Riley hired to revive Alcorn State

Published 12:02 pm Tuesday, March 29, 2011

LORMAN — Over the course of 12 seasons, Luther Riley established himself as one of the top high school basketball coaches in Mississippi. His Provine teams collected nearly as many gold basketballs as they had rubber ones in the racks.

It’s the kind of success Alcorn State has been seeking for the better part of the last decade, which made Riley a perfect fit for the school.

Riley, who was a graduate assistant at Alcorn under legendary coach Dave Whitney, was hired as the Braves’ head coach on Monday. He’ll try to turn around a program that has fallen on hard times since Whitney left in 2003.

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Whitney led Alcorn to 12 Southwestern Athletic Conference championships in 27 seasons on the bench in Lorman, but the Braves have not finished better than fourth in the SWAC since his retirement.

The previous coach, Larry Smith, was 12-78 in three seasons before he was promoted to a different position within the athletic department.

“This will be a daunting task,” Riley said at a press conference in Jackson on Monday. “However, with a renewal vision and a consistent mindset of refusing anything less than superior, we can achieve the impossible.”

Riley also was a finalist for the Alcorn job when Smith was hired in 2008. He said the extra time in the high school ranks better prepared him for this opportunity.

“Those three years taught me a lot more. I’ve learned a lot since then. The timing just wasn’t right,” Riley said.

Riley’s contract has yet to be finalized, but it is expected to be for three years and be worth between $90,000 and $110,000 per year, Alcorn president Dr. Christopher Brown said. Smith’s contract, which has one year remaining, paid him $125,000 per year.

The other finalists for the job were former Grambling State women’s coach David Ponton and Humphreys County head coach Richard Horton.

Brown said Riley’s track record at Provine made him stand out from the other finalists interviewed over the weekend. In 12 seasons at the JPS powerhouse, Riley went 290-104, won four state championships and the 2008 Grand Slam championship. His teams won 20 or more games nine times.

“He is a real down to business guy and he knows what he wants,” Alcorn point guard Marquiz Baker said in a school release.