Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Darren Savino was headed to Fairleigh Dickinson to become an assistant coach when his old friend Mick Cronin called him last June.
The Cincinnati head coach needed a new assistant because Tony Stubblefield was leaving for a larger salary and greener pastures at Oregon.
“I was going to Fairleigh Dickinson. I was going to be Greg Vetrone’s assistant,” Savino, 39, said Friday as No. 6 Cincinnati (26-8) was preparing to meet Big East rival and No. 3 UConn (27-9) in a West Regional third-round game here.
Cronin and Savino had known one another for years, dating back to their tenure together at Murray State in the mid 2000s. Cronin was the head coach and Savino the assistant.
Now, Savino was out of work after briefly serving as the interim head coach at Rutgers in the wake of Fred Hill’s firing in April. By May, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti had hired Mike Rice as Hill’s replacement.
Losing his job was nothing new for Savino.
He had suddenly found himself out of work at St. John’s and at New Mexico, both times under Fran Fraschilla.
“I’ve kind of been through that process before,” Savino said. “It’s not fun.”
Once he knew the Cincinnati thing was for real, Savino called Vetrone, known as “Shoes,” and told him he was likely headed to the Big East instead of the Northeast Conference.
Cronin knew that Savino could help Cincinnati as a coach and a recruiter.
A 1989 graduate of St. Anthony High School, Savino played under Hall of Famer Bob Hurley, Sr., where he teamed with future Duke star Bobby Hurley and high school All-American Roderick Rhodes on a team that won the USA Today national championship his senior season.
Savino was influential in bringing Rutgers its first McDonald’s All-American in Mike Rosario.
“Darren and I are best friends,” Cronin said. “We talk all the time, every day, every other day, to say the last. So there was no doubt who I was going to hire when Tony Stubblefield got the opportunity to get the big cash at Oregon.”
In his first year on the job, Savino has already paid dividends on the recruiting friend, helping to land 6-6 wings Jermaine Sanders out of New York and Shaquille Thomas out of New Jersey for Cincinnati’s 2011 recruiting class.
Those two continue a recent trend of New York/New Jersey guys heading to play for the Bearcats, a lineage that recently includes Rashad Bishop, Lance Stephenson and Sean Kilpatrick.
Upon arriving in Cincinnati, Savino temporarily moved into the basement of Cronin’s house.
Now Savino lives there permanently and Cronin, a big Charlie Sheen fan, compares their situation to Sheen’s cancelled sitcom because Cronin’s 4-year-old daughter Samantha also spends time at the house.
Savino does the shopping for the house and enjoys sitting on the couch watching basketball with Cronin and Samantha as they share dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts
“We’re ‘Two and a Half Men'” Cronin said with a smile. “It’s not quite as eventful. We’re not ‘winning’ every day.”
The Bearcats might not be ‘winning’ Charlie Sheen style, but they did win their first NCAA Tournament game in six years.
Savino said he hopes to become a head coach down the line.
And Cronin thinks he’d do a great job.
“Hopefully, the people at schools like Manhattan and Monmouth will call me,” Cronin said. “I don’t want to lose him, but they’d be lucky to have him.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.