Detroit Mercy spun its wheels in Bacari Alexander’s second season
Detroit – In Ray McCallum's first year as Detroit Mercy coach, in 2008-09, the Titans finished 7-23. In his second year, they took a major step forward, finishing 19-14.
Meanwhile, if McCallum's successor, Bacari Alexander, took any steps between his years one and two – well, he might as well have been jogging in place.
After going 8-23 in his debut season a year ago, the Titans were 8-24 this year, with a loss to Green Bay in the first round of the Horizon League tournament ending their season.
The Titans, who've played basketball since 1905, set a program record for losses in a single season.
"When you look at just straight wins and losses, it seems like we're kind of at a plateau, if you will," Alexander said Friday night, following the 93-81 loss to Green Bay. "But in Year 2, the difference is, you just didn't have the full bevy of our talent available.
"It's hard to really evaluate that progress. It's very important in sports to have all your horses at the race."
All teams deal with injuries – just ask rival Oakland, which is down to a paltry eight scholarship players, yet still finds itself playing in the Horizon League semifinals at Little Caesars Arena on Monday night – and Detroit Mercy was no exception on that front, with guards DeShawndre Black and Josh McFolley the only players who got through the entire season completely healthy.
But the Titans had much more adversity than just the daily medical reports, including academic issues that sacked forwards Jaleel Hogan and Tariiq Jones for the entire second semester, plus the distraction of a seven-game suspension for Alexander early in the season over a reported verbal altercation with a player in practice.
At one point, Detroit Mercy lost 11 games in row. Alexander didn't coach his team to a victory until Jan. 10 at Cleveland State. Interim coach Jermaine Jackson coached the Titans for four of their eight victories.
"For us, it's a really tough pill to swallow," said Alexander, who has declined repeatedly to discuss the specifics of the reported details surrounding his suspension. His contract status and personnel files are private, given Detroit Mercy's status as a private institution. "When you look back on the season, we had so many different types of hurdles."
The Titans were picked to finish fourth in the Horizon League, and finished dead last. Nobody's disputing that's unacceptable, given the talent, starting with the likes of guards Corey Allen and Jermaine Jackson Jr., and forward Roschon Prince, a Long Beach State transfer, among several other potentially impactful players.
But for one reason after another, Detroit Mercy only had its full roster available one time – and that was for a closed scrimmage before the season against Akron, who Detroit Mercy had down 25 at one point, Alexander said.
Alexander arrived at Detroit Mercy following six years as a John Beilein assistant at Michigan. He arrived with a defensive focus. And yet, the Titans were 347th in the nation scoring defense this year (85.7).
So, where do they go from here? That's up for debate.
For starters, they lose a lot – including Hogan, Jones, Prince and Black. But they return a lot, too – including Allen, Jackson, forwards Kameron Chatman and Gerald Blackshear Jr., plus forward Cole Long, who made significant strides this year. The recruiting class, so far, includes two forwards, Adrian Nelson, of Pickerington, Ohio, and Cory Hightower Jr., a Flint native who plays prep ball in an Atlanta suburb.
But being a new head coach is more than just building a roster, it's building a program, a much more monumental task – as Alexander is learning.
"Anytime you're building a program, you're always trying to find not only the small victories along the way, but when you experience different types of adversity, it's also important to note when you're a transitioning program," said Alexander, who did note he had seven players make the AD's honor roll this year – a number he says is a record for the program.
"You want to make sure you're continuing to build the culture.
"Things are progressing."
The record, though, suggests otherwise.
And in the end, that's how Alexander is being judged – just like his predecessor, McCallum, who by Year 4 had the Titans playing in the NCAA Tournament.
DETROIT MERCY 2018-19 OUTLOOK
* Cory Hightower Jr., F, Norcross, Ga.
* Adrian Nelson, F, Pickerington, Ohio
* DeShawndre Black, G
* Jaleel Hogan, F
* Isaiah Jones, F
* Roschon Prince, F
* Corey Allen, G
* Jack Ballantyne, F
* Gerald Blackshear Jr., F
* Ed Carter III, G
* Kameron Chatman, F
* Malik Eichler, C
* Musial Gjysma, F
* Jermaine Jackson Jr., G
* Tariiq Jones, F
* Josh McFolley, G
* Jacob Joubert, G
* Cole Long, F
* Bass Ollie, G