"He's a star in the making, and I'm happy he's ours," Doherty says. "As we progress and grow and climb the ladder, he's going to be at the center of it all for us."

Led by McCoy and a roster that includes 10 freshmen or sophomores, SMU was led in scoring by a newcomer in 27 of 30 games this season, the highest percentage in the country. The Mustangs' scoring deficit dwindled from seven points to three, attendance continues to be up almost 60 percent from before Doherty's arrival and even SMU's losses were better, leading 31-3 Memphis with 14 minutes to play, losing on a 75-foot buzzer-beater at Marshall and forcing UT-El Paso into overtime on the road.

"We made strides this year," Doherty says. "All we were missing was some interior toughness, perimeter shooting and, the big one, experience."


The inside presence will be aided by the arrival of Doherty's top recruit, 6-foot-11-inch Nigerian-by-way-of-Maryland Julius Francis. (SMU's summer trek to Africa continues to pay dividends.) The outside shooting will improve organically. The experience will continue to be painful.

Considering how low SMU was—previous coach Jimmy Tubbs was fired for giving illegal gifts to players—and how the school's academic standards act, at times, like athletic handcuffs, nothing this side of a Ponzi scheme would catapult the Mustangs back to national prominence fast. But it appears the foundation is in place. The talent is arriving. The patience is thick.

"The next rung for us is to finish .500," Doherty says. "Small steps."

SMU basketball is growing. Last summer the team toured Africa. Last week, after their season-ending loss to Houston, Doherty delayed the flight back to Dallas to take his squad to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. And then there was the recent visit from the ex-prez.

The Mustangs know all about Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King and George W. Bush.

They just yet don't know a thing about winning.

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