Between His Rock and a Hard Place

Yeah, we were smiling before the season too. Then Matt Doherty rolled out the rock, and that was that.

In the middle of his desk at Moody Coliseum, SMU basketball coach Matt Doherty displays a large cinder block inscribed with "RTC" and signed by every member of his team and staff. "Respect, trust and commitment," he says. "It's a contract I ask everyone to sign. You go through years like this, and those core values get tested."

I'll train my high-powered cynicsm directly on Doherty in this week's paper version of Unfair Park. But, for now, let's talk positive about SMU basketball. You know the team, the one whose season will end with a losing record in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament tomorrow afternoon in Memphis. The one that's been so bad you coulda sworn it got the death penalty along with football back in the '80s. The one that's losing four of its top six scorers to graduation, including All-CUSA forward Ike Ofoegbu. How's that positivity coming along?

Hmm. OK.

Well, Doherty's first recruiting class doesn't look half bad. Hoop Scoop ranks SMU's haul 25th in the nation, which is pretty impressive considering they haven't been ranked since the '80s glory days of Carl Wright. Again, however, the Mustangs failed to land a star from Dallas. Yep, only one Division I university in Dallas, and it never manages to sign a player from its own city.

It's actually just the continuation of a troubling trend that hasn't seen the Ponies nab a Dallasite since Lincoln's Bryan Hopkins in '02. Former coach Jimmy Tubbs, who won a state title at Kimball High School, promised to own Dallas, but in his two years he failed to sign a local kid. So when Tubbs was fired a year ago, it was strange that several Dallas Independent School District coaches spoke out, promising to freeze out SMU. From what, exactly?

Enter Doherty, who immediately met with minority coaches and leaders in Oak Cliff and mended the fence.

"I don't know if it's totally repaired, because I'm not privy to how it was broken," Doherty says of SMU's relationship with Dallas high schools. "The problems weren't with me, more at the way the school handled the former coach. But I've gone out of my way to reach out to some of those folks, and I think we're fine."

Doherty says that DISD assistant athletic director Goree Johnson, the loudest voice criticizing Tubbs' dismissal and a supporter of Rob Evans getting the job last spring, apologized to him in front of other coaches, ending the emotional gathering with a long hug. "In my mind that was the end of it," says Doherty. "Obviously this area is crucial to what we're going to do. We want to recruit Dallas and build out." Pony pride: a work in progress. --Richie Whitt

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky