When legendary basketball coach Rick Byrd retired at the end of last season, Casey Alexander was the logical choice as his replacement.
Alexander played at Belmont, enjoying success on the hardwood that earned him a spot in the school’s Hall of Fame. Conversely, the 47-year-old got his coaching career started with Bruins under Byrd in 1995. He served as an assistant until 2011 before departing for Stetson and eventually Lipscomb, where he was until last year.
Having such a familiarity for the Belmont culture and ways of winning, Alexander has all but seamlessly stepped right in and has the Bruins ready to hit the ground running.
“The transition has been great,” Alexander said Tuesday in a radio interview with the 3HL on 104.5 the Zone. “It’s had a lot of moving parts, but by now I feel well settled in. The guys have responded appropriately, and I think we’re in a good place and ready to play some games.”
Despite losing its top two players from last season in Dylan Windler and Kevin McClain, Belmont was picked as the preseason favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference. The Bruins, who open the season Wednesday, Nov. 6, at Illinois State, will have a lot of production to replace: Windler averaged 21.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game last season and McClain was right behind him with 16.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game and was second on the team in assists (130) and 3-point shooting (.366 percent).
“It’s an interesting situation losing those two guys,” Alexander continued. “I mean, a first-round draft pick and then our second-leading everything in McClain. So, typically that’s a tall order to try and replace those guys and come back and be anywhere near the top of the league.
“But we do have some young guys that played a lot of meaningful minutes and made a lot of great contributions. I feel like we’ve got good depth, we have good size, and even though we’re relatively young, we’ve got good experience. Our expectations should be to continue to win.”
With the departures of Windler and McClain, the door is open for some younger players from last year’s 27-6 team to take on increased roles in 2019. Two players Alexander will be looking to step up include preseason All-OVC selections Grayson Murphy and Nick Muszynski.
“He’s got a lot of room to continue to improve,” Alexander said of Muszynksi. “The guy is 6’11, with a 7’4 wingspan. He catches everything, he scores with both hands, he can score over either shoulder and he can make an open 3. He’s a real weapon, especially at our level.”
Muszynski was third on the team in scoring last year, averaging 14.7 points per game to go along with 5.8 rebounds per and 87 assists. Muszynski’s size will surely create matchup problems for several of Belmont’s opponents.
Murphy is perhaps the player with the most to gain this year as Windler was the straw the stirred the Belmont drink, so to speak, and Murphy could step into that role this year.
The sophomore point guard averaged 9.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last year and led the Bruins with 214 assists. Alexander is quite familiar with the former Independence standout having recruited him while at Lipscomb. Finally getting the chance to coach “the one that got away,” look for Alexander to maximize Murphy’s talents this year.
“His competitive spirit is what he brings to the table more than anything,” Alexander added. “His turnover ratio is exceptional, and the guy is a winner and a competitor. One of my favorite guys I’ve ever recruited and one of the guys I’m most disappointed I didn’t get. So now, I’m happy to be his coach.”
This story originally ran in our sister publication, the Nashville Post.