Understanding that the strength of a player comes from the team, not oneself, is the foundation of Bob McKillop’s life. It is this understanding that guides his work as the head men’s basketball coach for Davidson College and his life as a Christian, a family member and a friend.
His strength of character, combined with exceptional coaching and leadership, has earned national recognition. Recruiting two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry when others failed to see his full potential is just one more internationally celebrated feather in the cap.
In 2017, McKillop earned the Joe Lapchick Character Award, fittingly named for the Hall of Fame coach known for his compassion and integrity off the court. McKillop’s reputation is punctuated by his success on the court, too. McKillop-coached teams have won 15 regular season titles (13 Southern Conference, 1 A-10), seven SoCon tournament crowns, reached the 20-win plateau 14 times, and six teams have won 25 or more games.
The 30-year Davidsonian is often called a pioneer of international recruiting at the college level, a true game changer for college basketball and, thus, for the NBA. It began pre-Davidson, while he was coaching at Long Island Lutheran, a post where he brought home five New York High School State Championships. In 1979 he had the opportunity to coach a Canadian and long-time NBA player, Bill Wennington, and two years later, he added another 7’0” player, Augusto Binelli, from Italy, thanks to the recommendation of Morgan Wootten, the famed coach at DeMatha Catholic in Hyattesville, Md.
“That really opened the flood gates,” said McKillop. “I was then invited to run a camp in Italy, which then created clinic opportunities all over Europe. I developed a network and ended up recruiting 10 players to Long Island Lutheran, and I brought one of those students, Detlef Musch ’93, to Davidson as my first international recruit here.”
Another distinctive contribution to the game is his motion offense, which has been called “mostly overlooked and rarely equaled” and incorporates strategy that he says emulates how he used to play in the school yards in New York.
“I invented nothing, but I have watched lots of legends and learned from them. That is why we are where we are today,” said the 10-time Conference Coach of the Year. “It is a simple basketball game. We make it simple.”
From recruitment to game play and everything in between, McKillop, who deeply believes that sacrifice equals reward, is always learning and growing.
McKillop says he “exploded” after the recent loss to Wake Forest. One of the players spoke to Coach after that meeting, and it’s a lesson that won’t be soon forgotten.
“He grabbed me and gave me insight about the culture of social media and the anxiety the players feel,” said McKillop, who acknowledges how different the experience is for today’s players, compared to several years ago. “Before they leave the locker room, they’re checking to see what’s being said about them on Instagram. It’s a lot of pressure. This player reminded me that while they all need discipline and accountability, they also need love.”
Thirty years into his Davidson career, and not only is McKillop as open as ever to opportunities for improvement, he has groomed players who know they can be honest in giving feedback. It is the character of the players he recruits and the character of the college overall that has kept him from chasing different dreams.
“I have 30 years of sons,” he said. “It’s like when you watch a sunset. If you’re with people you love, the sunset is magnified. At another school, I would be a mercenary. Here, I am a part of the historic culture of the College.”
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