MUNCIE, Ind. – Linc Darner is not sure if he ever considered taking a college basketball season when his tenure as head coach at Green Bay ended after the 2019-20 season; that’s just what ended up happening.
As he said recently, explaining why he joined BSU’s men’s basketball coaching staff as an assistant, “being so late in the game” it was difficult for him to find the right opportunity. Add to that the pandemic and the pandemic that lasted much longer than Darner ever dreamed of, and last year ended up going the way it did.
So while Darner couldn’t visit about 15 or 20 different programs and watch practice as he had hoped, he was able to speak with different coaches and watch games from a number of pro and college teams. in a way he would have I couldn’t have done otherwise. A year from now friends of his in the coaching industry would probably describe him as “the best year to be out” of training, due to complications from COVID-19, he was able to reflect on what he had. did and what he could. improve. He was able to spend a lot of time with his family and try to lead a healthier life.
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Then came the departure of Jason Grunekemeyer from the Ball State coaching staff.
While Darner said he “had things in the works” when the BSU opportunity presented itself, he also wasn’t trying to take something just to take something. And with the Cardinals, a Division I opportunity to get closer to home and be close to family, given that he played high school basketball in Indiana and has already recruited the region before.
“It’s back in Indiana, close to my family… I think the coach did a great job there,” said Darner, who is the second former head coach to join James’ staff. Whitford at BSU since the end of the 2020-21 season. “They have been very successful. They won their team three out of five years. I watched a movie this year. They had a hell of a team. People don’t realize what (COVID-19) could do to your team or what… injuries could do. And I think if they had been healthy all year, who knows what would have happened. Because I think they were very good. I think he did a great job there.
Darner declined to explain why his tenure as head coach at Green Bay ended when he did not say he looked forward to his future at Ball State, that he was excited about the opportunity. that was given to him at BSU and that he couldn’t wait to get down to business. Why he was suddenly no longer part of Green Bay’s plans, after a school announcement in May 2020 that the two sides had decided to go their separate ways, will remain to some extent unclear. Darner had taken Green Bay to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and was fourth or better in the Horizon League regular season standings four out of five tries, after a successful run at Florida Southern College that included a National Division II title in the during the 2014-15 season.
What is clear is that Darner will be joining a program at Ball State that will attempt to reach their first NCAA tournament since 2000. What is clear is that Darner will be part of the attempt to remove BSU from a program. who has had success in the Mid-American Western Conference Division in recent years, but has struggled in the MAC tournament, to one who can cross the final hurdle. And what his influence might very well look like may be apparent offensively for the Cardinals.
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Darner’s offensive history with his teams was a major topic of conversation between him and Whitford during the interview process. Darner described himself as a movement type coach who is eager to learn something different, but also noted that he could help offensively that way and would build on the strengths of his athletes. It’s an aspect of the game that Darner hopes he can contribute a lot to, in addition to areas like recruiting and player relations.
Darner believes that last season BSU used his strengths, given the talent he had in his backcourt. He believed that when cardinals were healthy, “they were really, really good.” Again, given the regularity of his rotation at Florida Southern College when he won a national championship, he noted how difficult Ball State’s position was when he missed several key pieces.
In the past three seasons, BSU has been only twice in the top third of the MAC in terms of points scored per game, percentage of field goals, percentage of field goals at 3 points or percentage of free throws. This was in the 2018-19 season where he was second in field goal percentage, and in the 2020-21 season where he was fourth in 3 point field goal percentage.
“My teams have always scored the ball well, we played at a high speed, but I think there are some things that I can contribute and that I can help,” said Darner, who recently watched more basketball. professional with the NBA than him. in the past and learned from it. “I thought the stuff they ran last year was amazing, and hopefully I can just give an overview and help with that.”
Whitford, who said Darner filmed with him during the interview process to discuss ideas, added: “Linc, obviously, can coach both sides of the ball. He’s been a head coach for a long time. But his background in attack are excellent, so I was very curious to know more about his ideas. “
Darner doesn’t feel the level of concern some fans might be feeling regarding recent transfers like KJ Walton (Akron), Ishmael El-Amin (Rhode Island), Jarron Coleman (Missouri) and Zach Gunn (IUPUI), in more than another year without a place in the NCAA tournament. He remains confident in the program’s trajectory, given his thoughts on the return of the core group of guys and the transfers Ball State has brought – which includes guards Tyler Cochran and Demarius Jacobs, and forward Mickey. Pearson.
Of course, as Darner points out, the roles of those in that core group will have to “change” because of what the team lost in the 2020-21 season. When healthy, Walton, El-Amin and Coleman were the team’s most prominent goal scorers, meaning their starts left important vacancies that cannot be ignored. And in Darner’s eyes, it starts with forward Miryne Thomas and goalkeeper Luke Bumbalough, the two returning players with the most starts and points scored for BSU in the 2020-21 campaign.
And it doesn’t end with them.
“Guys are leaving, it’s a new group, new guys are coming, it’s their time, and I think what (Crenshaw) said is true,” Darner said, referring to a comment Matt Crenshaw did after he left to become the head coach of the IUPUI, when Crenshaw said Ball State players need to improve on what they have already done well. “I mean, they have to be great players now.”
Darner, who spent a few months coaching his son’s AAU team, also said, “We have eight weeks here to improve our team this summer and then see what happens. But I liked the group that I saw in the movie and I like the return of the group.
Darner is not sure if Whitford made a conscious effort to replace Crenshaw and Grunkemeyer with former head coaches. Whitford said that was not the case and that Darner and Billy Wright were the right candidates. Either way, Darner believes that he and Wright can add a lot to the staff at Whitford and that he and Wright are just happy to be coaching again.
Maybe Darner’s experience with the amount of transfer that happens at the Division II level can help as things change at the Division I level. Maybe there are other ways. which Darner as head coach will highlight in the responsibilities he assumes. But there is no doubt in Darner’s mind what it is at BSU to accomplish: help Ball State win.
It was Darner who contacted Whitford, who has yet to publicly announce who will be the team’s associate head coach, to be part of the BSU staff. It was Darner who was able to get an NBA coach at Stan Van Gundy, whose training time at the University of Wisconsin overlapped Whitford’s time there, call Whitford about Darner. Because while Darner was a coach in Florida, he got to know Van Gundy, who was in the NBA at the time with the Orlando Magic.
Darner did not hesitate to accept once the position was offered.
“I just want to come over there and I just want to do whatever I can to help Ball State win,” Darner said.
Darner added, “When something is taken away from you, sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss it. And I missed the game. I missed the camaraderie with the players and helping a player, a player who is going through tough times, put your arm around him and help him and try to show him, “This is the way you have to do things.” And, I mean, I missed it all.
Jordan Guskey covers Ball State High School and East Central Indiana at The Star Press. Contact him at 765-213-5813, [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.