Seahawks adjusting in first season under new coach McGrath

After learning under the wing of Roy Williams, UNCW’s new bench boss is navigating through a 2-7 start to the season

Former UNC assistant C. B. McGrath is now in his first season ac coach at UNCW. (Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports)

Devonate Cacok was boxed out as a rebound came off the rim in last Wednesday’s game at UNC Greensboro, but he went for the ball anyway. In doing so, he knocked UNCG’s James Dickey to the floor to earn a Flagrant 1 foul.

A few minutes later, with the score hopelessly out of reach, the UNC Wilmington star showed his frustration again as he pounded his fist on the court after being called for his fifth and final foul of the night.

It’s been that kind of season so far for the Seahawks.

At 2-7 with six straight defeats to begin new coach C.B. McGrath’s tenure, UNCW has already surpassed its loss total from all of last season under Kevin Keatts.

“Losing in any situation in frustrating, but I just have to keep my frustration to myself,” said Cacock, an undersized junior center who leads the team in scoring and rebounding. “Going to a new coach that’s completely different is something you’re going to have to get used to. I feel like it’s going to take time to adjust.”

The Seahawks figured to take a step back this season after Keatts left for NC State and four of the five starters that helped the team earn its second straight Colonial Athletic Association title and NCAA tournament appearance either graduated or transferred.

Because of that turnover, McGrath understood that the transition to his first head coaching assignment probably wouldn’t be an entirely smooth one.

That hasn’t made the situation any easier for either the former North Carolina assistant or his players, who despite their unsightly record have been competitive in all but two of their losses thus far — including a 71-58 setback to UNCG in which they led by as many as nine before running out of gas in the second half.

“I don’t know if I can put a progression timetable on it, (but) we are making progress,” McGrath said. “They are coachable. We’re trying to put things in on a daily basis, because it takes a long time to get everything in when it’s the first time they’ve ever learned it.

“In three years, I won’t have to keep putting stuff in because there will be some holdovers and they will be used to what we’re trying to do. It is going to take time. It’s a process.”

That process has been made a little more difficult by the disparity in styles between the one McGrath and his staff are trying to implement and the one favored by the previous regime.

Keatts, who learned at the side of former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, favored a frantic up-tempo attack and built a small, quick lineup that pressed all over the floor and went to the basket at every opportunity.

While McGrath also likes his team to play at a fast pace, his is more of an inside-out philosophy — an approach that closely resembles that of his mentor, Roy Williams.

“I feel like it does have similarities,” Cacock said. “We’re trying to play fast, but even though we’re playing a different style we’re capable of winning. We just have to capitalize on what we do and just play defense.”

Besides Cacock, senior point guard Jordon Talley, senior forward Marcus Bryan and sophomore shooting guard Jaylen Fornes are the only returning players that saw significant playing time last season.

With so many new players being worked into a new system by a new coach, communication has naturally been a problem during the early going. There were several times during the UNCG game in which the players on the court didn’t hear or didn’t follow their coach’s directions.

That’s a situation redshirt sophomore guard Ty Taylor said needs to be addressed sooner rather than later with time running out before the start of the Seahawks’ conference schedule.

“You just have to learn on the fly,” said the Wichita State transfer, who is playing for his third staff in as many years. “We have great coaches and they put us in a position to win. As players we just have to go out there and execute.”

Despite the less than memorable start, McGrath said he’s enjoying the opportunity to finally run a program of his own after spending the past 23 years learning from one of the best in his profession either as a player or an assistant.

“You get all the emotions you had when you were an assistant coach, it’s just different frustrations, different pressures,” McGrath said. “I’m getting adjusted to it. I’m learning along the way, like anybody would.

“Obviously losing is not fun. Being (2-7) is not what any of us wanted to be. Nobody is going to come walking through that door to add to our roster, so it’s going to be us. We’ve got to figure it out each and every day, keep getting better and keep making progress.”