Andrew Elkadi ’23 (He/Him), Sports Co-Editor
I sat down with men’s basketball Head Coach Bob McKillop following the conclusion of the 2021-22 season which ended with an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Andrew ElKadi ‘23 (AE): First off, congratulations on an amazing season. As a fan, it was so fun to see how well the team gelled, especially offensively. What was the biggest reason why your team was able to perform as well as they did?
Bob McKillop (BM): I think because of how hard they worked, how much they embraced the system and embraced each other. And they had fun in practice.
AE: Was there a particular moment this season when you thought to yourself, “wow, this group is special?”
BM: There was a knock on the door consistently. We beat Delaware, and I thought, “wow, they have a chance to be pretty good.” Then we came back from losing to New Mexico State, having a record of 1-2, and beat Penn and East Carolina. And I said, “Hmm, we’ve come back from adversity.” And, of course, beating Alabama. Going up to St. Joe’s in our first conference game and beating them kind of opened our eyes to the conference. So there was a constant knock on the door that we could be special.
AE: It was evident that the team had an impressive chemistry on the court. In what ways did this chemistry among your players manifest itself off the court this season?
BM: The way they hung out together, the way they bonded—in social environments [and] walking through campus. The way they drove each other around. The way they hung out and ate meals together [and watched] games together. Just watching them as they were on road trips, you could see there was this sense of brotherhood, that they had this sense of togetherness that was pretty special.
AE: You’ve been at the helm of this program for 33 years and seen dozens of players and teams come and go. How will this team in particular stick out in your memory?
BM: I never will compare one team to another team. But I will say this about this team: they maximize their ability. They got every ounce of success, enjoyment, [and] togetherness that they could have gotten. I’ve said this to many in the aftermath of [the loss to] Michigan State, “we may have run out of time in that game, but we never ran out of heart.” And that’s a memory that will be with me forever.
AE: I want to look ahead to next year. There are a handful of notable departures, including Luka Brajkovic’s interior presence. How do you envision that hole being filled next season?
BM: There’s a presence that Luka had besides the interior presence. Luka became a stretch forward, as well as a post up player. He became a guy that we would go to, to start games, to finish games. We had the utmost confidence in Luka’s ability to perform both at the offensive end and the defensive end. He’s received a lot of acclaim for what he’s done offensively, but some of the individual matchups that he had defensively were extraordinary. I thought he was sensational. His growth as a player was equally extraordinary.
AE: And you could see that as the season went on. Sam Mennenga showed us flashes this year of the great offensive player that he can be, and he seemed to gain confidence down the stretch this season. How crucial is this offseason for him as he prepares to take on a bigger role next season with Luka gone?
BM: Sam had great support from his teammates. Sam had great investment by his assistant coaches to help them take that step forward. He scratched the surface this year. He is not the kind of guy that’s going to be fat and happy, but one that is going to pursue excellence. He’s learned that. He adapted from being a go-to guy as a high school player to a role player as a college player. I think his willingness to do whatever it takes to help our team is going to be the defining aspect of Sam, and he understands what that responsibility means as he enters his junior year.
AE: Grant Huffman proved this season that he can both score the ball and cause problems for opposing offenses with his defensive play. How do you expect his role on this team to change next year with the departure of starting guard Michael Jones?
BM: Grant had a terrific year. His opportunity to step into the starting lineup when Foster was out with an injury gave him a shot of confidence, a boost of confidence, and he fully capitalized upon it. As I watched him work on his ability to score with so many extra hours of time invested by him, I’m certain that that’s going to be another step forward that he’ll take this year. He’ll become a consistent shooter and a threat at putting it on the floor, catching it, or putting it on the floor and pulling it up and shooting. So I think that’s going to be an addition to his development as he goes into his junior year.
AE: You mentioned Foster Loyer, who performed incredibly in his first year playing big minutes at the college level. How much does his return next season give you confidence that your team can repeat the level of success that they had this season?
BM: Foster will undoubtedly have his fingerprints all over our team next year. Extraordinary leader and performer, and I think the comfort level and confidence factor that he now has, after one year here at Davidson, is going to be a big, big plus for our program.
AE: Hyunjung Lee is a name that has been tossed around alongside the letters NBA in recent months. How do you expect he will handle the pressure that comes along with being a pro prospect with having just one more season to show the scouts what he has?
BM: Well, he’s had extraordinary pressure throughout his first three years here. The pressure of being the face of Korean basketball in the United States will never leave. So that [was] one of the things that he dealt with this year, and he’s going to continue to deal with that. When you’re the face of your country, that creates significant pressure at an unparalleled level as compared to the NBA.
AE: Davidson will have a new Atlantic 10 foe next year. How will the conference evolve with the addition of Loyola Chicago?
BM: A great addition to our conference. A step in the right direction for our conference to continue to build itself into a top level conference. It’s a conference that showed progress this year, with some of the teams that had been dormant all of a sudden becoming alive and a threat [to win] games. Loyola is another team that has a chance to be a champion in this conference.
AE: I saw an eye-opening statistic a couple of weeks ago: starting with the group that came in prior to the 1994-95 season, every four-year Davidson basketball player has played in the NCAA Tournament. How has your program been able to maintain this level of success for so long?
BM: Well, I’ve been fortunate to have players who get better and better as they go through the Davidson experience, as well as the fortune of having assistant coaches who create an environment of learning and growth and progress for each guy that comes here. So, they leave here, not just a different player, but they leave here a different man after four years.
AE: One must have an incredible joy for coaching to do it as long as you have, but have you at any point stopped and thought about how much longer you want to keep going?
BM, as a smile creeps across his face: This is the fiftieth, five zero, year that I’ve coached. The joy that I had this year was absolutely extraordinary. I continue to see myself learning. I continue to see myself adapting and changing, and I feel very lucky that I’m in a position where I can continue to learn in a profession that I’ve done for 50 years.