ALBANY — Dwayne Killings reached the podium, adorned with the Great Danes’ logo on the front of it, and collected his thoughts for a second or two Thursday inside SEFCU Arena.
“Wow,” Killings then said, “you know, you dream about this opportunity — so I just want to let this soak in for a second.”
His opening message as he met that opportunity: “To my kids Alecia and Tristan, to our players — I’m going to tell you right now, any dream you guys have is possible because I’m about to live my dream, and I mean that.”
UAlbany announced Killings as its next men’s basketball head coach Wednesday night, then held an introductory press conference Thursday for Killings at its home arena with attendees socially distancing and wearing protective facial masks. Family members of Killings were among those in the front row at Thursday’s event, including his dad who remembered before the day’s festivities started how his son lived and breathed basketball growing up in Amherst, Massachusetts.
“This is his dream come true,” dad Sam Killings said. “This is what he always wanted.”
Dwayne Killings, 39, has led a basketball life, and it led him this week to becoming the successor to Will Brown as UAlbany’s men’s basketball head coach. A ball boy as a youngster for John Calipari’s first team at UMass, where his father worked for more than 40 years, Killings played for two seasons as a walk-on at UMass before later graduating from Hampton in 2003. Killings heads to UAlbany after spending the last three seasons at Marquette, the final one as the associate head coach on Steve Wojciechowski coaching staff. Prior to that, Killings had college coaching stops at Boston University, Temple and UConn, and also spent time working for the then-Charlotte Bobcats and the NBA’s then-D-League.
Along the way, Killings cultivated a reputation as a terrific recruiter — and, as Wojciechowski put it, a “first-class person.” UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said Thursday that “it was just the total person that we were just really impressed with,” in terms of what set Killings apart from the other candidates that UAlbany interviewed before offering Killings a five-year contract with a starting salary that could reach as high as $378,000 when its final details are hammered out.
“Everybody that I talked to about Dwayne [before hiring him at Marquette], they all talked about how good a person he was, and about his ability to connect with people — whether it’s his players, people in and around the program, around the school community as a whole,” Wojciechowski said Thursday in a phone interview.
What will Killings bring to UAlbany?
“I think he’s going to be somebody that builds a great culture,” said Wojciechowski, a former Duke player and assistant coach. “The expectations and standards for everything in and around the program will be there and understood. He’s going to be a great communicator, and that’s going to help on and off the court — and you’re going to see a team that’s tough, and really connected and plays intelligently.”
It’s not an easy job that Killings took. UAlbany is coming off three consecutive losing seasons and the program’s roster needs ample work, but Killings also inherits his position from a coach — Brown — that led the program for two decades and won five America East championships.
Killings said his job is to build on what’s come before him at UAlbany, and to take the Great Danes further.
“There’s a lot of people that care,” Killings said of the community around the Great Danes’ program. “We’ve got to make them care a little bit more.”
Killings thanked Benson, deputy athletic director Vic Cegles and school president Havidan Rodriguez for helping him feel immediately welcome at the school. Killings’ wife Ana said that treatment greeted the couple and their two children — Alecia is 6, Tristan is 3 — when they got off the plane at Albany International Airport earlier this week. A New York City native, she said the family’s hotel room was set up with UAlbany gear and notes with personalized messages for them.
“It just felt very family-oriented — and that they cared,” said Ana Killings, a UMass graduate. “They were personally invested in us.”
Six of UAlbany’s 13 scholarship players are currently in the NCAA transfer portal and evaluating their options for next season, but Dwayne Killings said he’d welcome any of the program’s current players to stay. The new head coach said he wants to build “real, authentic relationships” with his players, who he plans to lead in a workout Friday
“And I have to earn that,” Killings said of the trust he wants to build with his players.
Killings talked Thursday of a primary goal being to make his players “better men.”
He wants them, too, to “dream really, really big,” and to lean on him to help them reach those goals.
“Put that on my shoulders,” Killings said. “I’m OK with that, and I’m going to carry us all to do magical things for this institution.”