LaVall Jordan needs support from Mone on down

It takes a village.

That’s a credo of sorts, often-used by Kentucky head coach John Calipari, and he’s used it at least since his days running the program at Memphis. He can be a great coach, but he needs everyone – the assistants, the players, the athletic department – to be on board for him to truly succeed.

It’s what has been on my mind since early in the week, when rumors were flying that Amanda Braun had settled on a replacement for coach Rob Jeter.

Just three days later we learned that LaVall Jordan was the pick. I’m ecstatic; as readers know, I was a big fan of Rob Jeter, and Jordan seemingly comes from a similar mold – a high character, spiritual family man who is a dynamite recruiter and intelligent scout. His resume isn’t even all that dissimilar – Jordan was a Big Ten assistant (Michigan to Jeter’s Wisconsin) and played at a wildly successful lower-level program (Jordan’s Butler, Jeter’s Platteville). They even worked as the guard assistants for high-level guards who went on to the NBA (Jordan coached 2013 Player of the Year Trey Burke, Jeter coached 2nd team All-American Devin Harris). Jordan’s Final Four ring from 2013 is the one big feather that Jeter didn’t have in his cap in 2005.

Before the name surfaced, fans were split. I was joined by many in being happy with a high-major recruiting assistant. Plenty of fans, though, were hoping for a successful lower-level coach – this was going to happen, with memories of Bo Ryan and Bruce Pearl succeeding and Rob Jeter spending much of his first few years as coach having growing pains.

The pick is in; the university came away with LaVall Jordan, who didn’t just come with a solid resume but also quite the stack of references in the sports information department’s press release.

Today at 4 pm, the media and UWM community will get its first good look at Jordan in the Fireside Lounge in the UWM Union. It’s a big deal, so you know the spacious room is going to be packed.
When the cameras shut off, and the university gets back to everyday business, LaVall Jordan is going to need as much support as he can get. Long-time readers of this blog know some of the things he’ll need to win at the level Braun expects – at least 3rd in the Horizon League and top 100 annually.

He’ll certainly get some time to get up there, but the expectations have been set and he’s going to need the tools as soon as possible to lay the foundation for future success. Without those tools, the program he will build won’t match the quality that could be had if he had the support of the whole UWM community.

That starts at the top. Chancellor Mark Mone, who has been incredibly silent on athletics for all the storms of the past month, needs to step in and take a hands-on approach to helping LaVall Jordan and the program. He’s not going to take recruiting trips, teach players the nuances of the 1-3-1 defense or make sure players are doing well in class. Those are jobs for others. Instead, Mone’s job is to be the facilitator – make sure that this university of nearly 30,000 people stands toe-to-toe and shoulder-to-shoulder behind Milwaukee Basketball.

If LaVall Jordan needs access in the union, or the dorms, or a professor’s office to do his job, Mark Mone needs to make sure that he finds no locked doors in front of him. That doesn’t mean that Mark Mone needs to talk to a professor for Jordan, but it does mean he needs to dictate to that professor that within reason, they need to be accommodating to Jordan.

They don’t need to fix grades or create phantom classes – those are against the rules and rightfully so – but if Jordan wants regular updates on how a certain player is doing in a certain class, that instructor needs to follow up with him. If Jordan needs the dean of a school or an associate professor to help put together a recruiting pitch, those people need to understand that it’s part of their job. It’s how they support the basketball program, even if they’re not sports fans or they cheer for their alma mater somewhere else.

Many of them will not want to do so. Many of them will be unwilling to help. Maybe they’ll think they’re too busy, or maybe they hate sports. LaVall Jordan can’t tell them what to do. Amanda Braun can’t tell them what to do. Mark Mone, however, signs their checks. As the top cat at this university, it’s Mone’s job to make sure everyone falls in line – because whether they believe it or not, a successful basketball program only helps this university get better in all facets – even academics.

It goes beyond the faculty. Students need to understand that Mone is doing a proper job as the steward of the athletics program into which they sink so much money. While I’d argue that Amanda Braun’s continued presence as athletic director is evidence that he’s not willing to support their investment, the fact of the matter is that students pay over $300 a year to make sure this athletics program exists. That level of investment deserves more than the return they’ve gotten. I’m not talking about victories on the court; I’m talking about atmosphere, experience and culture, of which winning is part.

Amanda Braun has worked hard – yeah I said it – to bring a practice facility to campus for the basketball teams. There have been setbacks – the chancellor decided to not fight governor Scott Walker’s decision to not fund the facility up front in the 2015 budget round (a net zero for taxpayers, as all money will be paid back as the student facilities fee is collected) – but Braun and the department have kept pushing forward for when they will be able to build it.

However, she needs to do what she can to fix the basketball program’s practice situation in the mean time. The 2006 construction of the Klotsche Pavilion helped alleviate the situation somewhat, but it remains one of the worst in Division I. Braun wants to be top 3 in the Horizon League and top 100 nationally every year – nowhere in the top 200 programs will you find a team that has as sorry a situation for squad and individual practice as you will find here.

As we’ve shown many times on PantherU, a dedicated basketball practice facility will have a major impact on the program and the university. But the best case scenario – approval in the 2017-19 state budget round – would put the university’s plan years away from ribbon-cutting. LaVall Jordan needs to succeed, and he can’t wait for the practice facility to do so. So Mone and Braun need to find a temporary solution for this problem and they need to do it immediately. Mark Mone has been chancellor for a year-and-a-half and Amanda Braun has been athletic director for three years; it’s long since time for them to figure this out.

Mone can tell everyone what he needs them to do and they can follow, but what Jordan will need, more than anything, is people to be present and supportive. He needs fans to be at games, active and supporting Milwaukee Basketball.

My support for his team and his staff is unrelenting – I’m going nowhere. But I can’t say the same for plenty of people who supported the program during Rob Jeter’s tenure, regardless of whether or not they approved of Jeter’s job. Many of them have walked away; I’ve been sent copies of e-mails, more than I care to admit, to UWM staff declining future support as long as Amanda Braun is athletic director. The ball is in Mark Mone’s court; thus far he remains silent, although at 4 pm we may see him come out from under the desk and address the Panther family’s civil war.

If he wants LaVall Jordan to succeed – as we all do – he needs to get in the game. In danger of extending the metaphor too far, the ball is in Mone’s court. Let’s see what he can do with it.

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