Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

Leap of faith, patience paid off for Preston Spradlin in rebuilding Morehead State

MORGANTOWN — Before this season started, Morehead State was predicted to finish eighth — out of 12 teams — in the Ohio Valley Conference.

The Eagles proved the OVC coaches wrong and now have a first-round date against West Virginia (18-9) at 9:50 p.m. Friday in the NCAA tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The low expectations were just fine with Eagles head coach Preston Spradlin, a young man who has built his coaching resume through overcoming adversity.


You see, Spradlin was an Eagles assistant in 2016 when then-head coach Sean Woods resigned after an investigation into alleged physical abuse toward some of his players.

Spradlin was named interim head coach on Dec. 15, 2016, and later the head coach at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season.

The leap of faith — Spradlin had never been a head coach before — was taken by Morehead State athletic director Brian Hutchinson.

“The year prior to that, we had made a fantastic run to the finals of the CBI,” Spradlin said Monday during a Zoom call with media. “Our athletic director had traveled with us throughout that run and he got to see me a little bit more behind the scenes, I think, than what he had seen on campus and during the regular season.

“He said that ultimately that was the deciding factor for him on whether or not I was ready to take over.”

As the interim, Spradlin went 12-9 and had a team with six seniors who had contributed greatly to the program.

Morehead State head coach Preston Spradlin is 69-76 in his five seasons as the head coach of the Eagles. He was a grad assistant at Kentucky in 2010, when the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight. (Morehead State athletics)

“Obviously any time you have an interim coach, you’re going to have an administration that’s going to follow you very closely,” Spradlin said. “They traveled with us and were at practices. There was a little bit of pressure to that to perform. At the same time, it was a relief, because I got to be who I am and could coach the way I wanted to. Obviously it was a good fit on both sides.”

Spradlin’s rebuilding of the program never saw the Eagles win more than 13 games over his first three seasons as the head coach, hence the eighth-place prediction this season.

“When I got the job four years ago, I told our administration that it was going to take some time,” said Spradlin, who was a grad assistant at Kentucky in 2010, the year West Virginia beat the Wildcats to advance to the Final Four. “I was going to be very committed to doing it a certain way. We were going to have good balance. We weren’t going to go out and try to get seven junior-college guys every single year. We wanted to have a good mixture, so that we weren’t losing six guys every year and have a drop-off.”

So, Spradlin scoured the Kentucky high schools for prospects. He dipped into the junior-college market and also took some chances in the NCAA Transfer Portal.

The Eagles — the only representative in the NCAA tournament this season from the state of Kentucky, which houses eight Division I basketball schools — have three starters from its home state.

Junior guard KJ Hunt is a transfer from McNeese State, and then there was Spradlin’s recruiting gem in freshman forward Johni Broome, who was named the OVC’s Freshman of the Year after averaging 13.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.

Broome is from Plant City, Fla.

“He was a big recruit for us, obviously,” Spradlin said. “We knew he was going to be a pretty good player. I’d be lying if I knew he was going to be this good this early. It’s just a testament to who he is, his toughness, his character, and his worth ethic just continues to get better and better.”

And so Hutchinson’s leap of faith paid off, as did Spradlin’s patience to build a program over time, rather than go for a quick fix.

Morehead State is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011, when the Eagles upset Louisville in the first round as a No. 13 seed.

The Eagles have some momentum, too, having won seven in a row and 19 of their last 20 games.

“We’re obviously excited to be a part of March Madness this year,” Spradlin said. “We were really excited to see that our matchup was going to be against a really good West Virginia team. Our guys are excited about the matchup.”

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