Well, no longer.
With a 70-57 win over Northeastern on Monday night, JMU won its second-ever Colonial Athletic Association championship and secured its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1994 — and Brady hopes it changes the mood of a program that’s had little success since.
“It has a monumental impact on any program that’s able to get to this point,” said Brady, in his fifth season coaching JMU. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment for anybody to win the [conference] tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament.
“As a coach, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve been a part of some terrific opportunities and some great teams. But what this can do for a program is just set the bar so high that you continually try to find guys that can follow in those footsteps.”
JMU won the 1994 tournament on a dramatic, last-second 3-pointer by Kent Culuko to beat Old Dominion 77-76. The Dukes returned to the title game the next season but lost to ODU, 80-75.
A drought started after that.
From 1996 to 2012, JMU — which made three straight NCAA appearances from 1981 to 1983 — had just five winning seasons and three of those came under Brady, who, despite that, entered this season in a tenuous position.
He was in the last year of his contract and had no guarantee of a new deal after a tenure defined by inconsistency, injuries — he pointed out after Monday’s game that for five years, he’s “brought a different team to Richmond” — and a breach-of-contract lawsuit with his former employer, Marist, where he was the head coach for four seasons from 2004 to 2008.
Now, all that appears behind him. Brady will almost certainly get a new contract and, along with it, a chance to build on the apparent momentum generated by Madison’s first CAA championship/NCAA berth in 19 years, albeit with an easier path. There were only seven teams in the tournament this season — down from 12 — and conference power VCU is now in the Atlantic 10.
“As coaches, we do a lot of driving,” said Brady, referring to recruiting trips. “I drove last week to Cleveland and back to see a kid, so that’s 12 hours in a car. I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t cross my mind. But the fact of the matter is every year that I’ve been a head coach ...my mantra has been to do whatever it takes to try and win a championship.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t think this team was the closest of the teams that I’ve had in my other eight years [to winning a title], but you saw tonight what it’s becoming. That’s the reason why you coach: to see how you develop guys individually, see what you can do as a team. This team is playing as well as any team I’ve been around.”
And people may be starting to notice.
JMU averaged 3,334 fans per home game at the Convocation Center, but Monday’s championship game against Boston-based Northeastern drew 6,038 to the 11,992-seat Coliseum — and almost all of them were pro-Madison.
The Dukes also drew more students Monday night than they did for home games this season.
JMU brought eight buses that assistant director of athletic ticketing Mike Hughes said carried about 300 students combined. He said Madison sold about 700 student walk-up tickets for a total of approximately 1,000 students.
JMU averaged about 800 students per home game this season, Hughes said.
“That’s a great feeling, just knowing that my freshman year there were maybe 2,000 people in the stands,” said Devon Moore, the Dukes’ point guard and a fifth-year senior. “And I don’t know how many was in the stands tonight, but just to see who’s in there tonight, you can just tell what this program means to this community and then just how much the community means to us. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
So does this revive JMU’s basketball program?
“I definitely think that era’s over where the Convo’s not going to be packed for big games,” Moore said.
Contact Matt Stoss at 574-6284 or email@example.com