The Marquette women’s basketball coaching staff will look a little different next time we see them at the Al McGuire Center. On Thursday, Illinois head coach Nancy Fahey announced that Golden Eagles assistant Scott Merritt will be joining her staff down in Champaign.
Here’s Fahey’s statement from the Illini press release:
“I’m thrilled to welcome Scott to our staff,” said Fahey. “He is a proven winner and recruiter who has played and coached at the highest levels of our game. Scott has been an integral part of the success at Marquette. He excels at player development and I am excited for our players to grow under his guidance. His hard-working attitude and great character make Scott a perfect fit for our Illini family.”
And Merritt’s statement from the same release:
“I can’t express how excited I am to join Coach Fahey’s staff,” said Merritt. “She has an amazing vision for where she wants this program to go, and I look forward to representing the Orange and Blue.”
Merritt has been on the Marquette sideline since he was hired by new head coach Carolyn Kieger in June 2014. After a very rough first year, and a second year as the youngest team in all of Division 1, the Golden Eagles won at least 24 games each of the next three seasons, racking up a Big East tournament title and back-to-back regular season titles. Merritt was retained as an assistant by new head coach Megan Duffy when she took the reins, and with a vastly different look than the past four years, the Golden Eagles went out and won another 24 games before the coronavirus terminated the NCAA tournament before they could get to Selection Sunday and a fourth straight tourney berth.
In short: Things have been very successful with Merritt chipping in at Marquette. You can not say the same thing for how Illinois has been doing recently. The Illini went 11-19 overall this season and 2-16 in Big Ten play to raise Fahey’s records to 30-61 and 4-48. FUN FACT: 2-16 means that the Illini finished one game ahead of Kieger’s Penn State squad which went 1-17.
While it’s certainly a surprise to see Merritt move on from 1) his alma mater and 2) a wildly successful program for a team that’s not doing so hot, it’s not a surprise that Merritt is departing Marquette after one year under Duffy. It was a surprise to see Megan Duffy retain both Scott Merritt and Vernette Skeete as assistant coaches when she was hired. The specifics of the situation aren’t known to me, but usually you don’t see new coaches keep former assistants in the fold, and you almost always don’t see them keep two. However, given the circumstances of how much Duffy was going to need to rely on retaining her inherited recruiting class, it did make sense to see Merritt stick around....... particularly if — and this is just shooting in the dark here — if Kieger’s departure came anywhere close to a surprise to Merritt. Merritt is also a local guy in the first place, graduating from Wauwatosa East High School, and up and moving out of the area immediately just because his boss left might not have been high on his priority list. It’s been a year now, though, so if Merritt wanted to move on but had his reasons for staying on for the 2019-20 season, it makes sense to make the jump.
This gives Duffy a chance to remake her staff in her image as well, and we’ll wait to see what direction she goes with this hire. Justine Raterman followed Duffy from Miami (OH) to Milwaukee as an assistant, as did Director of Basketball Operations Veronica Mullen. Duffy’s other two assistants at her previous stop were Frank Goldsberry and Ke’Sha Blanton. Goldsberry was Duffy’s high school coach back in the day and is now an assistant at Loyola-Chicago Ramblers. Blanton moved on from Miami to an associate head coaching position at Oakland Golden Grizzlies. I don’t know if either one of them would want to bounce to another new job right away, so it definitely seems possible that Duffy will be looking elsewhere to fill her staff vacancy if she doesn’t end up promoting Mullen.
As far as immediate needs go, Marquette’s pretty much set for 2020-21. They do have one scholarship sitting open and available, but that’s not a priority to fill at this point with four freshmen on their way in. There’s just two seniors on next year’s roster, which gives Duffy three possible spots to work with and no prospects currently committed. The NCAA put a lid on recruiting for the time being due to coronavirus concerns, so it’s not crucial that Duffy get someone on board and up and running quickly. In any case, getting someone moved to Milwaukee in a hurry might not be possible anyway.