May 4, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Michigan coach John Beilein has decided who will join him on the Michigan bench.
U-M basketball announced Wednesday former Wright State coach Billy Donlon and former Oakland assistant coach Saddi Washington as new assistant coaches, filling key vacancies left by Bacari Alexander and LaVall Jordan.
Both ex-assistants left Ann Arbor this offseason for head-coaching opportunities. Alexander is now at Detroit Mercy, while Jordan is at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“(The departures) have opened up a great opportunity for our staff to grow,” Beilein said in a university release. “Billy Donlon and Saddi Washington are exactly who I felt we needed to be able to continue our success and compete for more Big Ten championships.”
Donlon and Washington will join Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer to complete Beilein’s staff. Donlon is expected to boost the Wolverines’ defense, while Washington will bolster U-M’s recruiting presence in the state.
Other finalists for the openings included former Iowa State assistant Cornell Mann and current Michigan director of player personnel Chris Hunter.
Donlon is coming to Michigan following his controversial firing at Wright State. Having gone 109-94 over his six-year tenure, the 39-year-old won 20 or more games in three of the last four seasons.
This past season, the Raiders finished 22-13 and 13-5 in the Horizon League. They beat Valparaiso — the 16-2 league champion — twice and reached the conference championship game for the third time in four years. He was named Horizon League coach of the year in 2013.
Nonetheless, Donlon, who was hired at age 33 as one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I basketball, never reached the NCAA Tournament and was fired. That, in turn, set off criticisms aimed at Wright State athletic director Bob Grant.
Dan Dakich, an ESPN commentator and father of Michigan walk-on Andrew Dakich, tweeted that the firing was “awful” and the result of a “bad administration and awful AD.”
Paul Biancardi, an ESPN commentator and former Wright State head coach, also sounded off what many saw as a contentious relationship between Grant and Donlon.
“When your athletic director doesn’t talk to you for months during the season, that’s a sign,” he wrote on Twitter.”
Xavier head coach Chris Mack called Donlon’s firing “a bad decision.
“I don’t know who Wright State is pretending to be or trying to be, but that’s ridiculous,” he added.
Donlon was promoted to Wright State head coach in 2010 following four seasons as Brad Brownell’s associated head coach. The program reached the 2007 NCAA Tournament and
won 20 or more games each season during that stretch, earning Brownell the head-coaching gig at Clemson.
A Northbrook, Illinois, native, Donlon played at UNC Wilmington (1996-1999) and worked there as an assistant coach under Brownell from 2001-06 before following him to Wright State. Prior to that, Donlon made assistant coaching stops at American and St. Peter’s.
“As a player, I competed against Coach Beilein’s Richmond teams,” Donlon said. “I always admired the way they played and how they competed the right way. Getting a chance to be part of that is a great opportunity, and I am very eager to get started.”
While playing at UNC Wilmington, Donlon helped the program reach a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances (2003, ’06) and two Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) regular-season and tournament titles (2003, ’06).
“I have known Billy for almost two decades, and I love his passion and IQ for the game,” Beilein said in Wednesday’s release. “He has tremendous experience as a player, assistant and head coach at the Division I level.
“Improving our defense is a huge goal for us, and defense is one of Billy’s specialties. He is also excellent in skill development, and that has been a key to our success at Michigan. I am excited to have Billy join our staff, the athletics department and this University.”
Washington, a Lansing native and former All-MAC performer at Western Michigan, comes to Michigan following 10 years on Greg Kampe’s staff. He is cited as being responsible for Oakland scoring key recruits Johnathon Jones, Reggie Hamilton, Travis Bader and Kay Felder during his tenure.
Kampe hired Washington in 2006 after he spent one year as a volunteer assistant at Romulus High School under current University of Buffalo head coach Nate Oats.
“Growing up in the state of Michigan, I understand the rich history that has been developed and maintained here at U-M,” Washington said. “It is the elite standard of excellence both academically and athletically. Coach Beilein is known throughout the country as an elite coach and tactician, so I look forward to learning under his tutelage and further developing my craft as a coach and builder of young men.”
In his playing days, Washington spent seven years playing at various levels — from a stint overseas in Italy, France, Greece and Israel to a stretch in the ABA. He played in NBA preseason camps with the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks.
Washington averaged 21.6 points per game as a senior at WMU and carried the Broncos to a first-round win over Clemson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He was inducted into the school Hall of Fame in 2010.
Washington can be seen as the natural replacement for Bacari Alexander, now the head coach at Detroit Mercy. Like Alexander, he has strong connections throughout the state of Michigan and is assigned to coach post players.
“Saddi and I have known each other since his days at Western Michigan when I coached against them,” Beilein said. “We have also talked a lot of basketball in my nine years here at Michigan. Saddi is an outstanding teacher of the game, and I love that he can coach multiple positions.
“He has established great relationships as a recruiter both in and out of the state of Michigan. His poise and presence remind me of LaVall, and I know he will be a great asset to our program.”
For a dash of symmetry, Washington was a finalist for Beilein’s last set of assistant coaching openings in 2010, when Alexander was hired.
Now officially members of the staff, Washington and Donlon will begin recruiting immediately.
Michigan holds two open scholarships for the 2016 season and are pursuing a number of 2017 and 2018 targets.
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