The Davidsonian

Matt McKillop Takes On New Challenge: First-Year Head Coach Steps into Father’s Shoes

Matt McKillop speaks to Sam Mennenga ‘24 at practice. Photo courtesy Davidson Athletics

By Andrew Elkadi (He/Him), Sports Co-Editor

When the Davidson Men’s Basketball team runs onto the court in two weeks to begin their 2022-23 season, there will be a familiar face in a new role patrolling the sideline in front of the Wildcat bench. Matt McKillop ‘06 succeeded his father, Bob, and became the 19th head coach in program history over the summer, following years of involvement in many of the program’s operations as an assistant coach and as associate head coach. “I had a very good upbringing to be prepared for [the promotion], in my opinion, so there were a lot of luxuries I had that many new head coaches don’t have … My new office was 20 feet down the hallway, I had familiarity with all players, we had a staff that was intact, and certainly [I had] an understanding of what the Atlantic-10 is and what it takes to win that league,” McKillop spoke about his transition to Head Coach. He also added that he has felt the increased responsibility of his new position already, “there is a level of leadership that I was given and a responsibility that I’ve been given, it feels a lot different when there’s a decision made and it’s all on you.” 

The departure of key scorers Luka Brajkovic, Hyunjung Lee, and Mike Jones from last year’s squad means that the progression of returning players is key to the team’s success. Sam Mennenga ‘24, Desmond Watson ‘25, and Grant Huffman ‘24 all played considerable minutes for a championship team last year, and McKillop is prepared to call on them even more this season. “I think their minutes will certainly increase, and if they continue to do the right things, I think offensive production will be the result of that,” McKillop said. With last year’s Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Luka Brajkovic gone, McKillop expects a different feel to the offense, with more versatile forwards who can play on the perimeter. McKillop additionally expressed excitement about the group of fresh faces on this year’s team, “we also have a lot of freshmen and two transfers that can fill some of the void that our graduating seniors from last year left behind.” 

The return of the Wildcats’ point guard, Foster Loyer ‘23, is a big source of comfort for Matt McKillop as the season approaches. McKillop recalls that on the day of his promotion, he stressed to Loyer the importance of his role as a player-coach. McKillop raved, “[Foster] is brilliant on the basketball court, and when the ball is in his hands something good will typically happen because he plays at his own pace, he controls the game the way he chooses to control it, and he’s so intelligent and such a good decision maker.” Loyer, as well as Huffman and Mennenga, will serve as team captains this season. Connor Kochera ‘24, a transfer from William and Mary, has also become a vocal leader in the locker room prior to the season’s start and McKillop expects him to become a key offensive contributor. 

McKillop expanded on what he’s seen from some of the other new arrivals: “I think Sean Logan [‘26] could be one of the best shot blockers in our history. I think Reid Bailey [‘26] could be one of the most versatile frontcourt players that we’ve had in a very long time. I think David Skogman [‘24]  is tough, physical, smart, and plays a style that is exactly what we want from a player at his position. And then we have Achile Spadone [‘26], who can maybe be considered an afterthought because he wasn’t highly recruited, but he’s really made an impact on our team, and he’s shown that he’s going to be in our rotation and play for us.” Hoping for a deeper rotation than the ‘Cats deployed last season, McKillop envisions that there “are seven guys that can start for us …  And maybe there’s an eighth or ninth guy that could be ready to start at some point this year with continued improvement and development.”

Coach McKillop is eager for the season to begin: “These next few weeks, we’re going to have some competitions, and we’re going to have some chances to see what our program is made of.” He’s not sure exactly how he will feel when he steps on the court named after his father as head coach, but he noted that “what’s special is I know so many people around this campus and around this community that it has felt very natural already. You know, I walk around town and I see the people that I’ve known for fifteen, twenty years that have been involved with our program and nothing seems very different.” He is excited for the challenge of running the Wildcat program and coming into his own as head coach, noting that “I’m not trying to be my father in many ways. I want to emulate what he did in terms of how he ran a program and how he was successful doing it, but I’m going to do it with my own voice and in the way that I feel is right, which is being genuine to myself.”

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