Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Dominique Martinez-Powell | dmartinez_powell.photography
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It’s the Valley, Scott: Nagy introduced as Saluki head coach

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Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto
Basketball head coach Scott Nagy (middle) is presented a Saluki jersey by Athletic Director Tim Leonard (right) and Chancellor Austin Lane (left) in an introduction event March 29, 2024 at Charles Helleny Pavilion in Carbondale, Illinois.

As SIU athletic director Tim Leonard and Chancellor Austin Lane presented new men’s basketball head coach Scott Nagy with a Saluki jersey below a maroon and white balloon arch, confetti rained down with all of the pomp and circumstance of a pep rally.

The Charles Helleny Pavilion became home of a celebration for the 15th head coach in program history. After being announced as such on Thursday afternoon, Nagy was introduced to the public at an event on Friday attended by scores of SIU fans, followed by a media press conference.

Based on Nagy’s accolades in three decades as a college basketball coach, Saluki fans have every reason to be excited. His five total NCAA tournament appearances and three NIT bids across two teams since moving up to Division I in 2004 gives a fanbase that hasn’t seen a postseason run since the late 2000’s more than a bit of optimism.

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Nagy said that in meetings with Leonard, Lane and former interim AD Matt Kupec, he saw that same passion that is shared throughout the region.

“Talking with them, seeing the commitment that they had to men’s basketball, and how badly that they want to win, and what they want to do. That was important to me,” Nagy said.

Newly hired Scott Nagy addresses the media in a press conference following his introduction to the public March 29, 2024 at Banterra Center in Carbondale, Illinois. (Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto)

Nagy returns to the state of Illinois, where he grew up in Champaign. His wife Jamie is a native of Decatur. His dad was a longtime assistant at the University of Illinois, where Nagy would get his start as a graduate assistant. He said he’s been trying to get back to the state ever since he left.

“We’re excited about it,” Nagy said. “I have such a good base here, really because of what Coach [Lou] Henson and Jimmy Collins and my dad did, and the relationships they’ve built.”

Nagy leaves Wright State after eight seasons with the Raiders. He had previously coached at South Dakota State since 1995. Having lived in Dayton, Ohio, for so long, 

“Jamie and I knew that, in order for us to leave Wright State and leave Dayton, it was gonna take a very special place,” Nagy said. “All of our family lives there, our grandkids live there, and it was gonna be hard to pull us away from that. It’s been an emotional three days, and it’s hard. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good.”

His hiring was the result of a three-week search starting with the departure of Bryan Mullins on March 8. Since then, Leonard has been looking for a coach with a history of winning, making the NCAA tournament and earning conference championships, in an effort to bring that same success to Carbondale.

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“I love the tradition, I love the history about SIU. That’s what makes this place special,” Leonard said. “But I want to live in some history, not just read about the history.”

The search lasted nearly the entire month of March, but Nagy was only part of the process as a candidate for less than a week. Leonard said he had originally reached out to Nagy over the weekend of March 23 in order to get information on two other candidates for the position.

“The whole time I’m talking to him, I’m like, ‘wait a minute.’ I did all this research, had all these coaches, I’m like, ‘why am I not talking to this guy?’” Leonard said.

Leonard later elaborated that while Nagy did not explicitly express interest, he seemed like a better fit for the role than Leonard’s previous candidates.

“I know this sounds crazy, because he didn’t say anything, but I just kinda sensed in his voice, like, ‘why ain’t you talking to me?’” Leonard recalled.

According to Leonard, Nagy was first discussed as a candidate on March 26, and two days later was announced to be the hire.

“It all happened so quick, because I was talking to him about two other guys as references,” Leonard said. “I couldn’t be happier with where we landed.”

In terms of what Saluki fans can expect on the court, Nagy discussed his team’s playstyle, which includes a highly efficient offense. In 2023-24, Wright State averaged around 85 points per game, and led the country in field goal percentage.

He also noted an emphasis on play around the basket, describing his ideal recruits as “sixes who want to be fives.”

“I love big guys who want to be big guys,” Nagy said. “We like guys that want to catch the ball in there and get to the free throw line, and are skilled and can finish around the basket. We try to build our offense from the inside out.”

While Wright State has shown proficiency on the offensive side of the ball, Nagy said he mainly focuses on defense and rebounding in practice.

