For stretches of play, some longer than others, the UAlbany men’s basketball team has shown progress during Dwayne Killings’ inaugural season leading the Great Danes.
The win-loss record, though, shows UAlbany at 0-4 — and Killings has often said that while his program’s members need to approach each day with “urgency,” that the Great Danes also know that “patience” is required as they try to build themselves into a team capable of competing at a high level in the America East Conference this season.
And “patience” is something Killings knows a lot about — and it’s a virtue that James “Bruiser” Flint, who is a member of Kentucky’s coaching staff, constantly made sure that Killings exercised as he climbed the coaching ranks.
“He’s meant a lot to my journey,” Killings said of Flint.
UAlbany plays No. 13 Kentucky at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky Monday night at 7 p.m. On the coaching staff of head coach John Calipari — a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member — with the Wildcats is Flint as associate head coach. Flint has decades of experience coaching at the college level, and one of his head-coaching stops was at UMass, a school where Killings played for him as a walk-on before later graduating from Hampton in 2003. Prior to becoming the head coach at UMass, though, Flint was an assistant on Calipari’s coaching staff for the Minutemen, and long knew Killings — an Amherst native — since his father worked at the school for decades and was an avid supporter of the school’s men’s basketball program. Killings was a ball boy for Calipari’s first UMass team, and regularly attended practices and games of the team as he grew up in the area.
“He was always around,” Flint said of Killings.
“And [Flint] always made time for me,” Killings said.
Flint had a close relationship with Killings’ parents; they’d get dinner together when Flint worked at UMass and still keep in touch. When Killings decided he wanted to try to get into college coaching, Flint was one of Killings’ first phone calls for advice and guidance.
“‘Patience’ was the word he used with me when I first got started,” Killings said.
The first instinct for a young coach breaking into the business is, as Killings put it, to “knock the wall right down” in an effort to quickly ascend to becoming a head coach. That, of course, is not how it works for most eventual head coaches.
Instead, Killings’ professional career includes nearly two decades of work, and stops at four different schools, before he was hired last March at UAlbany.
“Be patient, let it happen and trust yourself,” was Flint’s message for many years to Killings.
Not too long ago, that changed.
“You’re getting close,” Killings said Flint told him a few years ago, a message that meant a lot coming from someone who had evolved into a “second father” for Killings.
At first, Flint said it had been a “surprise” to him that Killings wanted to get into coaching; Flint thought that Killings would stay connected to basketball, but perhaps in some type of administrative role. Flint, though, didn’t doubt that Killings could be successful in the coaching world because he had been a willing student and someone who built substantial relationships with those around him.
“He’s great with people. Everybody loves him,” Flint said. “He’s a great connector. You can put him in any room.”
The relationship between Flint and Killings extends, though, well beyond the basketball court or recruiting trail. They talk or text message a few times per week, and basketball is only one of the subjects. Flint offers career guidance and personal advice — notably: “Marry her,” in reference to Killings’ wife Ana, back when the couple was dating — that Killings relies on.
“He’s been a great mentor and a great advisor to me,” Killings said. “The biggest thing is the perspective he’s given me on who I am as a man, leader and coach.”
Flint and Killings each said it will be somewhat odd to coach against each other. Flint, though, said what he mostly expects to feel coaching against Killings is a sense of pride.
“It’ll feel good,” Flint said. “It’ll also let me know I’m getting a bit older.”
At Kentucky, UAlbany certainly has its work cut out for it against one of the sport’s true flagship programs. Coming off a not-up-to-its-standards season, Kentucky is 3-1 to start its campaign, and its only loss came against Duke. Four Kentucky players average double-digit scoring, and Oscar Tshiebwe — a junior — is averaging 13.8 points and 16.5 rebounds per game.
Killings, though, has said he wanted his team thoroughly tested to start its season — and no opponent on the Great Danes’ schedule will provide a greater challenge than Kentucky.
“I’m excited for us to perform out there and see what we can do,” Killings said.