USD Basketball Tabs Sam Scholl as New Head Coach

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It’s been a decade since the University of San Diego last made an impact in March, upsetting a fourth-seeded Connecticut squad in overtime.

On the same day that the NCAA crowned its champion in hot-shooting juggernaut Villanova, the University of San Diego formally announced the man they hope can lead them back to the madness of March.

After watching acting head coach Sam Scholl lead the Toreros to the quarterfinals of the Postseason Tournament in the wake of head coach Lamont Smith’s resignation, athletic director Bill McGillis decided to make Scholl’s position permanent, naming him the 13th head coach in program history.

In a statement, McGillis expressed his excitement about keeping Scholl on board in a weightier capacity.

“Coach Scholl embodies everything we are looking for in a head coach — tremendous character, integrity and values that match USD; the expertise and experience necessary to teach the game, and compete, at a championship level against some of the nation’s very best coaches; and a true servant-leadership heart that will positively impact the student-athletes in our program for the rest of their lives,” McGillis said. “I believe Coach Scholl, and the other members of our coaching staff, will take this talented roster of outstanding young men and win at a very high level next season, while also cementing a strong foundation for long-term success.”

Scholl, like Smith before him, is a USD alum with a deep history on the sidelines of mid-major programs. After playing two seasons at USD and graduating with a degree in Sociology in 2001, Scholl spent seven seasons as a Toreros assistant under head coach Brad Holland. That tenure included a 2002-03 West Coast Conference title and a trip to the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament.

After leaving Alcalá Park, Scholl would go on to spend eight seasons as a member of the staff at Santa Clara before returning as a member of Lamont Smith’s staff for the 2015-16 season. Those 18 years of combined coaching experience in the WCC make Scholl one of the conference leaders in sideline service time, ranking behind only Gonzaga’s Mark Few (29 years), St. Mary’s Randy Bennett (29 years), and San Francisco’s Kyle Smith (19 years).

That background allows Scholl to bring an inordinate amount of experience to his first head coaching job, and should allow for the Toreros to develop a stronger regional recruiting presence to build out their roster. In his first go-around at USD, he played a role in recruiting four first-team all-WCC performers and a pair of WCC All-Freshman Team nominations.

Credit: USD Athletics

“No one is more prepared to be the next Head Men’s Basketball Coach at USD than Sam Scholl,” former mentor Brad Holland said in a statement after the news broke. “His extensive experience in the West Coast Conference as an assistant coach along with the ability to recruit, communicate and teach will be invaluable to the University.”

Furthermore, by turning down a chance at a higher-profile hire (former Grizzlies head coach and USD alum David Fizdale’s name came up as pricier options during the hiring process), the program allows for the continued work of not only Scholl, but likely fellow Torero assistants Chris Gerlufsen and Terrence Rencher as well. This should prevent the temptation of transferring from wreaking havoc on the current roster, which would break down much of the progress the program has made of late.

That chance at continuity for a budding basketball program is likely to have been one of the most significant factors in Scholl’s hiring. Outside of senior forward Cameron Neubauer, the Toreros will return every member of a team that went 20-14 in its most recent campaign. Those returnees include All-WCC selections in forward Isaiah Pineiro (15.7 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game) and point guard Isaiah Wright (13.4 points per game, 5.3 assists per game).

Between those two, the continued contributions of juniors Olin Carter III (12.4 points per game) and Tyler Williams (39.3 percent shooting from deep), and the hopeful impact of developing bigs like Yauhen Massalski (44 blocks) and seven-footer Andrew Ferguson, the Toreros were already expected to be in the WCC title conversation next season. The only potential wrench in that plan was a poor hire on the sidelines.

Fortunately, it appears that such a misstep has been avoided, with Scholl providing the experience, character, and continuity that will likely make this a slam-dunk hire for the Toreros.

“Sam will build on the great growth of the program and continue to recruit and develop the highest-quality student athlete,” David Fizdale said of the hire. “As an alum, I’m pumped for the future!”

Fizdale’s statement speaks as loudly as any. For a program whose stock is rising as quickly as any mid-major’s in the nation, the expected result of Scholl’s hire is ideal: full speed ahead.

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