College Basketball Nation: Tracy Dildy

Chicago State to the WAC? Awesome

December, 6, 2012
I'm deciding to break my personal (always-subject-to-change-when-my-editor-says-so) no-realignment-news rule just this once. The piece of news at hand is simply too monumental to ignore, even if it escaped my purview Wednesday afternoon.

Chicago State is now part of a basketball conference.

Yes, you read that right. A current denizen of the Great West conference, which is less a conference than a loose assemblage of schools with no automatic NCAA tournament bid between them, Chicago State is in one of college basketball's most unenviable positions. In his first two seasons, coach Tracy Dildy has won just 10 games total, and has usually finished near the absolute bottom of KenPom's efficiency statistics, too.

But life isn't easy in the Great West, and Dildy is absolutely ecstatic about the move. From Brett McMurphy's report Wednesday:
"It's huge for us," Chicago State men's basketball coach Tracy Dildy said. "It puts us in a legit conference. It now levels the playing field as far as recruiting and everything. We now get to offer everything everyone else does -- a chance for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. People have been killing us on that in recruiting. We can get and recruit a different kind of student-athlete."

That might be just a tad bit optimistic -- when he was hired, Dildy told me Chicago State was a "sleeping giant" -- but at the very least it should help Chicago State get a look or two from Chicago-area guys that wouldn't have otherwise thought twice. And Chicago State's facilities aren't bad. Its 5,500 seat Convocation Center is an on-campus selling point, and its library features a robot that gets books for you, which is obviously rad.

Anyway: Congratulations to the Cougars. It may not be the old Mid-Con, but at least it isn't the Great West.

And everyone says realignment was a bad thing. Pshh.

New Faces, New Places: Tracy Dildy

October, 8, 2010
CHICAGO -- Tracy Dildy feels good. It won't take him long to tell you why, and he won't modulate his volume when he does.

"I'm at a great university," Dildy said. "I'm undefeated. What can you say right now? I'm in first place!"

If part of being a head coach is dealing with the media, and part of dealing with the media is waxing enthusiastic, Dildy, the new head man at Chicago State, is already ahead of the game.

Next up? Transforming the Chicago State Cougars from your favorite school's perennial early-season cupcake into a real, actual basketball program. Or, as Dildy -- who grew up a couple of miles from the CSU campus on Chicago's south side -- will tell you without a hint of irony, it's time to wake a "sleeping giant."

[+] EnlargeTracy Dildy
Darrell Walker/UTHM/Icon SMITracy Dildy has the reputation of being one of the Chicago area's best recruiters.
"I've always thought that," Dildy said. "Then they put dorms on campus, an arena on campus, and I started to think, 'This isn't a secret anymore. The secret is getting out.'"

If so, that secret has been well-kept. In 1984, the then-NAIA power jumped to Division I. Since then, 23 of the Cougars' 26 seasons have included sub-.500 performances. In one particularly brutal stretch -- from 1989-1999 -- Chicago State didn't win more than six games in any season.

The Cougars' conference affiliation doesn't help. The Great West Conference isn't awarded an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament yet, and the teams that comprise it form less of a conference than a loosely affiliated group of schools bound together by a common schedule.

Nor has there been much in the way of recent success. Benjy Taylor, Dildy's predecessor, led the Cougars to their best season in decades in 2008-09. Chicago State went 19-13 and featured perhaps the best player in the history of the program in guard David Holston. But last season, in Taylor's third year, the Cougars slipped to 9-23, and athletic director Sudie Davis decided to go another way.

"We felt it was very important to have people from this area running this university," Davis said. "Not only from the athletics [office] standpoint, but from the coaches standpoint."

Dildy certainly is that. He graduated from Martin Luther King High in Chicago and played college hoops in the late 1980s at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where he was later inducted into the athletic hall of fame. His first assistant coaching position was at UIC, and he served for six years as an assistant at DePaul.

During that time, Dildy built a reputation as one of the Chicago area's best recruiters. He lured Steven Hunter, Bobby Simmons and Quentin Richardson to DePaul, got Bonzi Wells to come to Ball State, and landed a variety of Chicago-area players at each of his other coaching stops (Auburn, Ole Miss, and UAB) along the way.

