Interview with UMKC Head Men’s Basketball Coach Billy Donlon
Billy Donlon made amazing strides as he took over the Roos Men’s Basketball program at the start of the 2019-20 season. The Northbrook, Ill., native recorded the second-most wins (16) as a first-year head coach in school history ending with a 16-14 overall mark. He led the Roos to a 7-3 stretch to end the season, cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch video highlights from year one
When looking at the numbers across the board, the 16-14 overall record marked the most wins in three years and the .533 win percentage was the highest since 2010-11. In conference play, the Roos posted eight victories, which was the highest output in their Western Athletic Conference history. Playing in the newly renovated Swinney Center, Kansas City went 9-4 at home and tied the second-best home start in school history at 6-0.
Under Donlon’s guidance, the Roos had a positive start to the season. Kansas City won its ninth game in the 16th overall contest to begin the year 9-7. That start marked the fastest output to nine wins since the 2010- 11 program. Additionally, with five wins prior to Dec. 1, the Roos collected the most victories before the calendar flipped into December since 2016-17. A non-conference highlight was advancing to the championship game of The Island of Bahamas Showcase on Nov. 24. The Roos lost against Liberty, a team to advance to the Round of 32 in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, but proved to the world they were a team to be reckoned with.
Donlon preached team defense and his team demonstrated it – Kansas City ranked 23rd in the country in 3-point field goal defense (29.7%), 33rd in steals per game (8.1), and 47th in turnovers forced (15.2).
In his first KC recruiting class for 2020, he brought in five decorated recruits, including two local Kansas City prospects from Truman High School and North Kansas City High School.
Donlon was introduced as the seventh head coach in Kansas City men’s basketball history on March 28th, 2019.
(Press Conference Video) (Videos – Get to Know Coach Donlon)
“It reminds me of my experiences at Wilmington and Wright State. Neither of those programs had a winning tradition. That excites me – the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done,” Donlon said. “We’re not only going to knock on the door, but we’re also going to kick it in,” he added. “There has to be a first time. Northwestern did it two years ago (earned its first NCAA tournament bid). We were part of the first Big Ten championship at Michigan. When people come and watch our players compete and play, they’ll believe we can make the NCAA tournament.”
After spending the last three seasons as an assistant coach (2016-19) in power five conferences, Donlon arrived at Kansas City. Prior to KC, Donlon joined the Northwestern men’s basketball program as an assistant coach in June 2017. During Donlon’s time as an assistant coach at Northwestern, the Wildcats went a combined 28-36.
Donlon’s lone season in Ann Arbor saw Michigan post a 26-12 record, including winning four games in four days to capture the Big Ten tournament title. The Wolverines went on to advance to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.
Donlon made the move to Michigan after spending a decade at Wright State, including the final six years as the program’s head coach. In those six seasons (2010-16), Donlon compiled a 109-94 record with three 20-plus win seasons and helped the Raiders reach the Horizon League Tournament title game three times (2013, ’14, ’16). In addition, Donlon’s squads tied the program marks for wins with 23 in 2013 and conference wins with 13 in 2016.
After his 2013 squad was picked to finished last in the preseason, Donlon went on to be named the Horizon League’s Coach of the Year. He guided the Raiders to a 10-win improvement, tying the school record with 23 wins, the No. 3 seed and a championship game appearance in the Horizon League Tournament as well as a semifinal appearance in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). He was also named a finalist for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award and the Hugh Durham Coach of the Year Award given to the nation’s top mid-major coach.
During his tenure, he coached five players to All-Horizon League honors — Vaughn Duggins (2011, 1st), N’Gai Evans (2011, 2nd), Julius Mays (2012, 2nd), Cole Darling (2013, 2nd) and A.J. Pacher (2014, 2nd). In 2012, Mays was also named the Horizon Newcomer of the Year and was a member of the All-Newcomer Team. Known for his defensive strategies, Wright State’s defense ranked as high as 16th nationally in 2013, and he had two players selected as the Horizon League All-Defensive Team — Matt Vest (2014) and Joe Thomasson (2016).
Before his promotion to head coach in 2010, Donlon served as the associate head coach under current Clemson head coach Brad Brownell for four seasons (2007-10). He helped Wright State to four straight 20-plus win seasons, the 2007 Horizon League regular-season and tournament title and an automatic bid to the 2007 NCAA Tournament, where the Raiders lost in the first round to Pittsburgh.
