A season cut short can't stop reflection and recognition on some outstanding campaigns in both men's and women's college basketball. There were remarkable coaching jobs -- dozens -- in college hoops this past season. But two were particularly outstanding and memorable.
On Thursday, CBS Sports HQ revealed the winners for the Werner Ladder Naismith Men's and Women's Coach of the Year. On the men's side, Dayton's Anthony Grant, who has taken home most awards in that category in recent days and weeks, including here at CBS Sports. In women's basketball, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was an obvious choice to earn the honor.
South Carolina won a fifth SEC regular-season title under Staley, who coached her team to the best record in Division I -- men's or women's. The Gamecocks went 32-1 and were quite clearly the best team in women's hoops, if not the most dominant team in all of college. South Carolina went undefeated (16-0) in league play and wound up ending the season with a 26-game winning streak, the longest winning streak in men's and women's hoops at any level: D-I, D-II and D-III.
Staley won out over Arizona's Adia Barnes, Oregon's Kelly Graves and Northwestern's Joe McKeown. This is the first season in which Staley's won National Coach of the Year. She also won SEC Coach of the Year for the fourth time.
By winning the award, Staley becomes the first person to win the Naismith Coach of the Year and Player of the Year (Staley was the Naismith Player of the Year for Virginia in 1991 and 1992.)
On the men's side, Grant beat out Baylor's Scott Drew, San Diego State's Brian Dutcher and Florida State's Leonard Hamilton. What all four of those coaches had in common: they coached their programs to their best season in school history. Grant guided Dayton to a 29-2 record, the two losses tying Gonzaga and San Diego State for fewest in men's D-I basketball.
But it's a particular fact that likely propelled Grant -- and will be part of this Dayton team's lore -- that helped him: the Flyers were undefeated in regulation. Their two losses came on neutral courts in overtime to would-be NCAA Tournament teams (projected No. 1 overall seed Kansas and projected No. 9 seed Colorado). Dayton ended its season on a 20-game winning streak, its 18-0 mark in the Atlantic 10 marking the first time since George Washington in 2006 that a team ran the table in that conference.
UD was the only team in men's college basketball to not lose a league game this season.
This Dayton team, led by Obi Toppin, Jalen Crutcher and Trey Landers, was of course special. Grant, a modest man who previously thrived at VCU and had a bumpy go of it at Alabama, returned to college basketball after two years away, sitting on the bench alongside his mentor, Billy Donovan, with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That NBA expedition clearly had its benefits for Grant, who becomes a rare example of a coach who was previously fired at a college job but nonetheless went on to win National Coach of the Year.
"I'm so happy for him," Donovan told CBS Sports. "He is one of my closest friends, he is a great, great human being. He's a way better person than he is as a coach. I always admired him and his character. I admire him, who he is as a person and I trust the guy explicitly. The award couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, a better guy who does things the right way."
Donovan shared a story about how beloved Grant was back in the mid-2000s, Florida's talented big men -- Joakim Noah and Al Horford -- were so invested in Grant that they briefly debated declaring for the NBA Draft, and not returning for the 2006-07 season, after Grant was offered the VCU job and told the team he was going to take it. It wasn't out of anger, it was out of devotion to Grant. Without him on staff, things wouldn't be the same. Turns out Grant's sense of loyalty was so strong, Donovan said he actually was going to back out of the VCU offer because of his dedication to Florida and those players.
Donovan wouldn't let him. Grant was taking that VCU job, no matter what. He did -- and Grant coached the Rams to the NCAA Tournament two times in three seasons, including the famous upset of Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
"His mentality has always been to help invest in players, invest in coaches," Donovan said. "He's really an incredibly selfless guy. I think he's grounded. I think he's got the whole thing together. He's incredibly unassuming. He's not a networker, he's not a self-promoter. He never was out there trying to lobby for jobs. ... He's never looking for limelight, never looking for publicity, he just wanted to do the right thing and be as good of a coach as he can be and help his guys."
It's a particularly sweet postscript to a bittersweet end of the season, as Grant is a Dayton alumnus and in fact helped the Flyers make the NCAA Tournament in the mid-1980s. And in fact it was Donovan who wound up being the initial go-between for Dayton and Grant, helping arrange the two sides for an interview in Oklahoma City a few days before he officially took the job in 2017.
Now Grant has Dayton as high and good as it's ever been, coming off a 29-win season, a program record.
Men's all-time winners
|2014||Gregg Marshall||Wichita State|
|2011||Steve Fisher||San Diego State|
|2007||Tony Bennett||Washington State|
|2004||Phil Martelli||Saint Joseph's|
|2001||Rod Barnes||Ole Miss|
|1998||Bill Guthridge||North Carolina|
|1993||Dean Smith||North Carolina|
|1991||Randy Ayers||Ohio State|
|1990||Bobby Cremins||Georgia Tech|
Women's all-time winners
|2020||Dawn Staley||South Carolina|
|2018||Vic Schaefer||Mississippi State|
|2014||Muffet McGraw||Notre Dame|
|2013||Muffet McGraw||Notre Dame|
|2006||Sylvia Hatchell||North Carolina|
|2001||Muffet McGraw||Notre Dame|
|1988||Leon Barmore||Louisiana Tech|