? Worked out pretty well for him. CJ Massinburg? Worked out awfully well for him. Certainly, I’m concerned for any of the student-athletes that committed here and I've had dialogue with all of them. We will move very quickly here.”
Whitesell wants to recruit the same kind of players who follow UB’s team-oriented culture and the blue-collar identity.
Whitesell and Alnutt sat around a table in Minneapolis to sign Whitesell on as head coach last Saturday, two days after they conducted their interview.
The two snuck away to the second floor of the Graduate hotel on the University of Minnesota campus, let out a yell and Whitesell became the head coach.
“This is the kind of community I want to work in and be around,” Whitesell said. “I want to make this a players’ program, it’s really about them.”
Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NateMendelson