The Best Thing Marist Can Do Is Give Mike Maker A Vote Of Confidence

Marist appears to have found their guy in Mike Maker, a 49 year-old, experienced head coach who wants to build a program to the standards president Dennis Murray and athletic director Tim Murray have set. His hire has their fingerprints all over it, a coach who wants to win their way, while maintaining the school’s academic bent in a league that is sometimes hell-bent on basketball success. But despite that, the timing of Maker’s hire left him behind the eight ball, and it’s time to make sure the administration supports him and gives their new head coach all the ammunition he needs to make sure the Red Foxes turn it around.

(photo courtesy: Marist Athletics)
Mike Maker has faced plenty of challenges in less than one year at Marist. (photo courtesy: Marist Athletics)

For Maker, the calendar still feels like December, even though there are only four regular season games remaining. While he says that a lot when referring to the roster, it could also apply to the program he is building. Maker was hired in June to replace Jeff Bower, who took a job as general manager of the Detroit Pistons, and it put him behind schedule to build a program in the mold of the one that he had rolling at Williams. If the last three months have been a lesson on that progress, it is that it’s incomplete to say the least.

“We’re not there yet, we are a total work in progress, but that’s why I signed a five-year contract,” Maker said. “It’s not going to happen this year or next year or maybe even the year after. This is a long term project, that’s the truth, yet I think we can have more success now than people think.”

Maker has had to scramble in his first season. His plan, to build a two-guard offense, similar to his mentor John Beilein, around Chavaughn Lewis and Khallid Hart quickly blew up when each suffered injuries, the one to Hart more severe, and forced Maker to make drastic changes and bring untested players along quickly.

So now, it feels like Marist’s season is just beginning. The day before the Siena game on Feb. 12, his team went live for 50 minutes, probably one of very few teams to compete that hard prior to a game this late in the season. However, while the changes on the court have been slow to come by, so has been building the foundation of the program. It is easy to forget that, other than the scandal ridden College of Charleston job, the Marist job was one of the last filled in the 2014 cycle of coaching changes.

“My last year at Williams, looking back I never felt like that when we’re in it, looking back we had it going, but it took a lot of work to get it going and a lot of work to maintain that level of success,” Maker said. “It’s not automatic, you know what I mean but at the end of our tenure in year five and six, we have the program where we wanted it from a culture standpoint, from a personnel standpoint, on campus, on the court and in the community.”

While he is teaching the intricacies of a new system, he is also working to teach the expectations he has for his program. Whether that’s enforcing how to enter an arena or how to host recruits on visits or involve themselves with the Wounded Warrior project, Maker is doing it all his way.

“It’s going to take all of five years, maybe more, every bit of the five years, actually every ounce of our energy to get the program where we want it from a culture standpoint, on campus, in the community and on the court,” Maker said. “Those things are all connected, that’s a lot of people, that’s a lot of work. This is more of a challenge than it was at Williams, but not that it was easy at Williams, it wasn’t.”

The 49-year old knows that it took a long time to turn the roster over and get the type of players he would like to fit his system. But Maker is as strong in his commitment to his system as anyone, and knows that is probably the best way Marist will have success in the future.

“The only two times we had success was when Rik Smits and Jared Jordan played here, those are two pros,” Maker said, adding again for exaggeration on the word pros. “We have a better chance of trying to implement a system that matches our institution and doing it with balance.”

He knows the landscape, having been an assistant coach in Division I for so long. Even then, having a pro on your roster, much less an NBA draft pick like Marist has had twice is a rarity. One of the few lottery picks on his teams at West Virginia was Joe Alexander, who was picked eighth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and spent fewer than three seasons in the NBA before continuing overseas.

(photo courtesy: Marist Athletics)
With a healthy group for the first time this season, Marist managed to win four games in a row under Mike Maker (photo courtesy: Marist Athletics)

While he says he does not plan to “abandon what we have” in terms of his scholarship players, it would not be a surprise to see some roster turnover after season one. After all, he inherited a group of 13 players signed to scholarships and by next season the Red Foxes will have to be led by Khallid Hart and a roster that is currently comprised of a group of very inexperienced underclassmen.

Maker, who is close friends with Steve Pikiell at Stony Brook, knows that building the program up at Marist is probably going to take a similar timetable as Pikiell used with the Seawolves. However, now that one cat is out of the bag — in that Maker has a five-year contract, which was protected state secret prior — it is time that Marist make the same commitment to its coach as the Long Island school did.

In Pikiell’s first season, his team went 4-24, with what he admits were not Division I caliber players. His program was still battling sanctions from the prior coach, but the administration saw progress. He was setting the foundation and the president and athletic director offered him a contract extension at the end of that season. Pikiell always said that he knew he picked the right job, and this season he is closing in on his fifth 20-win season at the school.

Marist can make that same commitment to Maker easily and probably owes it to him. Maker mentions that he hopes he could be at the Poughkeepsie school as long as Dave Magarity, who spent 18 seasons at the school. For everything he has been put through in year one, the school should make sure they commit to him as strongly as he has to them. That would mean giving his program the proper resources, such as allowing a foreign summer trip in the future, among other tools to help him develop a program and succeed amongst a difficult field of MAAC programs. Supporting the head coach should not just be an aesthetic, but realistic for a coach who was put so far behind to start in his tenure.

“We’re behind on everything,” Maker said. “We’re behind on system, recruiting, we’re behind on scheduling, we’re behind on community service, we’re behind on campus development of relationships, we’re behind, it’s endless.”

“We will not catch up. Listen, again that’s I told them, no way four years, its either five and maybe five, I should have asked for a 10 year contract. So, its going to take a while, I’m just telling you it’s going to take a while. I don’t even think if I’m here for longer, and I hope we are, that it’s going to take longer than that.”

Hopefully Marist will give him that time.

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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