Wright State basketball: Nagy not accustomed to so-so seasons

FAIRBORN — Wright State coach Scott Nagy is always drained at the end of a season, having been toiling since last summer to squeeze the most out of his players while also trying to excel in the other duties that come with running a program.

But 2022-23 took more out of him than most seasons — mostly because the Raiders never really found their footing while finishing 18-15.

“I’m tired and disappointed,” Nagy said the day after a one-sided loss at Milwaukee in the Horizon League quarterfinals. “I’m not disappointed in the players, but disappointed in mostly our inconsistency.

“Thinking it through, if winning 18 games is having a bad year, we’re probably in the right spot. But it’s been hard for me to think that way. It’s just been a long time since I had a season like this.”

The Raiders had won either the regular-season or league tourney title the last five years, and it’s the first full season in Nagy’s seven years that they didn’t win at least 20 games (they went 18-6 in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21).

The only comparable stretch at Wright State was Brad Brownell’s four years from 2006-10, which included four 20-win seasons, a regular-season co-championship and one tourney title.

“There’s so many areas where I need to grow — even after 28 years,” said Nagy, who spent 21 years as South Dakota State’s coach, earning three NCAA bids in his last five years. “That’s probably the hardest part for me to believe.

“I think some of our guys would say they didn’t have the season they wanted to. And that’s frustrating for me as a coach because I think, ‘What could we have done to help them have a better year?””

The player who had fans most befuddled was Amari Davis. The 6-foot-2 guard from Trotwood arrived with much fanfare after starring at Green Bay and then finishing as Missouri’s third-leading scoring last season.

But after being named preseason second-team all-league, he averaged 8.5 points while shooting 43.4% and going only 1 of 14 on 3′s.

He actually averaged more points for an SEC team than he did against Horizon League competition: 9.0 vs. 6.8.

“He and I talked about it a little bit (Thursday night), and I think having another year with us will benefit him hugely,” Nagy said.

“It’s hard because, I would say in basketball, he’s never struggled like that. And once you get going in that direction, it’s hard to play with the confidence you once did.”

After being a starter all season, Davis came off the bench his last 11 games. He scored more than six points just once and never played more than 19 minutes.

“The thing I like about him is there’s no bitterness, which I’m very thankful for. I think it’d be easy to do that — particularly with his situation and the expectations when he came back,” Nagy said.

“That says a lot about him, and it’ll allow him to make bigger jumps. If you’re carrying around all that stuff, it won’t allow you to make the jumps you’re capable of making.”

Davis isn’t the only Raider who had his issues. Even Trey Calvin, as brilliant as he was the second half of the season, spent some time in the Nagy doghouse while learning to apply himself defensively and in practice.

One team-wide area that sorely needs to get better is rebounding.

“Particularly late, we were really — I want to be careful about the words I use — we weren’t a very good rebounding team. And that’s an area where we’ve been pretty dominant,” Nagy said.

They were bludgeoned on the boards in four of their last six games: Milwaukee out-rebounded them 48-31, Detroit Mercy 40-33, Oakland 42-31 and Cleveland State 46-28

They gave up 53 offensive rebounds in those games, an average of 13.3.

“The number of points (Milwaukee) scored on second and third shots killed us — and killed us against Cleveland State and killed us against Oakland,” Nagy said.

The Raiders often went with smaller lineups with 6-6 Tim Finke at the 4 spot and 6-6 Andrew Welage at the 3, but Nagy said: “You can say that’s part of it, but we’ve got to get stronger. We’ve got to get in the weight room and make significant jumps just in body weight.”

But it wasn’t all gloom and doom.

The Raiders shot 49.6% from the field, the fourth-best mark in the nation going into the weekend and their best clip since hitting 51.6 in 1992-93.

They also averaged 79.9 points (three points away from 80.0), second in the league and 24th nationally.

“We’re going to have a lot more experience next year and should have a ton of confidence,” Nagy said.

In sizing up areas where the Raiders can improve, Nagy doesn’t exclude himself.

He candidly admits he can drift into negativity. He’s not looking to give off more of a warm-and-fuzzy vibe, but he also doesn’t want to, as he put it, become “old and crotchety.

“I just have some areas of my life, because of my personality, where I can go in that direction. Not that I need my players to like me and enjoy me all the time because I have to the heavy and hold them accountable. But I don’t want to be unenjoyable to be around.”

The 56-year-old Nagy is a committed Christian, which helps.

The morning after beating Louisville on the road — which, at the time, felt like one of the biggest wins in program history — he attended church services just like he would any other Sunday.

“I don’t want this place to be so heavy all the time, and sometimes I think I make it that way,” he said.

“I have a hard time enjoying the journey. I’m thankful for my coaches. They help me to see that and keep me in line.”

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