New men's basketball coach Matthew Driscoll has a matter-of-fact reply for anyone who questions whether championships can be won at the UNF.
"Why not?" answers Driscoll, displaying his usual high-energy persona. "When people say, 'Why here, why North Florida?' I say, 'Why not?’ That's what I would say to you. Tell me why it can't get done?"
With just three winning seasons in UNF's 17-year basketball history, Driscoll and his staff are eager to transform the program into a winning one.
Driscoll is no stranger to building programs, having served the past six years as the top assistant at Baylor. Along with Baylor head coach Scott Drew, Driscoll helped transform the Bears into Big 12 contenders, and Baylor reached the 2008-09 NIT finals and the 2007-08 NCAA Tournament. It was Baylor's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1988.
When word got out that UNF had hired Driscoll, national media took notice.
Yahoo! Sports described Driscoll's hiring at UNF as a "home run." Driscoll was voted as one of the top-10 assistant coaches in the nation in a 2008 national survey of coaching professionals conducted by FoxSports.com.
Driscoll and his staff of Bobby Kennen, Bruce Evans, Jeremy Shyatt and Byron Taylor are committed to the hard work and recruiting necessary to build a winning program.
"It's about the Jimmys and Joes, not the X's and O's," Driscoll said. "You've got to be able to coach, you've got to be able to manage, and you’ve got to be able to put together those teams. But you better have good Jimmys and Joes because you've got to have players to win and I know that — and that's why recruiting is so important.
“But why North Florida, why can we win championships? Because all of the pieces are in place. Because we did it at Baylor. I just got done doing it at a program that was at the depths of the depths, so I know it can be done. But it's going to take a lot of work, and we've already started that process."
Driscoll believes UNF can accomplish something special and wants his players to realize the opportunity in front of them.
"Our guys can do something that's so, so special. That's why they came here," Driscoll said. "Because we recruited them on that and we sold them the opportunity. Just like at Baylor, they had an opportunity to go down in the history of Baylor basketball forever. About the team that changed the culture at Baylor, they're going to have their jersey put up in the rafters. Same thing here, these guys have something very, very special in front of them and I have to do a great job, our staff has to do a great job, our fans, everybody, we have to do a great job making sure they continually understand that, and that's how you move forward with this."
One constant in Driscoll's program is his passion and concern for his players. He believes in helping them grow into productive, successful members of society.
Freshman Jerron Granberry was sold on Driscoll and UNF after Driscoll told him "he loved him" during recruiting.
"Well it's true," Driscoll said. "I think to show our emotions and to show who we are, I think is important. What happens is you start building a relationship with the person. At some point you're going to say, ‘you know what, I really love this kid. I really love this kid.’ Why do you love him? Because of all these different things, and if you don't get him that doesn't mean you hate him. It just means you love this person and you want to wish him well.
“I've said it several times already. But after you build a relationship and you start putting those two together, they understand that, 'you know what, coach really does love me.' Because they don't really care anything about what you know until they know that you care and it's true."
Granberry considers Driscoll a father figure.
"That's part of our philosophy," Driscoll said. "The way we treat our families, hopefully they see that. The way we treat our children, hopefully they see that. The way we treat other peoples' children, hopefully they see that. The way we sit down with them and say, 'you need to understand this or you need to understand this.' When we sit in the locker room and talk to them. All those things we do as male adults are part of our philosophy. Because when the day's done, whatever God you believe in, whatever basketball you have in your future, when the day's done, you've got to go out in this society."
Driscoll doesn't question why past Osprey teams haven't been successful. He sees the opportunity at UNF as unlimited and as a raw diamond ready to be shaped into a winner.
"There's no tradition because we've never been Division I," he says. "What happened in the past? I wasn't here, I don't know. Were the guys dealt unfair cards? I don't know. But I do know one thing, what's ahead of us in the future is so bright. And I've said this before, when you go mining for a diamond, it doesn't come out looking like what's on your wife's finger. But when you work at it, when you polish it, and you cut it and you clean it, now you've got something special and that's what we have at UNF. We've got a raw diamond that needs work, and I'm telling you, it's going to explode and be special. I'm telling you."
And if you need to ask Coach Driscoll again, he will tell you the same thing, "Why not North Florida?"