The Marist men’s basketball team concluded the 2017-2018 season with a 6-25 record and a first-round defeat in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament. Those six wins brought their total to a measly 28 over those past four seasons. To put things into perspective, the national champion Villanova Wildcats had 36 wins in just 2018 alone. Let that sink in.
It’s easy to say that the program has been less than successful since 2007, the last time they made a major postseason tournament. The truth is, they’ve been awful.
Between 2007 and 2018, the program had a total of 97 wins. The proverbial “cherry on top” came in 2009, when the Red Foxes finished the season with a whopping 1-29 record.
Despite this though, the program still has had success in its relatively short Division I history. With players like Rik Smits in the 1980s and Jared Jordan in 2007, Marist saw the postseason after they qualified for the NCAA Tournament in both 1986 and 1987, as well as the National Invitation Tournament in 1996 and 2007.
The program was even featured in the 1988 hit movie “Coming to America,” when Lisa McDowell invited Prince Akeem to the St. John’s game.
So, what happened? How did a respectable mid-major Division I program hit rock bottom so fast?
In March 2018, Marist Athletics announced that there would be a “leadership change” in the men’s basketball program. Less than a month later, they announced the hiring of John Dunne.
There were never any updates during the national search, and on April 3, the official announcement was made.
Dunne’s hiring seemed pretty unexpected to many who pay attention to Marist basketball. He came from conference rival St. Peter’s, where he had been for 12 seasons, after speculation that Patrick Beilein, son of legendary coach John, was linked to the opening.
Is Dunne the coach that will finally right the ship of a tumultuous program for the past decade, or is he just the first step in a rebuilding process?
“Both. I believe he’ll win and be successful,” said Marist Athletic Director Tim Murray. “I’m not naïve enough to think he’ll be here forever, though.”
Dunne has definitely shown that he is capable of winning and having success. The 2016-2017 season was arguably his best with St. Peter’s, as the Peacocks finished that season with 23 wins and a championship in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
“I was never actively looking to leave [St. Peter’s],” said Dunne. “I was on steady ground there and felt pretty secure, but the right opportunity presented itself, and I was willing to listen.”
Dunne was excited about his new opportunity. He knows about the glory days Marist had, as he was an assistant in the MAAC before coaching at St. Peter’s.
“I want to get them back to those days,” said Dunne. “Back when I was an assistant, I knew they had good fan support back when McCann was really rocking.”
In order to “go back to those days,” Dunne knew what he had to do. The culture of the program had to change, and that’s why he was hired.
He needed players willing to buy into his culture, and that’s what he preached to the team after taking over. It didn’t matter that they were his inheritance. They just wanted to win.
“They gave me really good effort last season,” said Dunne. “We were pleased with their buy-in with what we were trying to implement. We put them in positions to win.”
In that season, guards Darius Hines and Matthew Herasme also came along with Dunne. Herasme originally committed to play for St. Peter’s before Dunne accepted the position at Marist.
“Coach called me to tell me before the news went public,” said Herasme. “He let me know that he wanted to honor my commitment and follow him to Marist. He was the first one to give me an offer, so it was pretty much wherever he went, that’s where I wanted to be.”
Dunne has always been known as a defensive coach. His teams are not really known for having a prolific, high-scoring offense.
“He had very competitive teams,” said Murray. “He’s proven he can coach, and is very well-respected in terms of his coaching abilities by his peers in the league.”
Dunne knew the immediate challenges that would arise last year with not having the exact personnel for his system. However, he was proud of his first season and what was accomplished.
Marist won an in-season tournament for the first time since 2006, as they won the Samson Bracket of the Belfast Classic. They also finished with double-digit wins for the first time since 2014.
Not a bad start for a rebuild.
“You have to have a plan, be organized, and set a standard.” That’s what it takes to build a successful program, according to Dunne. “But, be patient.”
Dunne’s plan involves defense, physicality, and extra emphasis on mental preparation. He said the team is going to defend and rebound better than they have in recent years, and he and his staff will push them to reach their full potential.
Dunne also believes the return to relevance in both the MAAC and Division I won’t take long. He emphasized his team’s couple weeks of conference relevance last season and expects it to be more consistent this season.
Murray believes Dunne can bring the program in the right direction. He credited the team’s conference four-game win streak last season as the first step in a momentum shift.
It doesn’t seem to matter that the Red Foxes finished 12-19 after Dunne’s first year. There were several bright spots in the young talent last season that can now be built upon. The program finally looks like it’s turning a corner.
The team’s seven conference wins in 2018-2019 were its most since 2014, and Dunne finally has the players that fit well into his system. Now that he has his chips, Dunne can go all-in for his second year and beyond.
John Dunne wants to coach his players to their full potential and along with that bring Marist basketball back to its glory days. He now only needs one more thing: time.
Edited by David Bieber & Will Bjarnar