Speaking ‘from the bottom of his heart’, Rob Lanier prepares to build bridges with SMU basketball

UNIVERSITY PARK – Rob Lanier approached the podium and pulled out a piece of paper from the right side of his jacket. There were four bullet points on it – talking points he didn’t want to forget, in case he rambled, as he said he tended to.

But sticking to a pre-written script is unnatural, so after the first point — about a minute after he was introduced as the next head coach of the SMU men’s basketball program — he put the notes away.

“I try to speak from my heart,” said Lanier, who spent the past three seasons at Georgia State.

For the remainder of his introductory speech, Lanier addressed the crowd in the lobby of the Moody Coliseum, but his words were directed at the SMU players seated in the first and second rows, including seniors Emmanuel Bandoumel and Kendric Davis – two players who don’t. have to come back, if they don’t want to.

Talking to the players, Lanier told them about the time he was in their shoes, listening to a new coaching rookie who didn’t sign him. He talked about the culture shift they are about to experience and the buy-in required for it.

Lanier’s gaze, for the most part, didn’t stray from them, and by not sticking to his script, he showed his focus.

“I don’t think it’s planned,” SMU sporting director Rick Hart said of Lanier’s focus on current SMU players. “I think it was genuine…and I think it reinforces who he is as a leader, because that’s what it’s all about. Yes, you have to compete against a wide constituency, but the job is about those guys in the locker room. And that’s where he focused today.

Because, if this locker room is anything like him, Lanier thinks he can show people the program he already thinks SMU can be. And to do that means making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.

“I want to build a great program,” said Lanier, who has been to the tournament twice as head coach, including last year, “and I want to get to the point where getting to the NCAA tournament is something we are that we desire, but it is something we do.

The potential to accomplish this is what drew him to SMU, and it happened quickly. A few weeks ago, Lanier said his agent brought him four Division I schools that would be interested in speaking with him. Lanier told his agent he wasn’t interested.

Then on Tuesday — the same day former SMU head coach Tim Jankovich announced his retirement — Lanier said he got an “out of the blue” call about working for SMU. He had recruited only 30 minutes before, but he was very intrigued. So he and his wife, Dayo, went for a walk — as they often do — and talked about work.

“When the call came I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can say no to this,'” Lanier recalled. “We have to at least go talk to them.”

On Wednesday, Lanier was in Dallas. On Friday, he was offered the job. On Sunday he met the SMU players, and a day later he met everyone.

At the end of his speech on Monday afternoon, everyone present rose to their feet. Players in attendance raised their pony ears hand sign as the rest of the crowd cheered.

In today’s world of college athletics, that’s no guarantee that every returnee in attendance will be back at SMU. They haven’t signed with Lanier, and with the optional transfer portal, they don’t have to. Davis and Bandoumel, two key starters on SMU’s 24-9 squad a year ago, have the ability to pursue professional opportunities, if they choose.

Lanier will turn his attention to the current roster on Thursday, he said, after the off period and he cannot recruit elsewhere at this time.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Lanier said. “I will get to know them, try to be honest with them and try to spend time with them and hopefully we can develop some trust.”

A piece of paper with talking points will not be necessary.

New SMU men's basketball head coach Rob Lanier speaks during a press conference announcing his...

1/18New SMU men’s basketball coach Rob Lanier speaks during a press conference announcing his new position as head coach at the Moody Coliseum in Dallas, TX on March 28, 2022. (Shelby Tauber / Special Contributor)

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