Before joining Wright State, Donlon was an assistant at his alma mater UNC Wilmington for four seasons (2002-06), coaching again under Brownell. Donlon assisted the Seahawks to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances (2003, ’06) and two Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) regular-season and tournament titles (2003, ’06).
Following his collegiate playing career at UNCW, Donlon began his coaching career as an assistant at American University (1999-2000) before moving on to Saint Peter’s for a season (2000-01). Following the 2001 season, Donlon spent a year playing professionally overseas with Irish National Team, as well as stops in France and Germany.
As a collegiate player, Donlon was a star guard at UNC Wilmington for four seasons (1996-99), playing in 118 career games. He finished with 901 points and at the time of his graduation he was the Seahawks all-time assist leader with 456, which currently stands third in UNCW history. He was a member of the Colonial Athletic Association’s (CAA) All-Rookie Team in 1996 and led the team in assists as a junior (5.6 apg) and senior (5.2 apg).
Donlon, who earned a history degree in 1999 from UNCW, received one of the CAA’s most prestigious honors in his senior year. He was selected as the recipient of the Dean Ehlers Award for Leadership, presented annually to the player who embodies the highest standards of leadership, integrity and sportsmanship through academic and athletic achievements.
He is married to the former Melissa McCracken.
“In just one season, Billy Donlon had an immediate impact on our basketball program! We won the Big Ten Conference tournament and returned to the Sweet 16 in his only year with us. I will always be grateful for his work that season. His energy and passion for the game and love for coaching student-athletes is incredible. His experience as a player, assistant coach and head coach is so valuable to both his players and staff. He knows the game and can teach it too. I am so happy for Billy, his family and the Kangaroos.”
– John Beilein, David and Meredith Kaplan Men’s Basketball Head Coach | University of Michigan
While at Michigan, Donlon was Assistant Coach under Beilein for 1 season from 2016-17
“Billy Donlon will bring a great deal of passion and energy to the UMKC basketball program. He is a tremendous teacher of the game who excels at making players better and game planning. His players will enjoy playing for him and the UMKC fan base will be proud of the way they compete.”
– Brad Brownell, Men’s Basketball Head Coach | Clemson University
While at Wright State, Donlon was Associate Head Coach under Brownell for 4 seasons from 2007-10
“I am thrilled for Billy, Melissa and their family to have this great opportunity at UMKC. Billy is a great friend and I want to thank him for his tireless work ethic and significant contributions to the Northwestern program. He is a proven winner as a head coach and his commitment to the student-athlete experience, unparalleled passion and knowledge of the game will make him a great representative of the basketball program, community and University. He will do a great job and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for him and UMKC basketball.”
– Chris Collins, Sullivan-Ubben Men’s Basketball Head Coach | Northwestern University
While at Northwestern, Donlon was Assistant Coach under Collins for 2 seasons from 2017-19
“Billy Donlon is a student of the game. His knowledge and ability to relate to young people is tremendous. Playing with him in college gave me a first-hand glimpse into his work ethic and toughness. Kukos to UMKC for an excellent choice!”
– Martin Jarmond, William V. Campbell Director of Athletics | Boston College
As a player, Donlon was teammate of Jarmond at UNC Wilmington from 1996-99
“I know Billy is extremely excited about the opportunity and this is a wonderful hire for UMKC. He has been a successful head coach as well as having tremendous Big Ten experience at both Northwestern and Michigan. He was incredibly impactful to our program and student-athletes. Bottom line – Billy is a player’s coach. He has been around the game all of his life as his Dad was a highly-decorated basketball coach. To be certain, I feel very confident he will elevate the program immediately. Billy has the ability to connect with the high school coaches in the Kansas City area. He has really made it a priority in his previous experiences to recruit locally and establish strong ties to those student-athletes. Rest assured, Billy will do everything he can for there to be a direct connection of the local high school coaches and student-athletes in the greater Kansas City area”.
– Jim Phillips, Combe Family Vice President for Athletics & Recreation | Northwestern University
While at Northwestern, Donlon was Assistant Coach when Phillips is the VP for Athletics for 2 seasons from 2017-19
“I am thrilled for Billy and UMKC. He is a great coach, who I have always respected for both his coaching ability and his commitment to operating with integrity. On top of that, he truly cares about his guys and they will benefit from his dedication to their on and off-court development.”
– Brad Stevens, Head Coach | Boston Celtics
As Head Coach at Wright State, Donlon coached against Stephens when Butler played in the Horizon League for 3 seasons from 2010-12