A new era of Elon University basketball began on Monday as the men’s team introduced new head coach Mike Schrage.
“I’m not going to stand up here and make promises and guarantees,” Schrage said. “But I’ll promise and guarantee that you’ll get my absolute best every single day. And the byproduct of that is going to be some really special stuff.”
Schrage's gig at Elon will be his first as a head coach, but his resume is replete with high-level experience. In Monday’s introductory press conference, he rattled off the coaches who have taught and inspired him along the way, a list that boasts a number of college basketball’s biggest names. He spent nine seasons under the tutelage of Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University and started his career with four seasons on Bob Knight’s staff as a student assistant at Indiana University.
“The people he was around at those programs,” said Athletics Director Dave Blank. "The basketball minds, some of these people invented rules by which we play.”
Having dedicated his entire professional life to college basketball, Schrage’s career has brought him through four of Division I's “Power Five” conferences. In addition to stints at some of the sport’s most iconic programs, his resume is stacked with a litany of postseason appearances.
Most recently, he spent two years as an assistant coach at Ohio State University, where the Buckeyes made two trips to the national tournament. Schrage was an assistant at Butler University for the season before that as part of a team that reached the Sweet 16. And an eight-year stretch as an assistant coach at Stanford University saw the Cardinals make five postseason appearances and send four players to the NBA.
Now, Schrage is arriving at a program in need of a boost. During the 10-year tenure of previous coach Matt Matheny, the Phoenix only finished with a winning record three times. A jump from the Southern Conference to the Colonial Athletic Association in 2014 brought a bump in the caliber of competition, and the team is still struggling to establish itself as a legitimate contender in its new league.
This past fall, the Phoenix made the move into Schar Center, but its performance wasn’t as flashy as its new digs. The team finished under .500 for the third time in four years. Despite the lackluster showing on the court, Elon has been using the sparkling new arena, which seats more than 5,000, as a recruiting tool. And it’s a tool that worked on Schrage.
“This is a big-time arena,” Schrage said. "I’ve been to some big-time places, and when I came here for my visit, I was blown away.”
Blank said Schar Center helped him woo potential coaches during his search.
“When you bring someone in here that sees it for the first time, there’s a wow factor," Blank said. "I’ve had people tell me we have a better facility and a practice facility that rival NBA facilities.”
Help as it may with luring coaches and recruits, Schar Center and its teams have struggled to attract students and fans. Since upgrading from the much smaller Alumni Gym, a few thousand extra seats look glaringly empty on nights with low turnout. But Schrage has a message for students.
“They should come out support no matter what,” Schrage said. “And that's going to help us win. That’s what they have to realize. Winning also comes from them showing up and creating that home environment for us.”
Schrage’s praise extended beyond the arena. The new head coach said he was happy to be back in the land of Bojangle’s and Cookout and also expressed his affinity for Elon as an institution.
“I'm so impressed with President Book’s vision, and I've always been around coaches and programs that have vision,” Schrage said. “So that's what attracted me on top of everything else about this place. I want to have that vision for basketball and help the university any way I can.”