John Clay

Pitino, Tyndall flex their coaching muscle

The consternation over the hoops director at Flagship U. has overshadowed the fact that on a pair of commonwealth basketball coaches there can be no debate.

Take a collective bow, Donnie Tyndall and Rick Pitino.

On different levels and under different circumstances, the little-known Tyndall at Morehead State and the marquee monster that is Pitino at Louisville have produced coach-of-the-year quality performances.

Start with Tyndall, the workaholic at Morehead who in three short years turned a program that went 4-23 in Kyle Macy's final season as coach into the school's first NCAA Tournament team in 25 years.

How did Tyndall do it?

"Donnie Tyndall came to Morehead with an understanding of and appreciation for being the head coach of Morehead State University," said Wayne Martin, the last head coach to lead Morehead to the NCAA Tournament.

Martin, now the head man at WKYT-TV, also said in his e-mail that Tyndall "immediately reached out to the entire Morehead family (students, faculty, staff, alums and fans). He personally called every season ticket holder."

A Morehead alumnus, Tyndall chose not to run from the school's past, but to embrace it. He held alumni parties at his house. He recognized former players. He sold the program to the school, the community, the region.

And, oh yes, said Martin, "Then, of course, he and his staff have recruited some very good players, coached them up, and in only three years have the Eagles in the NCAA."

There is only one senior among Morehead's four double-figure scorers. That's leading scorer Leon Buchanan. Kenneth Faried, who averaged an amazing 12.8 rebounds on the year, is a sophomore from New Jersey. Maze Stallworth (12.1 points per game) is a junior. Demonte Harper (10.8 points, 3.4 assists) is a sophomore.

And, lest we forget, it was Steve Peterson, a freshman, who hit the winning shot, a baseline jumper with 1.4 seconds left, that lifted Morehead to its thrilling 67-65 win over Austin Peay in the OVC Tournament finals.

Moreover, Tyndall wasn't afraid to throw his young Eagles into a stiff wind right off the bat. Morehead's non-conference schedule included Vanderbilt, Louisville, Central Florida, James Madison and Drake. Of those five, Central Florida out of C-USA was the only team that Tyndall's Eagles were able to beat.

In fact, Morehead started the season 0-6. Didn't matter. Lessons were learned. Consider that stats whiz Ken Pomeroy ranked Morehead's non-conference schedule as the 97th-toughest out of all the land. Fellow OVC mate Eastern Kentucky's ranked 248. UK's ranked 243.

Louisville's ranked 150th, but the Cards had the beast of the Big East on its plate. Those future considerations made the outlook border on bleak after Pitino's club lost at home to UNLV, playing without its best player, on Dec. 31 to drop to 8-3, with Kentucky on deck.

But then Edgar Sosa hit that deep, deep three for the win, and Pitino proceeded to put his Cardinals on a roll that stretched all the way through the treacherous Big East. The conference high jump ended Saturday with the 'Ville's 62-59 win at West Virginia that clinched the regular-season title.

"This is the best coaching job Coach P. has (done) since coming to UL," Scott Padgett, the former UK player who has a radio show in Louisville, responded by e-mail Tuesday. "First, getting a very talented team to play team basketball is tough enough. Second, because of early non-conference losses to Minnesota, WKU and UNLV, he has got them to understand that defense wins championships. He has also done this versus the toughest conference he's ever been in. Just as usual his team is peaking at the right time."

Indeed, Rick is back in position for bigger things, while Tyndall has accomplished the best thing Morehead has seen in a while.

"He has just done a phenomenal job," said Martin of the Morehead coach.

Both coaches should take a bow.