Thursday, October 13, 2005

Maybe Tom Davis Can Get It Done This Season--It's Been 18 Years Since Drake Last Had a Winning Record, And Even Morrison, 88, Says That's a Long Time

Let’s look at the numbers.

This is the 100th season that Drake has had an intercollegiate basketball team.

Heavens to C. A. Pell—the guy who coached that first Bulldog team to a 2-1 record [hey, don’t ridicule a .667 percentage!] and beat Des Moines Baptist, 36-17, in his first game--that’s an eternity.

Paul Morrison, who has seen everything at Drake, knows everybody at Drake and is pretty sure where all the bodies are buried at Drake, wasn’t even born yet.

One-hundred seasons of basketball is something to celebrate, and Drake publicity guy Mike Mahon tells me there are some plans in the works to do just that.

But, when you’re talking about Bulldog basketball, another very significant number is 18.

That’s how many consecutive seasons have passed by since the school last had a winning record.

It’s starting to remind me of the 19-season Jerry Burns, Ray Nagel, Frank Lauterbur and Bob Commings football frustration at Iowa, and you know how rotten that made all of us feel.

Maury John [pictured on the left in this column], the best basketball coach ever at Drake, just rolled over in his grave when I pointed out that number 18.

Sorry about that, Maury.

You did too great a job. Had too many 20-victory-and-more seasons, and took the Bulldogs to too many NCAA tournaments to have your day ruined like that.

Hopefully, Tom Davis [pictured on the Drake sideline] will do something to remedy the situation this season.

Eighteen years is too damn long.

Morrison, the do-everything Drake historian who is now 88, won’t live forever, you know.

He’s getting a little tired of waiting, and so am I.


The last year a Drake team won more games than it lost, Davis was in his first season as Iowa’s coach.

That was 1986-87, and he had a 30-5 record.

That same season, Gary Garner’s Drake team was 17-14. One of the losses was to Davis’ Hawkeyes, 69-62.

Four coaches have come and gone since Garner’s 17-14 record.

Garner – a good man and a good coach -- was dumped after going 14-14 in 1987-88.

“The nicest guy in the world,” Morrison said today of Garner, who was at Drake for seven seasons. “He was just a victim of circumstances.”

Tom Abatemarco, who had been on a successful staff at North Carolina State and thought he could bring some magic to Drake, was gone after a player revolt ended his 1 ½ seasons in 1989-90.

Tom Fields filled in for the rest of that season, but wasn’t the long-term answer. He was history at the end of the year.

Rudy Washington was next. He thought success was at the end of the rainbow at Drake just like it had been when he was one of Davis’ assistants at Iowa.

Naive man.

Ol’ Rudy didn’t figure on those tight academic restrictions at Drake.

Washington’s records were 8-21, 6-21, 14-14, 11-16, 12-15 and 12-15.

He’s now coaching a high school team.

In came Kurt Kanaskie

Another nice guy. Another loser.

“Nice guy, too,” Morrison said.

Bad records, though.


This is Davis’ third season at Drake. He came out of retirement and living on a golf course in Iowa City to see if he could bring some life to a dead Bulldog program.

His first Bulldog team in 2003-04 went 12-16, his second went 13-16.

Some days, I'm sure playing 18 at Finkbine or Wakonda sounds like a lot better idea than trying to teach a defense that might be able to stop Creighton or Iowa State.

One of the first things Davis learned after taking the job was that high school players from this state weren’t much interested in playing basketball at Drake.

Now they might be changing their minds a bit.

But, like Maury John almost a half-century ago [Wow, Paul, was 1958-59 really The Man’s first season?], he’s learning that junior college recruiting might be what it takes to get the job done at Drake.

I asked Davis if this is a team that realistically can be expected to win more games than it loses.

“The players think they’re contenders, Ron,” Davis answered. “But I don’t know. I’ve been through it enough to know we have to prove it. There are a lot of question marks with this team, but I like what I see in terms of quickness and athleticism.

“If you’re going to press and run, you need a great attitude, and I think we’ve got that. Now, how fast can they learn how to play together and get the cohesiveness they need to play the high-tempo game?

“If we can get it going, who knows? Somebody is going to have to jump out. Somebody’s going to need a great year and have people say, ‘He had a great year. Oh, man, he came from nowhere.’ Somebody’s going to have to knock the shots down, be a playmaker or be a big rebounder

“Somebody’s going to need to have an all-conference-type year—if not a couple players—to elevate us. The league [Missouri Valley Conference] is too tough and the state is too tough with the three teams [Iowa State, Iowa and Northern Iowa] being in the NCAA tournament a year ago.

“We have too many tough teams on our non-conference schedule. If we’re not playing at a high level, it’s going to be hard to have a good record.”


As for the postseason, Davis said, “It’s nice for [the state’s other three Division I schools], it’s nice for the state. We’d just like to be part of it. It would be kind of neat to be a contender for that.

“The winter would be a little shorter in Des Moines if we could contend for one of those spots.”


Mark my word, a fun guy to watch this season for the Bulldogs will be 5-10 guard Al Stewart, the transfer from Des Moines Area Community College in Boone.

“I’ll do all the dirty work,” Stewart said.

“I can score if I want to, but there are a lot of scorers on this team. I’ll pass first, score second.”

Stewart, who was a high school teammate of former Illinois standout Luther Head, ranked 12th nationally in assists last season in junior college competition.

He’s not bashful when talking about what he thinks Drake can accomplish this season.

“I have high expectations for this team. I’m pretty sure we can get a lot of wins that we didn’t get last year and make it to the tournament.”

“Which tournament?” I asked him.

“Both tournaments,” Stewart said. “Win our Missouri Valley Conference tournament and go to the national tournament. Win there also. So I’m pretty excited.”

Evidently, nobody has told Stewart about the Abatemarcos, Washingtons and Kanaskies of past Drake seasons.

That’s a good thing.

Vol. 4, No. 392
Oct. 13, 2005