Wins are hard to come by for Detroit Mercy’s Alexander

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Detroit Mercy coach Bacari Alexander

Detroit — Bacari Alexander prefers to look at the little victories.

Against New Hampshire on Nov. 23, Detroit Mercy had eight turnovers, respectively, down from 16 the game before against Florida State. It still lost both games — by 16 and three (in double overtime).

Against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, Detroit Mercy allowed two points in the first four-plus minutes. And lost by 26.

The start to the Alexander era hasn’t exactly been smooth, with a 1-8 record (the lone victory over Division III Adrian). Detroit Mercy also lost two exhibitions — to Division II Wayne State and Ferris State.

The 10 losses, including the exhibitions, have come by an average of more than 17 points.

But Alexander’s focus is not so narrow he’s freaking out on his players or throwing temper tantrums courtside.

He was given a reported seven-year deal in April, charged with turning around a program that’s made six NCAA Tournament appearances, one this century.

“Our all our goals still in front of us?” Alexander said, following the 87-61 loss to Eastern Michigan. “The answer is yes, and that’s how we manage their mind-sets.

“What we try to do is celebrate those small victories.”

Patience required

When you’re the new coach, let alone a first-time coach, there’s so much to do — from setting your vision to changing the culture to getting your guys in place — that winning often becomes a secondary concern.

Take the other Division I basketball coaches in Michigan in their first season — Keno Davis was 11-20 his first year at Central Michigan, John Beilein 10-22 at Michigan, Greg Kampe 13-15 at Oakland, and Tom Izzo 16-16.

The only outliers are Western Michigan’s Steve Hawkins, who went 26-5 and reached the NCAA Tournament, and Eastern Michigan’s Rob Murphy, who went 14-18 but won the Mid-American Conference West title.

“The advice I gave him as a head coach, it was just one word: Patience,” Murphy said Wednesday. “You have to understand and trust the process.

“I went through it my first year, and we had our struggles, but then we just continued to fight, we got into MAC play, and we ended up winning the MAC West title, which was the first in the school’s history. I continued to preach and teach and get the guys to believe.”

Bacari Alexander worked as an assistant under John Beilein at Michigan before taking the job at Detroit Mercy.

But, patience is easier said than done, especially for young players, most of whom only know winning before they arrive on a college campus.

“It’s really tough for the coach,” Murphy said. “You want to win now. You were hired, obviously, to graduate kids ... you gotta win games, that’s what you’re judged on.”

“It’s really tough when you’re not winning. You just have to open up your mind and have a vision and continue to tell yourself, it will not always be like this. ... It’s tough to have patience, but you’ve gotta have it.”

The hiring of Alexander, 40, also a Detroit native, at Detroit Mercy after six years as an assistant at Michigan, was almost universally lauded.

“They hired the right guy,” Murphy said. “He just has to have patience, but it will turn. He’ll get those guys where they need to be.”

Replacing longtime coach Ray McCallum, Alexander wasted little time sculpting his vision for the program — starting with the roster, which he trimmed with the dismissals of Paris Bass, who was trouble off the court, and Jalen Gibson.

Alexander also made a point to reach out to Detroit Mercy alum, many of whom felt forgotten over the years.

Raw talent

There will be times when Detroit Mercy looks raw, sloppy, and noncompetitive. But those times will fade over time.

The talent on this roster is there, starting with freshman guard Corey Allen from Ypsilanti. He could have gone to Eastern Michigan, but knew he’d have to wait his turn there.

Not so much at Detroit Mercy — he’s starting, and against his hometown team, scored a career-high 20.

“He is like a cornerstone of the Coach Alexander program that we are looking to build off,” Alexander said. “Corey is a guy we want to invest in a lot moving forward.”

There’s also holdover Jaleel Hogan, a junior forward who has a solid inside presence. Another freshman,

7-footer German Malik Eichler, will be fun to watch, as will freshman guard Ed Davis. Kameron Chatman, a Michigan transfer, will be eligible next year.

That’s not to completely write off this season, but realistically, this team is a ways away.

“That has to be the most frustrating part, for our seniors,” Alexander said. “Those granules of sand are coming out of the hour glass, week by week.”

The seniors might not be part of a special season, but they certainly can help lay the foundation.

So there’s time for fixing mistakes, building on the new culture, and improvement.

And, most importantly, there’s time for patience.