In terms of turnover, last spring was like few others in the history of the Ohio University men’s basketball program.
First, Ohio dismissed then head coach Saul Phillips after completion of his initial five-year contract with the university. He was 81-77 overall at Ohio, with a 40-50 MAC record and two winning seasons in five years.
Later, after the subsequent hire of current head coach Jeff Boals, Phillips’ staff was not retained with each looking for work elsewhere.
Ohio was losing three seniors — Doug Taylor, Gavin Block and James Gollon (medical DQ) — and the player losses continued to mount after Boals came on board. Third-year sophomore forward Jason Carter left as a graduate transfer, sophomore guard Teyvion Kirk transferred out, junior college transfer guard Antonio Cowart Jr. left soon thereafter as did freshman guard Torey James.
In the wake of all the change, the Bobcats in 2019-20 ultimately exceeded some expectations. Ohio finished the year 17-15, tied for seventh overall in the Mid-American Conference, and ended the season 7-3 in its final 10 games before the season was halted prematurely by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But what happened to those who migrated elsewhere prior to the season? Here’s a look at where a lot of those 2018-19 principals ended up this winter, with a couple of bonus checkins at the end.
Phillips, still just 46, ultimately landed the head coaching job at Northern State — an NCAA Division II program in South Dakota. And he’s had a heck of a 12 months.
Phillips and his family first shopped for a new home in Aberdeen, which was chronicled on a HGTV show. With the season underway, Phillips’ name popped up again when he helped a woman giving birth stranded roadside in a snow storm.
On the floor, Phillips helped Northern State continue to remain a nationally relevant D-II program. The Wolves finished with a 26-6 record, ended the year with a nine-game winning streak and won the NSIC regular-season and Tournament championships. Northern State was in the national NCAA D-II Tournament, in the Central Region, but was denied a chance to pursue the national title when the pandemic shut down all college sports two weeks ago.
At Ohio, Swanson served as Ohio’s Director of Basketball Ops for three seasons before being elevated to an assistant in year four.
Swanson continued his role as a college assistant at Northern State, where Phillips brought him in as one of two full-time assistants on the staff.
Ryan was Phillips’ first staff hire at Ohio, and Ryan had worked with him for years before at North Dakota State. After things ended at Ohio, Ryan secured the head coaching job at Wheeling (W.Va.) University, an NCAA Division II program.
Ryan helped the Cardinals to a 14-13 season this winter, with an 11-11 record in the Mountain East Conference. Wheeling was 9-21, and 7-15 in conference, the year before.
Kemp joined Ohio as part of Phillips’ first staff hiring in Athens. And he then moved to another mid-major level program as he picked up an assistant coaching position at William & Mary, in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Tribe was picked to finish seventh in the CAA prior to season, but exceeded those expectations in a big way. William & Mary finished the year second in the conference, one game back, with a 21-11 record and 13-5 mark in conference play. The Tribe might have had postseason basketball in a normal year, but lost in the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament in their quest for the NCAA autobid.
Joyce, a northeast Ohio native, joined the Bobcats for 2017-19 after a stint at Florida as a video coordinator. He was OU’s Director of Basketball Operations.
Joyce, after Athens, was able to break into coaching full time and follow in his father’s (Dru Joyce II, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's) footsteps.
Cam Joyce became the first black head coach in any sport at St. Ignatius, where he was hired to head up the boys basketball program. St. Ignatius was 15-9 this winter, and lost in the first round of OHSAA tournament play.
Carter, a 6-8 forward, had three years in Athens with the Bobcats. After a breakthrough freshman season, he spent all of 2017-18 sidelined with injury, before averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds as a third-year sophomore in 2018-19 and finishing as a Third Team All-MAC selection.
Shortly after Boals’ hire, however, Carter announced he would transfer and ended up in state at Xavier, as a graduate transfer with two full seasons remaining.
Xavier finished 19-13, with a three-game losing skid, in the Big East and was seen as something of a long shot to make the NCAA Tournament.
Carter was a big part of the rotation, starting 31 games, where he averaged 29.3 minutes, 6.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. He hit double figures 10 times, and posted two double-doubles while shooting 39.9 percent overall and 31.7 percent from 3-point range.
Kirk, a 6-4 point guard, started 61 of 62 games over two seasons at Ohio, and averaged 14.7 points per game with 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest while shooting 42.8 percent overall and 29.9 percent from 3-point range.
But in May 2019 Kirk transferred out of OU, and landed at Colorado State where he practiced, but could not play during 2019-20 because of NCAA transfer guidelines. A former All-MAC Freshman honoree, Kirk announced on Wednesday that he would transfer again and will leave Colorado State without playing a game there.
James was a true freshman who appeared in just 14 games at Ohio in 2018-19. James, a 6-5 guard, transferred from OU in the spring of 2019.
James landed at Cape Fear Community College, where produced at a high level for a team that finished the year at 21-9. James played in 27 games, shot 36.0 percent from 3-point range and averaged 18.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Antonio Cowart Jr.
Cowart, a junior college transfer that came in for just one season at Ohio under Phillips, played in 31 games with 24 starts in 2018-19 and was regarded as the Bobcats’ best perimeter defender a year ago.
But he also left the program last spring, and was announced as part of the basketball roster at Misssissippi College (junior college), but was not listed in the stat report for having appeared in games during 2019-20 at MC (8-18).
A 6-5 guard beset by injuries for four years at Ohio, Gollon was part of Phillips’ first full recruiting class at OU. He appeared in 57 games as a Bobcat, but just six in 2018-19 before an achilles’ injury ended his season and his playing career.
Gollon remained at Ohio in 2019-20 as continued to complete his degree in Pre-exercise Physiology.
Part of the same recruiting class with Gollon, Taylor, and Jordan Dartis Block played in 127 games at OU and averaged 6.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists over his career.
Block began pursuing coaching after graduation, and landed a spot on the staff of old Ohio foe Keith Dambrot at Duquesne. Block, in his first year as a grad assistant/assistant director of operations, helped Duquesne finished with a 21-9 record in the Atlantic-10.
Taylor played in 122 games at Ohio, and was a two-year starter. He finished his career in Athens averaging 5.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, but was one of the best in program history with 122 blocks.
Taylor landed a spot playing professionally last winter, with Albacete Basket (12-14) in the Spanish LEB Silver League. He appeared in 25 of 26 games for Albacete as the backup center and averaged 18.4 minutes, 4.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Albacaete’s season began in September was still going through March 8 before the global pandemic forced the closure of the season in Spain.
Bonus coaches round
Jim Christian, who preceded Phillips at Ohio, and John Groce (now at Akron) are the only former OU head coaches still working in that same capacity at the Division I level.
Christian guided the Bobcats to a combined 49-22 record over two seasons (2012-14), including a share of the MAC regular-season title and an NIT berth in 2013.
Christian left Ohio for Boston College, where he remains the Eagles’ head coach today. Christian will be back for his seventh season there next year, a decision that wasn't about just winning or losing. He’s posted a 75-118 record with the Eagles (25-85 in the ACC), with one winning season and one NIT berth. The Eagles were 13-19 this season, and finished 11th in the ACC.
Groce, who authored OU’s NCAA Tournament berths in 2010 and 2012, just finished his third season back in the MAC at Akron. The Zips were 14-18, and then 17-16, in his first two seasons at the helm.
But Akron broke through in 2019-20 with a senior, and transfer, heavy lineup. The Zips were 24-7 overall, and won the MAC regular season title — the first regular-season championship in Groce’s tenure as a D-I head coach. Akron was to play Ohio in the 2020 MAC Tournament on the day that the event — again because of the virus — was canceled.