Skerry looks to lend 'incredible energy' to Towson men's basketball

New coach promises to immediately reshape Tigers

  • New Towson men's basketball coach Pat Skerry is shown at the news conference announcing his hiring.
New Towson men's basketball coach Pat Skerry is shown… (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed…)
April 05, 2011|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

He played to a packed house, was welcomed by the school's pep band and had his closest family members on hand. But the people who most appreciated the arrival of Pat Skerry at Towson Center on Tuesday were the Towson basketball players themselves.

They sat together in the reserved seats on the basketball court where they lost 24 games this season, neatly dressed, attentive to every line Skerry delivered as their new coach.

"Honestly, I loved everything," Robert Nwankwo said, grinning like he had just won the lottery. "What he's saying is something new, something I haven't been accustomed to hearing. I see a sincerity in everything he's actually saying. I believe I can actually trust his words and know that he's really trying to do great things, him and the athletic director."

The feeling of enlightenment was palpable when Towson turned another corner in its sordid basketball history, introducing Skerry as its sixth Division I coach. It was enough to make Isaiah Philmore, the team's leading scorer, want to come back next season.

After a 15-minute team meeting with Skerry and an upbeat, 30-minute news conference, Philmore, from Fallston and John Carroll, played down reports he was looking to transfer.

"I'm really not looking to do it," Philmore said. "I have a great coach here that they brought in. I just want to see what kind of recruits they're going to bring in. … I'm going to say, as of now, I think I'm going to remain here."

That's music to Skerry's ears. In 2008, he tried to recruit Philmore first to Rhode Island and then Providence College when he made a job switch himself. Without Skerry, Rhode Island was out and — preferring a mid-major to the Big East — Philmore opted for Towson instead.

"We absolutely want him here," the new coach said. "I know he's a great kid and a super talent, and I'm hoping for the opportunity to coach him and show him how good he and we can become."

Skerry, 41, arrived like a lifeline for a program that has suffered through 15 consecutive losing seasons, went 0-for-19 in the Colonial Athletic Association this season, lost its last 19 games and jettisoned its coach, Pat Kennedy, four weeks ago.

With new athletic director Mike Waddell and outgoing university president Robert Caret flanking him, Skerry's appearance on stage represented Towson's best chance to get basketball right at last. The school is trying like never before.

Waddell said Skerry's five-year contract includes $1.675 million in guaranteed money — some $335,000 per season — and the chance for more through performance incentives.

Caret was sold in Saturday's interview in Houston by the full-court press Skerry applied.

"Pat wanted the job," Caret said. "He tasted it. He sees the potential at Towson University. He has the energy, the desire, the commitment to make it happen. He is hungry, hungry for success, and we need that."

David Nevins, who owns a marketing firm and has deep ties to the university, was part of the advisory team that traveled to the Final Four last week. He came away talking about Skerry's "incredible energy" and his willingness to take on a hapless program.

"He said, 'I will work harder than anyone you've talked to, and I will out-recruit anyone you've talked to,'" Nevins said.

Skerry, who served as lead recruiter at Pittsburgh the past season, promised to remake his new team immediately. There was a Wednesday morning workout planned in which Skerry was to introduce a new strength and conditioning program.

Asked whether the CAA was out of Towson's league — the Tigers' best run in 10 years in the conference was a sixth-place, 7-11 finish in their first year — Skerry demurred.

"No, I don't believe so," he said. "Here's why I think we can win: I think we've got the location to recruit players. We've got a good school — and a really good [arena] being built — to sell. And then we've got to guard and rebound. We're going to start from there. If we can do that, then you have a chance every night out."

Skerry spoke of changing player habits, working at a "higher rate," and capitalizing on the mother lode of basketball talent in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. He said "getting a guy or two that's very strong [recruiting] in this area is of the utmost importance."

He said he'll take the winning formula he found at Pitt — defense, physicality and sharing the ball — and adapt it at Towson.

"Our habits have to change in the weight room, how many shots a day we're getting up, how long we're playing pickup for, what we are eating at night," Skerry said. "Then we've got to add talent that complements the guys in this room. There are no quick fixes for building a great program, which is what our plan is here."

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