The time is now
Marshall University’s basketball team isn’t going to the NCAA Tournament (unless it wins the Conference USA Tournament, which would mean beating the likes of Memphis).
Heck, the Thundering Herd isn’t even going to the National Invitational Tournament.
Its season is going to end when it is eliminated in the CUSA Tournament in Memphis.
But that doesn’t mean the 2008-09 campaign can’t be deemed a success.
This is Donnie Jones’ second year as the head coach of the Thundering Herd and while Marshall is making progress on the road to success, it’s being measured more in baby steps.
Simply put, Jones doesn’t yet have the horses to put Marshall in the upper echelon of Conference USA.
Whether he can recruit such horses to Huntington ultimately will decide his legacy and his fate in a city that is starved for a basketball winner.
Marshall hasn’t pulled a single upset this season. It only has won when it was supposed to win. Its best victory came on Dec. 17 when the Thundering Herd beat Ohio University, 73-68, at the Cam Henderson Center.
That is as good as it has gotten and may well be as good as it gets.
The Herd has been dreadful away from Huntington, winning just one of its first nine road trips.
But, all is not lost.
The remaining schedule represents opportunity.
From Jan. 31 to March 4, Marshall is at home seven times, including a four-game homestand.
In addition to getting some wins on its resume, Marshall needs to build some confidence.
The Herd has a tendency to play tentative at times, like it is unsure of itself.
That’s the sign of a young, struggling team and that is an apt description of Marshall.
The roster includes only two seniors and just one of those two — Markell Humphrey — plays a significant role.
It is Humphrey who provides this team with stability and leadership.
But knowing that he soon will be gone, that role must start being transferred. It’s time another roster member step up and let Marshall know this is his basketball team.
That hasn’t happened.
It’s up to the coaching staff to make it happen. A coaching staff that has great credentials and enjoys great expectations but is yet to show any great results.
Marshall fans have become familiar with that scenario as it aptly describes the Herd football program.
That has the natives restless. They want to win. If not now, soon.
Who has Marshall fans excited?
Damier Pitts for starters. The Hargrave Military Academy product has made an immediate impact. He’s the team’s leading scorer, a role with which he seems comfortable. He’s an 84 percent free throw shooter. If he develops himself into more of a 3-point threat, the sky’s the limit for Pitts in Huntington.
Then there’s junior Tyler Wilkerson, a consistent performer who does everything well. He’s solid but solid may be as good as it gets with Wilkerson, who is running out of time to move into the spectacular level.
Looking for a diamond in the rough? Try true freshman Shaquille Johnson. No, he is no Shaq. Don’t go there. He stands just 6-3, but for a player who was playing high school ball a year ago, he’s showing a great deal of potential.
So Jones has some of the pieces to the Thundering Herd’s puzzle.
But he must add to those pieces a solid recruiting class or this will turn into the same old same old.
Marshall took a major step when it became a member of Conference USA.
Who knew that C-USA would have a perennial national title contender in Memphis? Or a solid annual NCAA participant in Tulsa? Those are the teams with whom Marshall eventually is going to have to compete if it is going to make some noise in C-USA.
Yet, road games against those two schools resulted in losses of 19 at Tulsa and 23 at Memphis. That’s hardly competitive.
Marshall needs a personality. Most teams have one.
West Virginia, for example, is known for being as pugnacious as its head coach.
Marshall, at times, plays as nice as its head coach.
The Herd needs more fire. More intensity. More sense of urgency.
Many sports events go to the participant who invests the most and sometimes Marshall seems to fall short in that commodity.
As the Herd plays out the string on the 2008-09 season, it must play like its hair is on fire. That’s how Memphis plays. And if your goal isn’t eventually to beat Memphis, then why are you here?
They say the third season is usually the pivotal one for any coaching staff and that means next year is crucial for Jones and his assistants.
The direction of this program still is up in the air.
Jones knows how to recruit and how to win. But it must happen sooner rather than later.
Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org