Chuck McGill: Osborne players embrace culture
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- How'd first-year University of Charleston coach Dwaine Osborne go from preseason comments like "We're going to find out if we're going to remain competitive" and "We might get exposed early" to having a Mountain East Conference runner-up team and co-Coach of the Year honors?
It's not because of him, he swears. It's because of the players, half of which he inherited and the other half he recruited after he was introduced as the men's basketball program's new coach Aug. 5.
Take Denzel Douglas, for example.
It was Feb. 21, the day before UC's Senior Night home game against Notre Dame College, and Douglas spent time that morning shooting at Eddie King Gym, as he is wont to do. Douglas, who didn't have class that Friday, decided to go home and take a nap after the workout. He overslept and hustled to practice that afternoon.
He was four minutes late.
There is a culture Osborne has tried to implement in his short time here - it has been seven months and two days since his introductory press conference - and Douglas, as his first signee, is a player on whom Osborne has relied to set that standard. Douglas' tardiness was a chance for Osborne to evaluate that progress.
Player and coach sat down and discussed the ramifications of the miscue. The rule was clear: If you're late, you don't start the next game.
"I don't care who we're playing or what we're playing for," Osborne said.
But what about an exception for Douglas' senior game farewell? It weighed on Osborne, for this is kid who'd bounced around from school to school and found a home here, and he'd been an exemplary model for teammates, providing the attitude and work ethic that Osborne wants to permiate his program.
So, Osborne put the onus on Douglas.
"It was a chance to test where we're at as it relates to our culture," Osborne said. "I asked him if he thought there was anything we could figure out, if there was a different way to handle it."
Douglas declined. He didn't hear his name announced on Senior Night because of it. He took his spot on the bench for the first four minutes of the game because, well, thems the rules.
He knew it, he broke it, he accepted it.
"We've made major strides," Osborne said. "It'd be so easy for him to say, 'You know what, let's do it a different game' ... this says a lot about his character. It makes me feel good that this is the first guy that I signed when I came here. We got that guy and he bought in at that level."
That's a primary reason why Osborne and UC, picked sixth in the MEC preseason poll, finished as the regular season runner-up to league kingpin West Liberty. The Golden Eagles (18-8) have won 13 of their last 17 games entering today's noon quarterfinal against seventh-seeded Wheeling Jesuit (15-12) at the Charleston Civic Center.
Back in October, in this column space, Osborne wondered aloud how his team would fare with so many newcomers and so few holdovers from the Mark Downey era. UC has used an eight-man rotation, which includes four players with prior experience with the program and four first-year players.
All were newcomers to Osborne.
"I don't know if I knew what to expect this season," said Osborne, who won Heartland Coach of the Year honors in 2010-11. "It had been four years since I'd been in the league (as coach at Glenville State) and I hadn't coached any guy on our team."
It wouldn't have been a surprise to see UC struggle out of the gate, and perhaps not win much, if at all, before Christmas. Instead of scuffling against top competition - the first six opponents are a combined 33 games over .500 right now - Charleston won five of its first six under Osborne. There was an eight-game winning streak during a 25-day period in January, and the Golden Eagles had won five in a row before losing at West Virginia State last Saturday.
The frets over competitiveness and the concerns over the rigors of the early-season schedule were never validated. In fact, if UC was "exposed," as the team's head coach said might happen, it didn't occur until Feb. 21, when Douglas walked out of Osborne's office and kept his shooting shirt during pre-game introductions a day later.
The Golden Eagles were exposed as the team Osborne wanted all along.
It's not because of him, though.
"If we ain't got players and they don't buy in to the culture," Osborne said. "We ain't winning."