Men's Basketball

Ex-Topper assistant takes luck to S.C.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — New South Carolina assistant coach Scott Cherry always finds wild success, be it North Carolina's NCAA title in 1993, George Mason's unlikely charge to the Final Four in 2006 or Western Kentucky's trip to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 this past March.

Now, Cherry wants to help the Gamecocks discover that kind of success.

”It can be done. It can be done anywhere, especially nowadays,“ Cherry said.

And when Cherry talks about winning, it pays to listen.

Brought to South Carolina by new head coach Darrin Horn, Cherry played for North Carolina great Dean Smith from 1989-93. Cherry saw time in 33 of 38 games during the Tar Heels' run to the title in '93, including the championship game with Michigan that has become famous for Chris Webber's ill-timed timeout.

Cherry thought like a coach even then, knowing instantly that Webber made a mistake near the end of the game by calling a timeout when Michigan had none.

”I don't know if everybody knew, but I knew. I paid attention to that stuff,“ Cherry said.

Thirteen years later Cherry was an assistant for Jim Larranaga when George Mason ousted Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and, to reach the Final Four, powerhouse Connecticut with an 86-84 overtime victory.

Cherry recalled that run building from game to game. The Patriots had played Michigan State close to a year earlier and felt they matched up well. The Tar Heels were good but inexperienced, Cherry said. George Mason had beaten its next opponent, Wichita State, earlier in the season.

Once the Patriots reached the round of eight game with Connecticut, ”our guys thought "What do we have to lose?' “ Cherry said.

Cherry came to Western Kentucky a year ago, signing on in time for the Hilltoppers to reach the NCAA's round of 16 for the first time in 15 years.

When Horn left for South Carolina, Cherry thought he'd have a strong shot at filling the Western Kentucky vacancy. However, Ken McDonald — a former WKU assistant — got the job.

”You always say you could've done more“ to get the Western Kentucky job, Cherry said. ”I took a good shot at it. I had a great interview. I had the players behind me. I had some people in the community behind me. I thought I did a good job with it, and I thought I had a fair shot at it.“

Still, Cherry thought he came up short in knowing the right decision makers. He took a big step correcting that last month when he attended Villa 7 Consortium, an event put on by Virginia Commonwealth and held at Nike's headquarters. The two-day seminar brought assistants on the verge of head coaching jobs in touch with knowledgeable coaches and athletic administrators.

Cherry learned Xs and Os from basketball great John Lucas, interacted with former South Carolina coach Dave Odom and Virginia's Dave Leito, and listened in on several panels he thinks will increase his college basketball profile.

”You've got to be good at your profession, but it's more about who you know,“ Cherry said.

Horn said Cherry has shown the qualities it takes to be a head coach, and Horn is certain that chance will come.

”Unfortunately, our business doesn't reward those who are ready,“ Horn said. ”There's a lot of other factors that go into it.“

Cherry is content to wait. He's thrown himself into the Gamecocks program the past few months and sees no reason why South Carolina can't enjoy the winning moments that seem to follow him from school to school.

”We're at a place where we can do that. It's not out of the realm of possibility,“ he said.

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