PORT ARTHUR —
Lamar University’s basketball coaching vacancy has attracted several interesting names, including the sons of two famous college head coaches, the point guard who led the Cardinals to the Sweet 16, a former LU head coach and the rising star at Lamar State College-Port Arthur.
Although there has been no official confirmation from Lamar, reliable Port Arthur News sources indicate former Texas Tech head coach Pat Knight, son of Bobby Knight, and former Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton, son of Eddie Sutton, are among those expressing an interest in the job.
Also pursing the position which opened with Steve Roccaforte’s dismissal last week are former Cardinal star Alvin Brooks, now the associate head coach at the University of Houston, former LU head coach Tom Abatemarco, now an assistant at Colorado, and Lamar State College-Port Arthur head coach Matt Cross, who is fresh from taking the Seahawks to the National Junior College tournament.
Two other JC coaches — Steve Green and Don (Bubba) Skelton — both of them former Lamar assistants, are also believed to have thrown their hat in the ring.
Green, who was on Pat Foster’s staff at Lamar, directed South Plains JC to a national championship in 2007-08. Green has been at South Plains 11 seasons and won over 250 games. Prior to South Plains, he was highly successful at two other JC stops — Howard College and Midland College.
Skelton left Northwest Mississippi JC to join Roccaforte’s staff for the 2006-07 season, and was instrumental in bringing in Mississippi JC stars Lamar Sanders, Darren Hopkins and Justin Nabors. He returned to the Mississippi JC ranks at Jones Country Junior College for the 2008-09 season and promptly led the Bobcats to a 24-5 record and their first MACJC state championship in over 60 years.
Another Division 1 assistant seeking the job is Memphis’ Glenn Cyprien who was an assistant on Mike Newell’s staff at Lamar in the 1990-91 season. He was with Billy Gillispie at Kentucky from 2007 to 2009, worked under Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State from 2000-04 and has also made stops at Arkansas and UNLV.
Knight, meanwhile, is easily the most easily recognizable name on the list. He was recently fired at Texas Tech after going 50-61 in three plus seasons, after succeeding his father with the Red Raiders. His Tech teams were only 16-42 against Big 12 foes. One of Tech’s losses was 85-79 to Roccaforte’s Cardinals on Dec. 13, 2008 at the Montagne Center.
Sutton would probably be considered the longest shot among any of those interested. He resigned under pressure after leading Oklahoma State to a 39-29 record in two full seasons and has since had legal problems involving prescription pain killers. He’s currently an unpaid advisor to his brother Scott Sutton, the head coach at Oral Roberts.
Abatemarco may be the most surprising candidate. He left Lamar for Drake, following a 20-11 1987-88 season that was the last time a Cardinal team has won 20 games. An assistant on the late Jim Valvano’s staff when North Carolina State beat Houston for the 1983 NCAA championship, he said some things while at Lamar that rubbed Beaumonters the wrong way.
In the years since he left LU, Abatemarco has been a college head coach at Drake and Sacramento State, made two stops at Colorado, served as an assistant at Utah and Rutgers and spent six years on the staff of a successful WNBA team in Sacramento. Long known as an elite recruiter, he’s being supported for the Lamar job by University of Texas coach Rick Barnes.
If there’s a Cardinals fan favorite for the job, it’s probably Brooks. Tubbs’ point guard on the Cardinals 1980 Sweet 16 team, and one of the mainstays on Pat Foster’s 25-5 team the following year, Brooks had five-years of heading coaching experience after succeeding Foster at the University of Houston. His Cougar teams would go 54-84 and Alvin later admitted he really wasn’t ready for a head coaching job at that level.
Since then, he spent two years under James Dickey at Texas Tech, three years at North Texas, a year under Billy Gillispie at UTEP, followed by four years with Gillispie at Texas A&M. He was Gillispie’s Director of Basketball Operations at Kentucky from 2007-09, then returned to Houston this past season under Dickey.
Perhaps the dark horse in the field is LSC-PA whiz kid Cross, whose two-year record with the fledgling program is 46-21. Not only did Cross, who will be 28 next month, do the unbelievable with the Seahawks by winning one of the America’s toughest JC leagues, and take them to the national tourney, he won big at two other off-the-radar schools before coming to Port Arthur.
Cross captured a small college national championship at Talladega College, in the independent NAIA school’s first season of fielding a program. Along the way, Talladega beat five Division 1 schools. Prior to that, Cross led Texas College in Tyler to its first ever Red River Athletic Conference championship and a 21-13 record a year after it won only six games.
Lamar AD Larry Tidwell, who is heading up the search, is expected to narrow the field to five finalists and bring them to Beaumont for interviews. It is expected a new coach will be named shortly after the NCAA championship game April 4 in Houston.
The News was unable to reach Tidwell for comment in this story.