PHILADELPHIA'S RICH vein of basketball coaches is the stuff of legend, and that vein got richer this spring when it reclaimed Steve Donahue, one of its own. Raised in Delaware County and a two-sport standout at Ursinus, Donahue went from being Fran Dunphy's assistant at Penn to a 10-year run at Cornell, culminating in a Sweet 16 appearance in 2010 (beaten by a loaded Kentucky squad).
From there, he landed a cherry gig at Boston College, an ACC school . . . where the powers that be were so impatient that Donahue never got a chance to graduate his first recruiting class. Donahue spent a year away from the bench, broadcasting, and returned to the Palestra in March to try to push Dunphy's old program back to the top of the Ancient Eight.
Donahue's Quakers, armed with his analytics-strong philosophy, might have upset Dunphy and his Temple Owls on Wednesday were it not for one or two miscues.
One such occurrence: when a player cut too soon, and the pass intended for him wound up in Donahue's hands. Incredulous, he gritted his teeth, smacked the ball to the floor, flipped it to the referee, stormed to the end of the bench for a substitute - and then, when the offending player jogged past him to take a seat, Donahue patted him on the rear end.
After the game, Marcus Hayes caught up with Donahue, 53, to discuss weddings and funerals, Shake Shack and Donahue's refreshing display of coaching maturity.
Q When you caught that ball, how did you keep from blowing your top?
I've been through so much in my career. I've won only five games in one year (his second at Cornell), I've won three straight Ivy League championships, been to the Sweet 16, been national Coach of the Year (2010), and I've been fired. I'm not going to lose my mind because of one turnover.
This is a process here. It's a growth thing. I don't get lost in the little nuances of a game.
Q You touted strong Ivy League programs, like Tommy Amaker's at Harvard, as examples of how strong the Ivies are again. Can an Ivy League program get as far as, say, the Final Four for the first time since Penn in 1979?
I don't think there's any doubt that can happen, and I know that from my experience with the ACC. There are so many things fighting you at that level that don't come into play at this level. Honestly, I thought our Cornell team could have gotten there if we didn't draw the most talented team in college basketball in the last 10 years.
The Ivy League attracts kids who want to play for four years. They really buy in. There are no other agendas. The success of Harvard, and Cornell, are attracting a better player every year. With the one-and-done players going to the NBA, it's actually more feasible than it was in 1979.
Q What has been the best part about returning to Philly?
It's great to be around my mom again. She's 80. I've got six siblings. Being at weddings. Not having to miss the unfortunate things, like funerals. Just being part of the life again. I've been away for so many years.
And you can be successful here at Penn. They have a level of commitment and care about athletics, and winning.
I have my seven best friends from high school-they were here tonight. Some teammates from Ursinus, we'll go out after I finish here.
Q What about your own family?
It's hard. They're still in Boston for now. I've got a sophomore at Penn State, a senior in high school, and an 8th-grader and a 6th-grader. We'll move back after this school year. The senior in high school has Asperger's. He loves comic books. We have comic book Wednesday and we go to Shake Shack. I love that.
Q What has the homecoming been like among the basketball royalty here, of which you now are a large part?
I don't look at it like that. I went to a college basketball banquet yesterday. Dave Pauley, the coach at the University of the Sciences - he was my seventh-grade biddy coach. Phil Martelli was my JV coach . . . And Dunphy - I wouldn't be where I am unless he gave a 28-year-old guy a place on his bench. I'll never know why.