Kyle Neptune, the new men’s basketball coach at Fordham University, posed for photos this week at the Rose Hill Gym. In back of him and hanging by the rafters were the pennants of every Fordham men’s basketball accomplishment.
There was that Digger Phelps era and run to the NCAA Tournament. And there were 16 postseason NIT appearances for the Rams, guided by different coaches, including five during the tenure of Tom Penders.
Former NBA coach Bob Hill, reputation and all, attempted and had difficulties bringing Fordham back to prominence.
Yes, there was a time up at Rose Hill when the Rams were always the talk of the town with St. John’s and playing competitive college basketball at Madison Square Garden.
But the Rams moved on to the Atlantic-10 Conference and have discovered over the years it has been difficult to reach the top. In that same old building, where Fordham teams have played before sparce crowds, the banners of opposing A-10 Conference schools are in a line above the bleachers.
St. Bonaventure, LaSalle, Saint Louis, VCU, Richmond, George Washington, Duquesne, Rhode Island, Dayton, Davidson, UMASS, George Mason, Saint Joseph’s. And of course the Fordham banner all representing the A-10.
“Honestly to me that’s a good thing,” Neptune said about the Rams and their affiliation with the A-10. “In a competitive league, players want to come here.”
Neptune, appointed this week after an extensive search, hopes that alliance with the A-10 continues. He is looking for an immediate winning culture and brings that along after eight seasons as an assistant coach at Villanova University.
Though, getting to that winning culture won’t be easy. Neptune is aware of what has to be done to put Fordham basketball back on the map. To start, kids who play basketball in New York City need to become scholastic athletes up at Rose Hill.
One thing, though, his predecessors had a difficult time recruiting and delivering that city basketball player to Fordham.
Fordham has always been one of the top academic schools in the country. There is no denying that education with post graduate success has never been an issue, but those talented kids from New York City are looking elsewhere and choosing schools with winning college basketball programs.
So it’s easy to understand the winning culture needs to arrive again up at Rose Hill. When the recruits arrive and leave, and because the NCAA allows it, they quickly escape. In the past few years, some of those solid recruits that Fordham hoped to secure, have moved on to a constant and successful winning culture.
“It’s not only a problem for Fordham, it’s a college basketball problem,” Neptune says about the NCAA transfer situation.
He can’t change that situation but Neptune will begin the process of bringing a winning culture, so those who arrive at Rose Hill will stay.
Neptune, a native of Brooklyn is in familiar surroundings. He played at the Rose Hill Gym. He knows that culture of the Fordham community and also something about building a winner.
“First things first, establishing culture and building relationships with current players,” he said. “Specific ways of doing things and finding special guys in recruiting and willing to strive with greatness.”
Neptune has met most of his players. He says they are enthusiastic. Change can be good and Fordham Athletic Director Ed Kull dismissed Jeff Neubauer after six seasons with two games remaining on a truncated schedule that was disrupted by COVID-19.
The Rams completed another last place finish in the conference, 2-11, 2-12 overall. They lost to George Washington in the first round of the A-10 Conference tournament. Last March, before COVID suspended play, the Rams eliminated GW in the first round at the Barclays Center.
That win was a crowning achievement for the Rams and Neubauuer as their best basketball was played down the stretch.
So the transition is in motion. Neptune, well respected among his peers, will begin the process of restoring that winning culture. He will pitch his New York roots and basketball. He will make his pitch about Fordham academics.
Neptune will pitch recruits about the history and alumni base that has more than a handful of fame in all walks of life. But it will be about rebuilding a Fordham basketball program and restoring pride that once was.
“We just want to be competitive,” he said. “We want to worry about Fordham and be competitive whoever we can play and be the best we can possibly be. If that’s against Alaska university, the best against the best, we will do our best every time.”
Again it will be a task. Because of those other schools, having Fordham on their schedule was going to be a win. But the Rams always came to play. The new coach intends to change that culture and bring winning back to Rose Hill.
“Galvanize the entire community, the players and former players, the entire Fordham community rallying around the team.,” Neptune said.
Sounds like a plan and very possible for the Fordham Rams. They believe Kyle Neptune has brought that to the table.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso