College Sports

New McKendree coach says you'll love watching Bearcats play

New McKendree University men's basketball coach Chris Foster was 83-40 overall and 48-24 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in four seasons at Truman State University.
New McKendree University men's basketball coach Chris Foster was 83-40 overall and 48-24 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in four seasons at Truman State University.

New McKendree University men's basketball coach Chris Foster plans to put the Bearcats in motion.

Foster, 36, comes to McKendree after four consecutive 20-win seasons at Truman State University, which, like McKendree, plays in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, perhaps the best Division II league in the country.

What worked in Kirksville, Mo., Foster said, will play in Lebanon.

"We try to run our motion offense, play in transition and get some easy baskets," Foster said. "A lot of it is recruiting and getting kids that fit that style of play. It's really hard to guard. You've got to have unselfish guys and be able to share the ball."

Foster, a native of Ironton, Mo., said the offense make it possible for players with different skill levels to succeed.

"Motion is kind of a lost art in basketball," Foster said. "Not many teams do it anymore. It was probably a little more popular years ago, but it's something we feel like we've found a niche with. It's something I definitely will continue to do.

"It makes you hard to guard; it keeps everybody involved. The biggest thing is it allows players to play to their strength, no matter what their strength is — whether they're a post guy, a catch-and-shoot guy, a driver. No matter what they're good at, they can kind of find a home and be able to play to their strengths in motion."

In the 2016-17 season, Truman State finished 22-10 and led all Division II teams in the country in 3-point shooting efficiency, making 338 of 788 attempts (42.9 percent). The Bulldogs also ranked first in points (2,777), points per game (86.8), field-goal percentage (49.9) and free-throw percentage (74.6). They qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.

The Bulldogs also reached the NCAA Tournament during the recently completed season, finishing 20-11 overall and 13-5 in the GLVC. They averaged 83.8 points, which ranked second in the league to William Jewell, and made 323 3-pointers, which was second in the league to Drury. Truman State also ranked second to William Jewell in free throws made (455).

"We've been fortunate to have some really good shooters," Foster said. "More than anything, it's the type of shots you get. If you get good shots, obviously, you shoot a higher percentage. That's what we kind of pride ourselves on — being unselfish and getting the best shot we can get. I think the percentages reflect that."

Foster has no doubt he can find players to fit the mold at McKendree, based on the fertile recruiting landscape.

"It's a great location," Foster said. "McKendree has a history of winning a lot of games with St. Louis kids and kids in the metro-east — even some of the smaller towns east of O'Fallon. You've got a great base around you. You always want to start there and kind of work your way out. If you don't find what you're looking for, then you can look elsewhere. But you certainly have a lot of options right there really close to campus, which is nice."

Foster was 83-40 overall and 48-24 in four seasons at Truman State. The Bulldogs also made the NCAA Tournament this season.

McKendree Athletics Director Chuck Brueggemann believes Foster can right the ship. The Bearcats have suffered through six straight losing seasons, finishing 61-100 and 20-88 in the GLVC. They were 12-16 and 3-15 this season.

"I am confident our McKendree fan base will enjoy the style of basketball his teams will bring to the court," Brueggemann said. "Chris preaches a very potent, high-octane system on offense while bringing a tenacious defensive attack. His disciplined structure enables his teams to accomplish this at both ends of the floor.

"Chris is a humble man — both professionally and personally. He is as authentic and genuine as they come. Chris' personality will resonate with our fan base and bring even more excitement."

Foster said he was impressed with the vision for the men's basketball program by Brueggemann and President James Dennis.

"The athletic department and McKendree as a whole, I was blown away by their commitment and wanting to raise the bar and do things to help us be successful," Foster said. "That was really big for me, to get Chuck's vision. And then meeting everybody — the other coaches and support staff. Everybody was very kind to me and it seemed like everybody had a good working relationship, which is important. You want to surround yourself with good people, and I'm very confident that will be the case at McKendree."

Foster, of course, was familiar with the long record of success of former McKendree coach Harry Statham, who was 1,122-513 in 52 seasons. Statham is the winningest coach at any four-year school in the country.

"Obviously, what Harry did there was phenomenal," Foster said. "The longevity, the success that he had, a Hall of Fame coach. I look forward to getting there and getting to work and just building on that, continue to grow that program into something that Coach Statham and the community and the university can be really proud of."

Foster said leaving Truman State is difficult. He told his players about his decision Thursday morning.

"I love Truman," Foster said. "They gave me a shot as a young, first-time head coach. I love the players here. They've been great to me. It's always tough to leave good people. I have three kids who have friends and have called this place home for five years. That's always tough to leave. The people at Truman have been unbelievable and certainly the kids in our basketball program have been so great at buying into our vision of what we wanted Truman basketball to be and running with that.

"Having success provides you with more opportunities. I'm very thankful for this opportunity, but it's very tough to leave such a good university with great people. ... We're really looking forward to getting in the area and getting involved with things."

Foster will be in Lebanon next week. From there, he will begin building toward the 2018-19 season.

"My No. 1 priority is the kids that are there," Foster said. "I want to get in and meet with all those guys and find out where they're at. We'll start with that and see what direction to go from there. I'm familiar with a lot of those guys."

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665; @DavidMWilhelm

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