The new era of Xavier basketball started almost the moment JP Macura and Trevon Bluiett trudged off the floor against Florida State. From there, the dominoes seemed to fall in rapid progression. Within moments of walking off, Chris Mack was the hot new name on the coaching market. That weekend he was already in meetings with Louisville. Nine days after the Seminoles beat the first #1 seed team in Xavier history, the winningest coach in program history was gone.
For the first time in a decade, Xavier was without a coach. Unlike every other time the Musketeers had looked for a new leading man, though, Xavier was coming off a Big East regular season championship and the highest seed possible in the NCAA tournament. There would be no shortage of applicants or hats in the ring. Still, with a season that ended far before it felt like it should have and the charismatic leader of Xavier’s march to top tier leader relevance, it felt like the 2018-19 season was being buried before it had a chance to get going. As Chris Mack left, recruits and transfers followed.
Gloom never lasts long on Victory Parkway though, and this wasn’t destined to be the one time. The main candidates were clear from the start, and they represented the cream of the young coaching crop. Ultimately, there was only ever going to be one choice, and four days after Chris Mack left Xavier, Travis Steele moved into the head job at the most consistent sports performer in the city.
The task facing Steele was nothing more than creating an entire roster, and filling a coaching staff, from the ruin of the dashed hopes of the season before. Trevon, JP, Sean O’Mara, Kerem Kanter, and Kaiser Gates departed the team before all was said and done. That was five of Xavier’s top six players in terms of playing time. The returnees (except well ensconced point guard Quentin Goodin) averaged just 14 per minutes per game. Steele didn’t just need to steady a program that was losing the best coach it ever had, he had to build a team to do it with.
To do that at such a late hour the new coach had to first lock up the guys he was going to do it with. Luke Murray and Mike Pegues had also left for Louisville with Chris Mack. Travis Steele quickly developed a reputation as a guy unwilling to wait around by locking down the foundation of the program, Mario Mercurio, as well as Jeremy Growe and Matt Jennings. Two weeks after taking the job, Steele had added Ryan Welage, Kyle Castlin, and division two player of the year, Zach Hankins.
More than just landing players, and bringing in Dante Jackson, Ben Johnson, and Jonas Hayes to coach them, Steele crushed his opening press conference. While that was hardly the same as watching the team play in the Final Four that everyone had been hoping for, it gave Xavier fans something to latch on to as good news. Steele didn’t mince words, he didn’t waste time, and he connected with the fanbase immediately. There was still a long way to go, but from the ashes of the best season in program history it was easy to see another era emerging.