“Those are the two most important things to me…” Nagy said. “Defense, particularly on the road, wins. When you have tough shooting nights, defense wins. It can be consistent; offense can’t be.”

Nagy noted that a proficient offense makes the play style an easy sell to recruits, who may find more enjoyment playing at a high pace.

“Kids like that,” Nagy said. “I don’t enjoy watching games that are in the 50’s, and young men don’t like playing in games that are in the 50’s. Defense still has to be the most important thing, but it’s not hard to sell in terms of the offense.”

Basketball head coach Scott Nagy (middle) is presented a Saluki jersey by Athletic Director Tim Leonard (right) and Chancellor Austin Lane (left) in an introduction event March 29, 2024 at Charles Helleny Pavilion in Carbondale, Illinois. (Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto)

Entering a Southern Illinois program that has all but two remaining players currently in the transfer portal, Nagy will face a situation of selling his vision to both potentially returning Salukis as well as those who would join the team for next season from high school or the transfer portal.

Nagy said he will be meeting with last year’s Saluki team on Tuesday to discuss the future, as well as setting up individual meetings with specific players. As of March 29, only Troy D’Amico has committed to a new team, joining former head coach Mullins at DePaul.

“There still may be some of those guys that want to come back here, and so we’ve got to convince them of that,” Nagy said. “We’ve got to give them some time to figure that out, because their world’s been upside down by losing their coach and somebody they trust in, so we have to earn that trust, and it’s hard to do in a short period of time.”

Nagy compared the situation to when he moved from South Dakota State to Wright State in 2016. Though he acknowledged that not as much of the team was in a position to leave that season with stricter transfer rules, he also noted that entering the transfer portal is not a guarantee that players will leave.

“We know many of them are in the portal, and we’ll give them that opportunity, but my guess is we can convince some of them to stay, if we can talk about how we play, what our plans are for them,” Nagy said. “And from there, we’ve got to figure out who we need.”

While some SIU players may stick around, Saluki fans shouldn’t expect many Wright State players to be jumping ship to follow their now former head coach. The Raiders recently promoted associate head coach Clint Sargent as Nagy’s replacement, and Nagy said he would “work very hard to avoid trying to take any players from there.”

“I’m not wanting to hurt Clint and burn bridges back that way,” Nagy said. “I think that the players of Wright State were fairly upset that I was involved in something, because we’re always talking to them when we recruit them about being here and staying here and being loyal, and then all of a sudden, look what Coach does.”

In terms of recruiting, Nagy has what some might call an old-school mindset in terms of NIL and the transfer portal. While acknowledging the monetary benefits for players to transfer to larger schools with more NIL opportunities, Nagy wants college basketball to be more “relational” than “transactional.”

“You just watched Marcus Domask last night,” Nagy said. “You would like to see him finish here, but you also can understand, that amount of money, why a young man would go. It’s hard to fault them for that. It’s a very difficult thing. I still want it to be relational. I want guys to be loyal.”

Instead of focusing on drawing recruits from other schools as has been commonplace in college basketball at the Division I level, Nagy’s approach focuses more on bringing in recruits from high school and focusing efforts on retaining them throughout their four years.

“The way we still want to build this and the way NIL was meant to be was that it was meant to help you keep the players that you have there and not go out and try to recruit players by paying them a bunch of money,” Nagy said. “And so that’s the way we’ll want to build it, is to recruit good high school players, develop them in our system, and do the very best we can to keep them. If we’ll be able to, I don’t know. If they’re so good that schools like Illinois want them, then we’re doing a pretty good job too, and so that’ll help us recruit the next young man.”

With a 17-year drought looming larger and larger over the Southern Illinois program with every passing year, Nagy feels the pressure of trying to take the Salukis where his two predecessors hadn’t.

If he can light the same spark in Carbondale that he has at his two prior jobs, SIU fans might need to be more concerned about the pressure to maintain success.

“I heard somebody say it the other day… ‘pressure is privilege,’” Nagy said. “We want to get to that point where people expect us to be good and be able to deal with that pressure.”

Stay tuned to the Daily Egyptian for continuing coverage of the 2024 SIU men’s basketball offseason, which can be found in the tab at the top of the website.

Managing editor Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrandynWilcoxen. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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