Northern Colorado Basketball Skipper Sent Packing

Photo: Greeley Tribune. University of Northern Colorado’s Jordan Wilson attempts a drive against DU’s Joe Rosga.

University of Northern Colorado’s basketball head coach B.J. Hill was fired this past Thursday afternoon and his assistants were placed on administrative leave after the school administration identified ‘serious and concerning’ NCAA violations within the school’s basketball program.

Hill, a former assistant at Colorado under Tad Boyle at  the University of Colorado, finished 10-21 this past season. One of those losses was to DU 81-77 in Greeley.  The Bears ended the season at 10-21.

While no reason was given for the firing, pending a further NCAA investigation, one can logically conclude that the school committed recruiting violations. There is increasing pressure on DI basketball coaches to win while at the same time replace a stream of players leaving their programs and transferring to other programs for more playing time, different coaching, and/or a change of scenery. This leaves many coaches in desperate situations to fill their squads with players that can deliver quick W’s.

UNC recently lost three underclassmen from this past season’s squad. The most notable departure was senior-to-be guard Jordan Wilson who was averaging 13.2 points, 2.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game, who left, according to Hill, because he wasn’t starting last season. Forwards Jamal Evans and Spencer Mathis, both non-starters, left but were expected to be contributors this upcoming season.

Before his firing, in an interview with the Greeley Tribune Hill verified that he’s released all three players, and was still in the process of filling their spots on the roster. “You don’t plan on it, but it happens every year,” Hill said. “It’s a culture right now in our game, and unfortunately, it’s become an epidemic.”

When the NCAA started tracking transfers 10 years ago, there were 200 players who were transferring or leaving Division I programs. That number exploded to more than 700 this season. The five-year plan that pertains to graduate transfers (immediately eligible) makes the problem even more complex.

“That kind of rule is unfortunate for lower to mid-level schools like UNC because coaches at high-level schools can use our program as a feeder system,” Hill said.

“We have a culture now where it’s harder and harder for athletes to buy into the process,” Hill said. “Players have to buy into the process and not listen to the people around them who are telling them this and that.”

One could easily speculate that  B.J. Hill was tempted by mounting pressure to win so he stepped over the NCAA line.

When DU played in Greeley this season, Bears alumnus, UNC trustee, and Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort was shown in the stands experiencing a near melt-down as the Bears fell to DU. In his first year at the helm, 2010-2011, Hill made the NCAA playoffs but  has produced a 65- 87 record over the following 5 years. He had to release a senior guard Dallas Anglin two weeks before the end of the season. Anglin was reported to be a ‘troubled player’ – UNC was his 4th team in four years.  Then, the exit of three players at the conclusion of the season. The outlook and mood within the program looked increasingly bleak for the 2016-2017 Bears.

The downward spiral at UNC that has occurred over the past several years may have provided the impetus for B.J.Hill and/or his staff  to turn the program around by either using illegal incentives or helping unqualified students either stay in the program or join the program. As long as the expectation is to win, there will be a temptation to break the rules.

There will be a mess to clean up for B.J. Hill’s successor – likely the loss of scholarships and postseason appearances. Plus, the damage, potentially, to the school’s reputation.

While DU basketball had several players leave during  Joe Scott’s final few years, there certainly was not an exodus of players. However, there was mounting pressure on the program to win as well. Fortunately, by all accounts and as far as anyone knows, the program complied with NCAA rules and brought in good students and ran the program the right way. It’s one thing to not make the NCAA tournament – it’s another to have your school’s reputation dragged through the mud in such a public way.