Strong | Long road ahead for Martin

· June 13, 2012, 8:37 pm   ·  Updated June 13, 2012, 8:51 pm

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When former Penn assistant basketball coach Mike Martin accepted the head coaching position at Brown, he took on a challenge few men have taken on successfully.

It’s not that Brown hasn’t been great before, or couldn’t be great again. It’s that at this particular moment in the program’s 111-year history, the Bears aren’t exactly giving Martin much to work with.

Under former head man Jesse Agel, the Bears went 2-12 in conference play in the 2011-12 season. In his four-year tenure as head coach, Agel posted a 14-42 Ivy record and a 39-79 overall mark. After the Bears concluded the season with losses to Penn and Princeton, Brown’s then-Director of Athletics Michael Goldberger said Agel’s contract would not be renewed.

In a press conference at the time of the announcement, Goldberger said he didn’t feel the team had improved from the previous year, nor would they improve next year under the “current leadership.”

Though one leadership problem has been solved –– players and coaches alike expressed confidence in Martin’s expertise –– Martin has to solve the problem of on-court leadership.

The 2012-13 team will only be returning one regular starter: rising junior Sean McGonagill, who averaged 13.5 points per game last year. That number put him sixth in the league for scoring, well behind league leaders Zack Rosen and Yale’s Greg Mangano, who both averaged 18.2 points per game. McGonagill finished second in the league to Rosen in total minutes played, averaging 36.0 to Rosen’s 38.2, which indicates how much the Bears rely on McGonagill –– much like the Quakers relied on Rosen.

But for Brown to be competitive next season, McGonagill will need more support from his teammates. The second-highest scorer, Stephen Albrecht, was averaging 10.2 points per game before a back injury sidelined him, and the third-highest scorer, Andrew McCarthy, didn’t even break 10 points per game. To put that in perspective, league-winner Harvard had three players all scoring an average of over 10 points per game, and second-place finisher Penn also had three average over 10 and seven players average above seven.

Those numbers don’t lie: Penn and Harvard had much greater depth, even well into the bench, than Brown had on their entire starting five.

In the June 1 press conference that introduced Martin as head coach, he admitted he and his staff have “a lot of work to do,” but that’s putting it lightly.

Brown finished seventh in the league, just ahead of 1-13 Dartmouth, whose only win came against the Bears.

Brown was second-to-last in the league in scoring offense –– averaging just 61.5 points per game –– and were last in the league in scoring margin, losing to its opponents by an average of eight points per contest.

Martin, however, is no stranger to team rebuilding. His experience in that category perhaps is the single greatest qualifying factor that makes him the man for the job.

Along with current Penn head coach Jerome Allen, Martin was instrumental in helping the Quakers turn a struggling program around. When Allen took over for former head coach Glen Miller seven games into the 2009-10 season, Penn was in the midst of a slump much like Brown’s, having gone from a 13-1 Ivy record and an NCAA tournament berth in 2006-7 in Miller’s (and Martin’s) first year at the helm to an 8-6 Ivy record just one year later. In the 2008-09 season, the Quakers fell further, posting a 6-8 conference record.

When Allen took over halfway through the 2009-10 season, the Quakers finished 5-9 in the league, but things soon improved. By the 2011-12 season, the Quakers had jumped from five Ivy wins to 11, finished second in the league and made a postseason appearance in the College Basketball Invitational tournament.

Martin, as much as Allen, was instrumental in bringing about that change, as he was responsible for bringing in recruits like Rosen, Miles Cartwright, and Henry Brooks.

Allen’s success at Penn could perhaps be a predictor of how Martin will do at Brown. Both coaches were called upon to turn teams around, and both are taking up that responsibility at their alma maters.

The difference between the two situations is that Allen had a little more to work with, talent-wise, than Martin will –– but his success as a coach and recruiter over the last six seasons under Miller and Allen will most likely pay dividends as he finally gets the opportunity to lead his own program.

ANNA STRONG is a rising senior English and creative writing major from Haverford, Pa., and is sports editor of The Summer Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at strong@thedp.com.

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