GREENSBORO-North Carolina A&T has a new men's basketball coach who is an old friend. Well, actually he was a foe for 27 years. As A&T men's basketball coach Cy Alexander walked into Corbett Sports Center for his introductory press conference on Friday, it had to be a back to the future moment for him.
On the Corbett Sports Center floor is the name Don Corbett. Corbett is the legendary Aggies head men's basketball coach who led the Aggies to seven straight MEAC tournament titles starting in 1982. Above Alexander's head were the many banners representing a time when A&T dominated the MEAC in the 70's and 80's.
"There was a time when they used to call the MEAC tournament the Aggie Invitational," Alexander said to the delight of the audience assembled.
The irony of Alexander's comments and his presence at Corbett was he was a part of so many of the Aggie championships - as an opponent. Alexander spent 11 seasons at Howard as an assistant under A.B. Williamson, who was in attendance on Friday. After his time at Howard, Alexander took over the head coaching position at S.C. State in 1987.
For 12 of the Aggies' MEAC-leading 15 tournament championships, whether it be as an assistant or a head coach, Alexander was on the other side. Now, he is trying to return the Aggies to the very prominence that was the bane of his existence for so many years.
He even led the crowd in a chant of "Aggie Pride."
"I see Don Corbett as another mentor. Our goal is to get back to the point where folks in the MEAC hate us because we're always playing on Saturday," said Alexander about returning the Aggies to the MEAC tournament championship game, a place they haven't been since 1997.
Alexander's plan to get back to Saturday night is simple.
"We play hard, we play smart, we play together and you play with confidence," Alexander said. "If you do those things night in and night out for 40 minutes, I think we'll be satisfied with the outcome."
The great thing about Alexander is that while he did take a lot of abuse from the Aggies over the years, he dished out a lot of it as well. After going 2-6 against in the MEAC Tournament against A&T as an assistant at Howard, Alexander took over at S.C. State and won five MEAC titles after advancing to the title game seven times.
When he came into S.C. State, they had endured nine straight losing seasons. A&T's last winning season came during the 1996-97 season. But his rebuilding project at A&T is very different. Many of those losing seasons are due to the fact that the Aggies play numerous upper level Division I schools for financial reasons.
A&T routinely finished in the top 5 of the MEAC under previous head coach Jerry Eaves. But the MEAC tournament, once owned by the Aggies, became their Achilles' heel. They were 2-9 in the MEAC tournament with their biggest advancement being a semifinal appearance in 2007.
It is clear to anyone with a pulse, the Aggies want back what they believe is rightfully theirs. MEAC supremacy. Alexander's press conference was even held at Corbett to further point.
"As I look around the ceiling of Corbett arena, this hallowed ground, you'll notice a number of banners hanging from the ceiling" said A&T Director of Athletics Earl Hilton as he scanned the rafters with his eyes. "Our intention is we will continue to hang banners. We have been looking for a men's basketball coach for several weeks. We had a number of very qualified applicants. They were individuals with tremendous coaching expertise and success in a variety of places. But the gentleman to my left is the one I feel is positioned and prepared - poised - to bring us back to a position of dominance in the MEAC and beyond."
Therefore, in an arena where he was the enemy for 27 straight seasons, the 58-year-old Alexander must return A&T to the stature he once was responsible for stopping. He will return seven seniors in 2012-13. There are a few things he will try to get those seniors to accomplish.
"We averaged 69 points per game," said Alexander. "Our opponents averaged 70 points per game. That's how close were from being a 7-9 team (in the conference) versus a 12-4 team. One point. There are three things we've got to correct. One, we have to make our assists-to-turnover ratio be a positive.
"Second, we need to rebound the basketball," Alexander continued as he explained that the Aggies lost the rebounding battle by an average of 40-34 during the 2011-12 season. "Thirdly, we shot 65 percent from the free throw line. If you're in a close basketball game and you're shooting 65 percent from the free throw line, the likelihood is that you're not going to win the game."
And winning games is what Alexander came back to Corbett to do...as a friend.