By John Fanta
Losing your winningest head coach in program history is rough. That was the story for Xavier men’s basketball just under two weeks ago. Not only did the Musketeers see Chris Mack take another job, but the guy who powered the Musketeers to four Sweet 16 appearances, an Elite Eight, and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year was just taking a 90-minute drive down the road to Louisville.
It left Musketeer fans in a concerning state. The one security blanket, though, was that Xavier Director of Athletics Greg Christopher was prepared for this. In fact, he even said that the Musketeers had prepared for a coaching transition long before it became official.
The change at the top – in all reality – is as seamless as one could ask for, and it goes beyond the fact that Xavier went from within. Travis Steele knew the program better than any candidate, but his immediate acknowledgement of the Musketeers’ next steps to ascend Xavier really stands out.
His opening remarks weren’t long, but rather bold. After bringing up the program’s rich success of its coaches, ranging from Mack to Sean Miller to Thad Matta and so on, Steele was clear: “It’s the elephant in the room,” talking of his expectations, “going to where Xavier has never gone before (a Final Four).”
It’s no question the Musketeers are one of the most consistent teams in college basketball. Going to 12 out of the last 13 tournaments speaks for itself. But continuing that is a given. Steele’s directness of the goal of making it to the best weekend in college hoops should have Xavier Nation excited.
In his first week on the job, Steele’s been fast and furious. The Musketeers head coach landed a grad transfer commitment from Columbia’s Kyle Castlin, who averaged 10.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game as a senior for the Lions.
This comes after Steele bolstered a frontcourt that loses Sean O’Mara and Kerem Kanter, reeling in Division II star center Zach Hankins from national champion Ferris State.
On Monday, Steele announced his first hiring with Georgia’s Jonas Hayes. The now-former UGA assistant was expected to stay and serve on Tom Crean’s staff, but is instead venturing off to Cincinnati.
While there’s a long offseason ahead and the Steele Era is just one week old at Xavier, the way the Musketeers’ new leader has jumped into the job leaves no reason to believe that the X-Men won’t continue to build. That’s why there’s cause for positivity in Norwood.
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