The path that led him to Chicago State was circuitous, to say the least. It was also contentious. Dildy returned to UIC in 2006 with the expectation that he would be first in line for the school's head coaching position once 14-year veteran Jimmy Collins eventually retired.

When Collins retired earlier this spring, Dildy says he was told he was the top candidate for the job, but that he would have to interview along with other candidates. Rather than take that risk -- and perhaps a bit spurned by the cool reception from his alma mater -- Dildy jumped to the sure thing at Chicago State.

(UIC disputes this view. In September, UIC athletic director Jim Schmidt told "there was never any verbal agreement" Dildy would be Collins' successor.)

Dildy, for his part, says he has no hard feelings about the split, though his language was somewhat coded.

"UIC is my alma mater," he said. "I wish them nothing but the best. But I'm at the program that I want to be at. And the program that wanted me."

The program that wanted him also desperately needs him. As a university and an athletics program, Chicago State sees itself on an upward trajectory. The school completed work on a 7,000-seat arena in 2007, and has recently poured money into a variety of new campus facilities, athletic and otherwise. (The school's new library, completed in 2006, features a state-of-the-art robotic book retrieval system. True story.)

Davis' long-term belief is that Chicago State will have the "best facilities of any Division I school in the Chicago area" and, eventually, "all the amenities any other Division I school would have."

That's where Dildy comes in.

"The strategy right now is to just get kids on campus," Dildy said. "A lot of families, when they come to campus, they don't realize we have all this. The campus presents itself."

From there, Dildy plans to follow the template he used as an assistant at DePaul.

"A lot of athletes have an ego," he said. "We want that one guy, that one star, who wants to come here and be a part of something special. That's how we did it at DePaul. That's how we got [Bobby] Simmons and Quentin Richardson."

Dildy plans to combine that pitch with what he called a "player-friendly" style -- an uptempo, pressing system he dubbed "94 feet of heat." If all goes well, Dildy said, Chicago State will be the new Butler -- a perennial league champion and NCAA tournament darling.

"We want to go to the NCAA tournament," Dildy said. "That's going to happen. We want to win the league year in and year out. And that's going to happen. We're going to have something special here," he said.

NCAA tournament? Butler? These are big words for a program that's had one winning season since 1987. Can Dildy turn those words into results?

Say this much for Chicago State's new coach: If he fails, it certainly won't be for lack of enthusiasm.
You see, that might not be a big deal to you. If you're the average college hoops fan, you probably don't care about the University of Illinois-Chicago -- more easily written as UIC, so that's what I'm going to go with from here on out -- and whether the Flames have hired someone to replace longtime coach Jimmy Collins, who resigned this summer.

I get that. It's cool. But we have bigger problems than a mere coaching vacancy at a dormant college hoops program in the Horizon League. This chart -- the chart that tells us when the coaching carousel has finally come to an end -- needs to be completed. We're not there yet. But we're getting closer.

UIC athletic director Jim Schmidt has decided on five finalists for the job. According to the Chicago Tribune, those finalists are Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore, Michigan State associate head coach Mark Montgomery, Minnesota assistant Vince Taylor, Memphis assistant Willis Wilson, and University of New Orleans coach Joe Pasternack. The candidates are still meeting and interviewing and getting to know the higher-ups, but sources told the Tribune the hiring could be made within a week.

That's good news for the Flames, obviously. Collins steps down from his 14-year gig on Aug. 31, so it's probably about time to be finding someone to take his place. More than that, though, it's good news for us. The Chart is just begging to be completed. I thought we had it when Chicago State ended its interminable coaching search and hired Tracy Dildy (who, coincidentally, was previously an assistant at UIC).

We were so close. And still, The Chart remains. It's like Isiah Thomas' relationship with the New York Knicks. It refuses to die.

So come on, UIC! Close the gap! If you do, I promise never to write about the coaching carousel chart ever again. Do we have a deal?