By JOHN ZENOR
AP Sports Writer
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — South Alabama has hired Butler associate head coach Matthew Graves as its head basketball coach, hoping to duplicate some of the NCAA tournament success that program has enjoyed in recent years.
Graves doesn’t think the winning will take long for the Sun Belt Conference program, and said that was his message in a brief locker room visit with the Jaguars players before Monday’s introductory news conference.
“We’re here next year to compete for a championship,” Graves said. “This is not a rebuilding process. This is not a reloading process. This is a process that we’re going to have sustained success starting next year. That is the goal from Day 1.
“We’re going to put a team out there that everyone’s going to be proud of on and off the court.”
Graves will replace Ronnie Arrow, who retired 10 games into the season as the winningest coach for both the Mobile school and the Sun Belt Conference. Associate head coach Jeff Price served as interim coach the rest of the season, with the Jaguars finishing 17-13 and losing to Western Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the league tournament and to Tulane in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
No contract information was immediately available.
Graves was a Butler assistant for nine seasons and was elevated to associate head coach in 2010.
Butler made it to the NCAA championship game in 2010 and 2011, but lost 74-72 to Marquette in the second round Saturday. Graves got on the road to Mobile the following day.
“If you look at coach Graves’ background and the world that he has lived in over the past decade-plus, what they have been able to accomplish at an institution that is not too dissimilar from one of ours is nothing short of spectacular,” South Alabama athletic director Joel Erdmann said. “The resume got him an interview. The resume and the accomplishments got him involved in the search, but the interview landed the job.
“He is a man that when you get to know him, you will understand and appreciate why this decision was made. He is a tremendous basketball person. He lives the game. He understands the game. He knows how to teach the game. He knows how to recruit and he knows how to create a program that will have a sustained level of success.”
Graves, a former Butler player, started as his alma mater’s coordinator of men’s basketball operations from 2001-03 under coach Todd Lickliter, then became an assistant coach.
Butler went 244-98 — a winning percentage of 71.3 — during his tenure.
His old boss, Brad Stevens, said Graves should be a success.
“I could not be more thrilled for both Matthew and South Alabama. He is a terrific person and coach, who will undoubtedly bring great credit to the university,” the Butler coach said. “He’s an excellent communicator who understands what it takes to win at the highest level. We thank him for the 17 total years he spent at Butler as a player and staff member. He had a tremendous impact on Butler basketball.”
Graves played for Butler from 1993-98 and was a member of the program’s first NCAA tournament team in 35 years. As a senior, he was the Bulldogs’ most valuable player and led the team to a second straight tournament appearance. He still ranks in the top 10 in career 3-pointers and free-throw shooting.
Arrow announced his retirement on Dec. 19 with the Jaguars off to a 5-5 start.
Arrow had coached South Alabama for 13-plus seasons in two stints, going 211-61 and leading them to three NCAA tournaments and three Sun Belt titles.
Graves said he knew little about the Jaguars program beyond Butler’s 2008 opening-round win in an NCAA regional. Then he got the first email from Erdmann about the job, and came away impressed with the people and the facilities.
“I didn’t know a lot about South Alabama except for that moment before I looked into it,” Graves said. “People ask why South Alabama? Why would a Midwest guy want to go to South Alabama. When I came down to look at campus, I was sold right away. I understood there was some history here, good tradition. The Mitchell Center is a phenomenal facility to recruit to.”