BY ADAM ROGAN
Drake Athletics introduced Niko Medved as the next head coach of Drake Men’s Basketball at a press conference at the Courtside Club in the Knapp Center on March 27.
Medved is the program’s third head coach in five months, a time that Athletic Director Sandy Hatfield Clubb called “very difficult and challenging.” Ray Giacoletti resigned eight games into the season and Jeff Rutter stepped in as interim head coach for the rest of 2016-17.
“I am confident that Niko coming on board will be a defining moment for our men’s basketball program,” President Marty Martin said.
Medved has shown the capability to turn a losing team into a top-of-the-conference program. That’s why he became the top candidate for the search team, headed by Hatfield Clubb and consultants from the Korn Ferry recruitment firm.
Before accepting the Drake job, Medved had been the head coach at Furman University since 2013. The season before he took over at Furman, the team’s record was 7-24, identical to Drake’s finish each of the last two seasons.
Since, Furman’s record has improved incrementally each year. Medved won Southern Conference Coach of the Year in 2017. He coached back-to-back SoCon Players of the Year, one of whom was named Freshman of the Year in 2015.
Furman’s season still isn’t over. The team finished the regular season 20-10, including a 10-game win streak and a share of the conference regular-season title. Furman will play tonight in the third round of the College Insider Tournament, but will be doing it without Medved on the sidelines.
“The timing of it’s terrible, but I can’t continue to coach those guys. That’s not the right thing to do,” Medved said. “You can’t be coach in two places.”
Before becoming Furman’s head coach, Medved spent six seasons as an assistant coach at Colorado State University. CSU appeared in the NCAA Tournament twice while Medved was there, but haven’t been back since he left for Furman.
A Minnesota native, Medved came on Drake’s radar thanks to his Midwestern ties and experience at a small, selective, liberal arts university similar to Drake.
“Just meeting him today, hearing what he had to say, was really good,” junior forward Ore Arogundade said. “He seems like he’s a standup guy who really is about us and wants to win. And I think that that’s going to be good for our team.”
Several members of Drake men’s basketball had advocated keeping Rutter on board for 2017-18. With Medved’s hiring, Rutter’s departure seems likely.
“Coach Rutter is very deserving of an excellent job,” Hatfield Clubb said, “and I will do everything I can to help him be successful wherever that is.”
Junior forward Billy Wampler has already announced via Twitter that he will be transferring for next season, although he didn’t say where he’ll play in the future. Wampler was Drake’s second highest scorer in 2016-17 with 9.6 points per game.
Although he felt optimistic after getting Medved’s first impression, Arogundade seemed disillusioned over both Rutter’s presumed departure and how his last three years of basketball have turned out. He still plans to return for the 2017-18 season.
“These past three years haven’t been what I envisioned for my college career,” Arogundade said. “I’ve always been on winning programs, but …. I’m going to go out on a high note.”
A high note would be a winning season, hopefully with postseason play, Arogundade said. Since he was a freshman, the Bulldogs have won less than 25 percent of their games. They’ve been eliminated in the first round of the conference tournament each of the last four seasons.
“There’s nothing I’m going to say to (the team) right now in this moment to make them feel better about the change (or) the way that they feel about the staff that’s there,” Medved said. “That’s not possible.”
Martin said Drake “made investments into the program” in order to hire Medved. This included an augmented salary pool to hire assistant coaches.
Martin added that Medved will be compensated among the top half of head coaches in the Missouri Valley Conference. This means Medved’s salary will be at least $401,200 per year, the median salary amongst MVC head coaches, according to an analysis conducted by The Times-Delphic.
In 2014, Giacoletti had the highest salary and second-highest compensation of any Drake employee, pulling in $381,774 with $38,613 in additional compensation. Only then-President David Maxwell made more.