In coaching circles, it’s unusual to hear a teacher call his student a younger brother rather than pupil, but that’s what Bob McKillop thinks of Matt Matheny.
McKillop, who’s been the coach at Davidson for 24 years, meets his former assistant of 16 years tonight when Elon hosts the Wildcats in a Southern Conference matchup of division winners.
“He’s been so close to me, and even at an early age he was never afraid to voice his opinion,” McKillop said. “Not only that he played for me, but he coached here for 16 years. I was at a point at which I had not fashioned or shaped all of my coaching philosophies, and I thought Matt was a part of that.”
Matheny played football and basketball at Davidson, graduating in 1992 and joining McKillop’s staff as an assistant in 1993. In 2003, he was promoted to associate head coach.
While he was on the bench, Matheny helped Davidson to an average of 19 wins a season, five conference tournament championships and five NCAA tournament appearances. All the while, he morphed from former player to coaching confidant.
“He raised me in the business, and I love it when he refers to me as a younger brother,” Matheny said. “I seek his advice as I would a family member. Any chance I have an opportunity to spend time with him I look forward to it.”
Since taking over as coach of the Phoenix in 2009, Matheny has guided Elon (19-9, 12-4) to a better record each season. Elon’s 19 wins this season are the most since the school went to Division I in basketball more than a decade ago.
Because of their close connection, Matheny kept his mentor in the loop when he was interviewing with Elon. He said McKillop voiced nothing but support during the process.
“I think he has been superb in building that program to where it is today,” McKillop said. “He’s done it the right way. He’s done it with a plan. It’s shown progress every year and he’s done a superb job.”
Davidson (21-7, 15-1) holds a 4-2 edge against Elon since Matheny took over, and possibly the biggest game in the series since the 2010 conference tournament first-round match.
Elon, coming off a 99-96 double-overtime loss to Davidson in the regular-season finale, beat the Wildcats 66-59 in Bojangles’ Coliseum, and Matheny said he’s able to keep his emotions in check better than the first season he played his former team.
Elon is already the North Division champion but is coming off a 72-68 loss to Chattanooga last week. It was Elon’s fifth consecutive game that was decided by six points or fewer, and the first loss in that span.
Meanwhile, Davidson looks to continue its dominance of the conference after wrapping up the South Division nearly two weeks ago. The Wildcats have won 12 consecutive games by an average of 18.6 points per game.
Leading scorer and senior forward Jake Cohen scored 28 points in the overtime win against Montana on Saturday while De’Mon Brooks chipped in 18 despite a sprained foot.