Anthony Solomon maintains he's growing the basketball program at St. Bonaventure, restoring competence and dignity to a team mired in ineptitude since the scandal of 2003. He'll tell you progress has been made, that the foundation for long-term success is in place, but when you look all you see is a barren hole in the ground.
Solomon's fooling himself, and apparently the administration, since he remains employed and his haphazard methods stay unchallenged in the fourth year of his tenure. St. Bonaventure doesn't have a basketball program. What it has is a used-car lot, a roster inundated with junior college and Division I transfers, most of them unfit for life in the Atlantic 10.
The Bonnies had all of three four-year recruits in uniform during Wednesday night's narrow loss to Ohio, a junior and two sophomores. The lone scholarship freshman, Jourdan Morris, was told not to dress after running afoul of Solomon in practice. Four of the five scholarships open after last season were bestowed upon transfers, a backwards tack the coach portrays as more by necessity than design.
"It's really been difficult for us to find a variety of student athletes who want to come here," Solomon said. "It's not been an easy process. We've gone and chased prospects throughout this country. I've been places that I've never been before, to try to continue to grow this basketball program."
This plea of hardship does nothing more than underscore Solomon's failure as a recruiter. Like Solomon, University at Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon took over a program burdened with debilitating recruiting sanctions. Yet during his second full season on the job Witherspoon landed the four freshmen who would fuel UB's ascent. He followed up with another strong recruiting class, and then two more, breeding continuity. The Bulls have been competitive this season, and then some, because two sophomore guards thrust into starting roles had a season to acclimate themselves to the system. That's how a coach goes about building a legitimate program.
Fervent Solomon supporters, their numbers few, could counter that Bona's national reputation was broadsided by scandal whereas UB suffered no such resonating indignity. And they'd be right. But UB, unlike Bona, was devoid of Division I basketball tradition when Witherspoon set out on his task. It plays in a lesser conference. Student and community support of the program was non-existent. Witherspoon had nothing but a vision to offer potential recruits, which presented him with a challenge far more formidable than Solomon's.
Yet the Oracle of Olean found cause to sit smug after tangling with Ohio, his demeanor brightened, his methods somehow affirmed, by the narrow defeat that had distanced his team from the unsightly home losses that preceded it. On multiple occasions he made mention of the dearth of bodies in the student section, implying that his team had been undeservedly abandoned, clueless that Olean's a basketball-savvy area unwilling to stomach the gruel he's serving. The Bonnies went into Wednesday ranked last among the 336 teams comprising the Ratings Percentage Index, a virtual impossibility for a 3-4 club unless it has faced the nation's weakest schedule, which Bona had.
Solomon either doesn't get it or he's too proud to admit to his deficiencies, which include his game coaching, by the way. He dealt his best player, sophomore A.J. Hawkins, substantially reduced minutes in what became two embarrassing defeats because -- get this -- it's a long season and Bona's awash in depth.
Twenty-two games remain on the schedule. Then it's time to move on.