After you build a team into becoming the Cinderella of the NCAA tournament in just one year with a men's basketball program, you can bet other universities are going to be coming after you.
That was the case for Stephen F. Austin head basketball coach Brad Underwood. In one season with the Lumberjacks, he grabbed national attention and had he left, there's no telling what would have happened this season.
“That's humbling when other people want to talk to you,” said Underwood. “Sometimes you don't mess with happy and that's the point I was at last year. At the end of the day it was a pretty easy decision.”
That's how close the Lumberjacks were to losing Underwood. Several universities sought out the first-year head coach as a serious candidate to run their basketball programs. The heaviest pulls were from Mid-Majors Marshall and Southern Mississippi.
“The relationships with the players, that means everything to me,” said Underwood. “Then you know you got five, six other guys coming into the program that you have to build that relationship with, and it was a very close group. To have the opportunity to get to coach these guys, I'm the fortunate one.”
The players had just lost Danny Kasper the year before to Texas State, and having to cope with playing for a new face after a historic season, was something worth avoiding at all costs.
“It would have been our second year to lose a coach so we were just in awe, and we were a little nervous about the whole situation,” said junior Trey Pinkney.
“We had a team meeting and coach came in and told us about the schools that were offering him. He told us he wanted to stay here and build a dynasty so we were ecstatic. It was a great feeling,” said senior Jacob Parker.
From there, the rest is history.
Underwood has become the winningest second year coach in NCAA Division 1 history, advanced in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, and helped clinch SFA's third consecutive Southland Conference title. They were all milestones the team imagines would have been hard to achieve without Underwood's leadership.
“I think it would have been very difficult for sure. He just brings so much to the table and how we work every day is because of him and because of what he brings, his energy, and intensity. So no, I think it would be difficult to do because he's a major piece of our program,” said junior Thomas Walkup.
The success for the Lumberjacks hasn't ceased. If anything, it's only grown. With more championships comes more attention. Attention that could stray Underwood away from Nacogdoches.
“I haven't thought about it. I really don't. You get asked that on different occasions. I've said it many times, people are important and relationships,” said Underwood. “I'm a relationship guy and I love it here. The town, the people, I'm trying to do everything I can do to win a game on Friday night. I'm that simple and if people don't believe me that's on them.”
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