Brad Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks didn’t pull off a first-round upset in the NCAA Tournament this time, but that doesn’t diminish the remarkable job he’s done in his first two years.
Underwood, a 1982 McPherson High graduate, took over what was a good SFA program and has made it great. His first season produced a 32-3 record and first-round upset of No. 5 VCU in the NCAA Tournament. The ‘Jacks were the talk of the tourney’s first round and propelled Underwood into the national spotlight.
Fears of being a one-hit wonder popped up early this year when SFA started the season 1-3, but it reeled off 28 wins in its last 29 games to finish 29-4, once again winning the Southland Conference and its postseason tournament.
The Lumberjacks again found themselves tagged as a No. 12 seed, but Utah was a far more formidable No. 5-seed than VCU. The Utes had given Kansas all it wanted earlier this year and was one of four teams to defeat Wichita State during the regular season.
Underwood paid his dues in the coaching profession. He was a successful head coach at the junior college level at Dodge City and Daytona Beach and assisted at Western Illinois. His big break came when he was picked by Bob Huggins to join Kansas State's staff, the year Wildcat basketball emerged from a slumber and became a national player again. Before Huggins arrived at Kansas State, the Wildcats didn't recruit players like Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, as they thought they had no shot. Huggins, though, had star power and was able to lure these big-time talents to Manhattan.
When Huggins left after one year to return to his alma mater West Virginia, assistant coach Frank Martin was elevated to the top spot with Underwood as his right-hand man. He was the calm compared to Martin's storm and the duo churned out quality teams year after year.
Martin's success didn't come without a price as his sideline outbursts soon became a source of embarrassment and consternation for Wildcat brass and fans. However, South Carolina came calling and Martin accepted the job, taking Underwood with him.
Underwood lasted just one year at South Carolina as Stephen F. Austin took notice and hired him away. At age 50, he had his first Division I head coaching job.
Underwood doesn't recruit the type of players he coached at Kansas State and South Carolina, but he recruits players that fit his system. The Lumberjacks were one of the most entertaining teams in the country, but didn't bring their shooting eye with them to Portland and their cold shooting led to the loss.
Underwood's star will never be brighter. He'll certainly be entertaining offers in the coming weeks as he's a hot commodity on the college radar. While he's said in the past how much he enjoys his situation, the allure and challenge of coaching at a Power 5 Conference may be too appealing to turn down.
If Underwood does return he must replace four seniors, but would return Ty Charles and Thomas Walkup, who were the 'Jacks' top scorers on Thursday. His seniors accounted for only eight points.
Underwood is a proven recruiter and his task is made much easier when he can go into a prospect's home armed with the fact his team is now an NCAA regular.
Underwood has learned from the best. He played for legendary McPherson High coach Jay Frazier, spent a year at Independence Juco playing for one-time KU star Bob Kivisto and finished his career learning from the renowned Jack Hartman at Kansas State.
Underwood has always kept McPherson special in his heart. His mother, Jan, still lives here and he now and then is able to come back and visit. He's a classic case of a hometown boy making good.