Back in March, Davidson went to Greenville, South Carolina, for the NCAA Tournament, and, as Davidson is prone to do in March, the Wildcats put a scare into a perennial power.
Davidson led Michigan State late in the second half before falling to the Spartans by one point.
“We got into the center of the ring and we fought,” coach Bob McKillop said afterward. “We got knocked down a few times. We stayed in the center ring and we kept fighting. We just ran out of time.”
He then got a bit philosophical, adding, “What a joy it’s been to coach them this year. They have done everything possible to make this a memory for a lifetime. They’ve left me with a treasure chest filled with memories.”
That treasure chest closed last week as McKillop announced his retirement after 33 years on the Davidson bench. Months after Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski coached his final game and a year after UNC’s Roy Williams hung up his whistle, McKillop joined his fellow legends in retirement, leaving a vast experience void in the state of North Carolina.
“You might say, ‘Well, are you leaving because of the landscape of college basketball? Are you leaving because other guys have retired?’” McKillop said. “Let me tell you: They don’t make my decisions. … There are three things that make my decisions: faith, family and Davidson College. And this is best for faith, this is best for family, and more importantly, this is best for Davidson College.”
McKillop finished with 634 career wins, 11 conference coach of the year awards and one national honor. He had 17 seasons with 20 wins and 19 trips to the postseason, including 10 NCAA Tournament berths. He, and Davidson, are best known for their 2008 run. Led by Stephen Curry, the Wildcats upset Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before falling to Kansas by two with a Final Four berth on the line.
Curry reached out to his college coach on Twitter, a day after he added an NBA Finals MVP honor to his resume, saying “Love you Coach! Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, my family, Davidson and every person you’ve impacted along the way.”
Curry’s presence was felt as McKillop said his final farewells to Davidson. The announcement came shortly after the school released plans to retire Curry’s number later this year — the first number retired by the Davidson program. It also came the day after Curry and his Golden State Warriors won their fourth NBA title.
As McKillop fought back tears during his retirement announcement, he said, “Everything happens for a reason. Did you see Steph after the game last night? He was crying, crying, tears. I thought that was a message to me: It’s OK to cry today.
“We are so blessed and graced to have had (Curry’s) presence here, and we still have his fingerprints all over us,” McKillop added. “We are very fortunate.”
Davidson stayed in the family — both the Wildcat and the McKillop families — to replace the 71-year-old McKillop. His son Matt will take over as head coach.
McKillop played for his father at Davidson from 2002 to 2006, starting 98 of the 117 games he played. He remains in the school’s top 10 in career 3-pointers made and 3-point accuracy. As a junior, he was part of an undefeated Southern Conference championship team, and the Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament in his senior year.
McKillop was an assistant at Emory University before joining his father’s staff in 2008. He has served as associate head coach since the 2016-17 season. Between his time as a player and an assistant, the younger McKillop was by his father’s side for 371 of Bob’s 634 career wins, or 59%.
Matt McKillop will inherit a team that returns two starters — senior Foster Loyer, who led Davidson in scoring and assists, as well as redshirt junior Sam Mennenga.
The Wildcats return two other players who averaged at least double-digits in minutes played. Davidson also adds three freshmen, a redshirt freshman and two transfers.
Always known for recruiting players from around the globe, McKillop leaves a roster that includes players from Iceland, Italy, New Zealand and Switzerland. His final team included players from South Korea, Denmark, England and Austria as well.
“This program is in a bright place right now,” Bob McKillop said. “The current roster we have is exhilarated and energized and inspired to take the next step in our journey forward.”
For the first time since 1989, however, the journey will begin without Bob McKillop at the helm.