Detroit — The prodigal son found his way home — again.
After a little more than a month on the job, Bacari Alexander continues his work at the helm of the University of Detroit basketball program.
On Day 34 of his tenure, Alexander had the ears of a crowd of about 100 alums, donors and athletic department members at Detroit’s Roundball Luncheon at Calihan Hall. He took advantage of the moment to update his progress in filling out his roster, assembling his coaching staff and restoring the pride to a program in the heart of the city.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” Alexander began his remarks. “I’m excited to be back in Titan territory.”
When athletic director Robert Vowels reminded him that it was his 34th day on the job — the same number Alexander wore during his heyday as a Titans power forward in the late 1990s — Alexander shot back quickly: “That’s a coincidence.”
But getting Alexander to take the reins after six years as an assistant coach at Michigan was no coincidence. It’s the culmination of years of dreams and hard work and travel, with Alexander looking to rebuild the Titans program from the ground up.
That includes a tiered approach to his first 120 days on the job, splitting them into four 30-day quadrants, focusing the first 30 days on stabilization, the next month on organization, followed by another month for implementation and program ownership and finishing with execution.
It’s a bold plan, especially considering the ups and downs Alexander, 39, already has experienced on the job. He notched wins in keeping assistant coach and former teammate Jermaine Jackson on the staff, but had some roster attrition in dismissing two players from the team, including leading scorer Paris Bass (18.4 points and 8 rebounds).
“When you’re establishing a culture, you recognize that there’s going to be some attrition or some carnage,” Alexander said last week. “One of the things we tried to identify early in the first 30 days is what is the temperature and intent from each one of our players as it relates to academics, work ethic and how they existed within the campus community.
“We talked to a number of different people to decipher what’s salvageable and not salvageable and what tweaks and adjustments need to be made to the roster as a whole or individually, so that we can make sure as we set the culture and blend the talent within it, it puts us on course.”
Alexander already has added some transfers in Dre Black, an All-American point guard at Schoolcraft College, along with Cole Long, Corey Allen and Isaiah Jones.
It’s a long way from the comfort level and success he had in Ann Arbor, learning under John Beilein, including a trip to the NCAA championship game in 2013. Now, Alexander has his own program and is putting on his hardhat to undergo an extreme makeover.
Alexander brought the experience from Michigan with him, but Jackson said that expertise isn’t what got him to be a head coach; rather, it was his preparation in serving for six years as an assistant at Detroit under Perry Watson from 2001-07 and then as an assistant at Western Michigan and Ohio University before going to Ann Arbor.
It’s a balancing act that also includes establishing a new culture and ethos, which was a cornerstone for his first month in the job. Alexander admitted one of the toughest moments was the first team meeting — where it first hit him that he was the head coach.
“It was the first team meeting at 8:15 a.m., when I walked into the film room at historic Calihan Hall, and you have every set of eyes on you,” Alexander said. “That’s when it became real. (The players were thinking) ‘What’s he going to tell us? What’s he about?’
“You only get one chance to make a first impression. You can either screw this up or hit it out of the park.”
Alexander identified unity, perseverance, appreciation, integrity and diligence as the keystones to the Detroit program and now has the responsibility of infusing that excitement, not just through a crowd of supporters, but also through his newly built team and his coaching staff, which still hasn’t been completed.
He’s looking to hire two more assistant coaches, along with a director of basketball operations, sifting through almost 50 candidates and another 50 who showed interest in being on his staff.
“The core of the team is young enough to mold and shape and establish some buy-in towards how we want to play,” Alexander said. “Everything starts with balance.”
There is another type of homecoming for Alexander, who met his wife, Kesha, when they were students at Detroit.
She’s supported him all the way through the process — and now it’s paying off for both of them and their son, Mekhi.
“When we finally got the call about the offer from the University of Detroit-Mercy, they were excited,” Alexander said. “I met my wife here at UDM over in North Quad. She was a biochemistry major and Mekhi, who was born in 2001, was right there at the beginning of my career here, carrying him up the stairs in his child seat.
“It’s one of those fairy-tale type journeys that captured their hearts.”
Now, Alexander is trying to capture the hearts of the Detroit faithful, but realizes it’s an uphill journey. The Titans went 16-15 last season and were 9-9 in the Horizon League, under Ray McCallum Sr.
The prodigal son is back.
And he has plenty of work to do.