SMU Men’s Basketball Celebrates Special Success At Annual Banquet
DALLAS – Fans, friends and family of SMU basketball gathered on Thursday at the Doubletree Campbell Center for their end-of-year tribute to players and coaches – and this one had a special tone.
From a 21 st -floor ballroom, the program celebrated its first winning season in eight years and its first 20-win campaign in over a decade. On display were perhaps the rumblings of team on the rise, a Conference USA contender for years to come.
Six seniors were feted and each spoke, their framed keepsake blue jerseys forming a backdrop: Papa Dia, Mike Walker, Collin Mangrum, Tomasz Kwiatkowski, Ryan Harp and Myles Luttman.
In opening remarks, SMU AD Steve Orsini praised SMU coach Matt Doherty, calling him a great “fit” for SMU. Orsini expanded on that after the event.
“[Doherty’s] the total program,” he said. “He’s the CEO. It’s not only coaching the kids and developing them into young men, but it’s being accepted by the community, having the alumni, former players, come back and feel welcome; to being a great thinking partner to us as we’re trying to rebuild the program; to the great facilities that are ahead of us. He helped plan it all.”
“He was the spark to get people interested again.”
True to form, Doherty visited each table during the meal, chatting up nearly everyone there.
Doherty told the crowd this senior class had a mission - to turn around SMU basketball. “Mission accomplished,” he said. “They won 20 games, beat Memphis twice, and represented SMU well.”
“I’m confident that the foundation has been laid through the leadership of this senior class for a bright, bright future. … I’m proud of you. You will be missed. You made your mark and I personally thank you very much.”
The 6-9 Dia, Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year, spoke last.
“I love my teammates,” he said. “I love my coaches. I love everybody at SMU. … These last four years are best four years of my life. Southern Methodist University. I’m glad I came here. If I had gone somewhere else, I don’t know if I would have had this much fun.”
But he noted it didn’t start out fun. At his first practice, Dia said he strolled onto the court thinking he was “the man.”
Soon, Doherty was yelling, “Pop! What the hell are you doing?”
“Oh, my God,” Dia thought. “This is gonna be a long ride.” The crowd erupted in laughter.
Mangrum thanked fans for their actions after SMU’s season-ending loss to Santa Clara in the CollegeInsider.com semi-finals. “The game was well in hand,” he said. “We were going to lose, but you guys stayed and gave us a standing ovation. That meant a lot. I know I speak for everybody when I say that.”
Said Luttman of his teammates, “We have a definite bond. And that’s a testimony to the program you guys have established so far. … I’m very thankful to be studying at the kind of institute that SMU is. … It fosters an atmosphere of learning and of academic excellence.”
Other highlights included:
*Walker’s dead-on impression of Marlon Brando’s Godfather in describing assistant coach Larry Mangino.
*Dia’s poignant tribute to Doherty: “Freshman and sophomore years were tough. I didn’t know myself. I was trying to find myself. … But he taught me a lot of stuff. He taught me how to be a man. … I came here a little boy and I’m leaving a man.”
*Kwiatkowski deadpanning that he and Charlie Sheen have two things in common: “winning” and “tiger blood.” (Kwiatkowski was razzed throughout for still having his freshman-year per diem cash - a charge he denied.)
*A slickly-produced video of players dishing on teammates - funnier than Leno or Letterman and worth the price of admission. (Rodney Clinkscales’ tale of hearing about but never seeing Dia upon getting to SMU – “It was like Sasquatch” – was a winner.)
*Doherty’s account of Dia and Robert Nyakundi getting caught on tape hot-wiring a golf cart. (“I didn’t do it. Oh - yeah, that looks like me.”)
*Dia’s first impression of transfer Mangrum, who in one season at SMU became a starter: “I’m like, ‘Who is this? He’s going to be playing with us? I don’t think so.’”
Attendees also learned Harp can dance, Luttman can sing and Mangrum hates roaches.
Said Orsini as the crowd filed out, “I think it’s a turning point, to see the quality of the kids and the message from the senior leadership.”
“Let’s keep this thing going - and I think they will. It’s something we’ve been waiting for. We didn’t think it would take four years, five years … but it’s worth it. I think there are better days ahead.”
Team Awards included:
*Papa Dia - MVP, Rebounds, Blocks, Charges, Screener
*Mike Walker - Defensive Award
*Jeremiah Samarrippas - Best Assist/Turnover Ratio, Good Plays
*Collin Mangrum – Hustle, C-USA Academic Medal/All-Academic Honor Roll
*Robert Nyakundi - Best Free Throw %, Most Improved Player
*Ryan Harp – Coaches Award
*Aliaksei Patsevich – Academic Award, C-USA All-Academic Honor Roll