Longwood men’s basketball coach Griff Aldrich, an assistant for the historic 2017-18 UMBC team, is going dancing once again. The Lancers defeated Winthrop, 79-58, in the Big South tournament championship March 6 to clinch their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid.
Longwood is the No. 14 seed in the South Region, and the Lancers will face off against No. 3 seed Tennessee March 17 at 2:40 p.m. EST on CBS.
Longwood dominated the Big South all year long. The Lancers started out the season with an underwhelming 7-5 overall record, but then won 19 out of 20 games to finish 26-6 overall and 15-1 in the Big South. Their only loss during that time period was an eight-point loss on the road at North Carolina A&T.
Aldrich, 47, credits his team’s success to his coaching staff’s ability to not recruit based solely on talent but also on character.
“I’ve said this a lot and I think it’s true at UMBC as well, there are plenty of basketball players that are talented enough to play at our level,” Aldrich said on Glenn Clark Radio March 9. “The talent isn’t really the challenge, in my opinion. It’s oftentimes more do they have the talent and the character to kind of fit the culture that you’re trying to build and establish? I think we’ve been really fortunate over the last few years to identify and attract some guys who fit that mold and then once they’ve gotten here to really buy in to what we’re trying to do.”
Those players include senior guards Isaiah Wilkins and DeShaun Wade and sophomore guard Justin Hill. Hill is leading the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game while pulling down 4.9 rebounds and dishing out 4.3 assists per contest. Wilkins is averaging 12.8 points per game and a team-high 6.3 rebounds. Wade adds 12.0 points per game.
Recruiting players who fit the program puts a lot of pressure on the coaching staff, but luckily the coaches are all on the same page as far as what kind of players they are looking to recruit.
“We want to recruit and build a program with high-character and high-quality people, and that starts with the staff,” Aldrich said. “One of the main things for us here at Longwood is we wanted to assemble a staff that was really focused on investing in our players and in their development both on and off the court. I think that has been a huge piece to this that doesn’t get talked about enough. We have a tremendous staff that is constantly invested in our guys.”
Before becoming the head coach at Longwood, Aldrich was the director of recruiting and program development at UMBC under Ryan Odom from 2016-2018. In 2018, No. 16 seed UMBC beat No. 1 overall seed Virginia, becoming the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed. The Retrievers closed as 20-point underdogs and ultimately won the game, 74-54.
Despite this incredible upset, Aldrich is not a superstitious coach and will not go through the exact same pregame routine as he had back in 2018. He will not be wearing the same clothes that he wore during that game.
“No, not at all,” Aldrich said when asked if he is superstitious. “I’m probably the least superstitious coach and I’m confident that what I wear has nothing to do with how we’re going to play. I heard an announcer the other day say all coaches are superstitious and I was like. ‘No, not all of us.'”
Aldrich has had an interesting career path that has led him to this point. Prior to becoming Odom’s right-hand man at UMBC, he spent two decades in law and private equity. He ultimately became the CFO of a private equity firm, a job that paid $800,000 per year.
When Odom, Aldrich’s former college hoops teammate, got the head job at UMBC, he wanted Aldrich to become his director of recruiting and program development. Even though this job paid $32,000, Aldrich accepted to fulfill a lifelong dream to coach college basketball. Several years later, he has led his own team to the NCAA Tournament.
Teams that win in March must be older and mature. Aldrich thinks his team checks off that box.
“We’ve got a mature team. We’ve got a team that their chemistry is about as good as any team that I have been a part of,” Aldrich said. “I really think it’s that chemistry and their love for one another which has been the secret to our success. We’ve got a lot of talented guys, but a lot of teams do. The difference I think for our team is they’ve really been willing to sacrifice their own personal accolades and their own personal glory for the betterment of the team, very similar to that UMBC team.”
For more from Aldrich, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Mike Kropf