unfolds and dozens of schools savor accomplishments and build upon existing basketball traditions, one school again shelved its uniforms for the season as the principals tackle the hard work of overcoming decades of futility.
The men's and women's programs at
concluded disappointing seasons in similar fashion. Both teams lost in the first round of their respective
tournaments, frustrating ends to seasons that began with great promise.
The Tribe men (6-26) recorded their fewest wins since 1993-94 in a season disrupted by injuries from the start. William and Mary's women (10-20) lost 15 of their final 17 games after an encouraging first six weeks.
The results speak to programs with scant tradition and little margin for error, competing in the middle-to-upper reaches of Division I basketball, at a school with limited resources and uncompromising academic standards.
"We're trying to balance the academic mission and the athletic mission at the same time and be as competitive as we can," W&M athletic director Terry Driscoll said, "understanding that we have certain assets and liabilities that we have to manage that don't make us like everyone else. It just makes us who we are."
William and Mary's men have posted just four winning records since 1985 and have finished among the CAA upper tier just twice. The Tribe remains one of just five programs with at least 50 years of Division I membership never to have made the NCAA tournament.
The women's program, once targeted for termination in the early 1990s after years of bottom-feeding finishes and debatable return on the expense, has had just five winning records since joining Division I. The women haven't finished higher than fifth in the conference in a dozen years, before the current 12-team alignment.
"One of the difficult things," men's coach
said, "is when you're trying to build something and there's no tradition for it, I think every setback will re-energize those who believe it can't be done. That's why our staff, me, others, have to be so determined, so persistent in trying to reach our goals."
The Tribe's identity is also reflected in its approach to its basketball coaches. William and Mary is one of just 15 of 338 Division I schools nationally in which the men's and women's basketball programs, heading into this season, had coaches with at least five years tenure and sub-.500 records.
Shaver, who just completed his ninth season, is 103-172. Women's coach Debbie Taylor, who just concluded the 13th season at her alma mater, is 105 games under .500, with a 138-243 record.
"It's a job where you can't judge the coach strictly on winning and losing and fortunately, I think our administration understands that," Shaver said. "I think it's an administration that's been supportive of what we're trying to do. I think they're realistic about some of the challenges we face. There's recognition that we've made this program relevant. We've made this program competitive. I think we've got respect around our league right now. We're capable of competing."
Taylor had what she said was far and away her deepest and most versatile team. She and her players looked for a radical turnaround from last season's injury-decimated 3-26 season into the upper half of the conference.
"I was hopeful that this year definitely would have gotten us there, because I thought we had the team to do it," Taylor said. "If there's a finger to point, it's obviously got to be at me, because I think we had enough talent to do it."
Driscoll is in the midst of evaluating the programs, a deliberate process that includes discussions with the coaches and feedback from administrators and players. He is well aware that plenty of athletic departments and A.D.'s would have fired coaches and started fresh by now.
"I would tend to come down on the more patient side," he said. "Inevitably, there's a point where change could come. I have to say that winning is important. But when we sit down to evaluate our coaches, Ws and Ls have never been the primary component.
"There are aspects of the program, how things are going, what are we achieving, are we getting the kids we need? All of those things are evaluated and then we'll go forward."
Driscoll understands basketball better than most people in his position. He was an All-American at
and a professional player and coach. But he balances his opinions about the game with an understanding of where he works and the challenges his coaches face.
"Because I know basketball, I don't have any problem talking to Tony or Debbie about the basketball side," he said. "But I don't try to do their jobs. ... First and foremost, I need to try to make sure to do all I can, within the resources that we have, to help them be successful.
"But yes, the success of the program is important, in terms of wins and losses at a certain point. We can't be satisfied with just being here. We have to emphasize success within the framework of the school and the overall mission. At the same time, coaches have to understand that one of the components of success is Ws and Ls. It's incumbent on me to decide when that is."
Among those 15 schools with men's and women's tenured coaches and sub-.500 records, there are asterisks and qualifiers. For example,
(Eddie Payne and Tammy George) is in just its fifth year as a Division I program. At Saint Peter's, men's coach John Dunne entered the season 38 games under .500, but took his team to the NCAA tournament in 2011.
Yale men's coach James Jones was sub.-500 overall heading into his 13th season, but had a winning
record. At the University of Portland, longtime women's coach Jim Sollars was 24 games under .500, but is an institution at the school, with four
berths in the 1990s and postseason appearances two of the previous three years.
Asterisks and qualifiers might apply to William and Mary's programs, as well. Both the men and women are markedly improved and more talented than in the early phases of Shaver's and Taylor's tenures.
The Tribe men finished among the top teams in the CAA once between 1986 and 2007. They have finished in the upper half twice since then.
They won three CAA tournament games in the first 22 years of the league's existence. Since then, they have made the tournament final twice, most recently two years ago with a team that won 22 games and earned the program's second-ever
William and Mary's women finished in the middle of the CAA pack for three successive years, from 2005-08, before again sliding to the bottom the past three years. Injuries and inexperience accounted for the regression from 2009-11, lack of confidence or mental toughness this season.
"We've made a lot of steps in the time I've been here," Taylor said. "We got to a place where we became very competitive in the league. In the last three years, we've not met my expectations, by any means. That said, I'm confident that where we are, with the kids we have on our team right now, we have the talent to compete in this league. We just have to overcome the non-winning tradition."
Taylor said that the academic standards that shrink the talent pool for William and Mary's men's program are an advantage for her. She pointed out a couple of the top seeds in this year's NCAA tournament — Stanford and
— and referenced traditional powers such as Duke, Virginia,
, California and North Carolina. All have superior academic standing.
"The better academic schools tend to recruit a high-caliber player because most females understand the value of a great education," she said. "We have something to offer that Vanderbilt has to offer in the
, something that other schools in our league don't have to offer: a prestigious, top-notch education. I think that's a plus on the women's side.
"That's why I came here. That's why I truly believe that this program can be successful and can be one of the better programs at (William and Mary), because we've got something unique. We've got a mini-Duke — at a very different level of basketball, but we've got the same thing to sell."
As frustrating as this season was, almost two weeks removed from the Tribe's CAA tournament loss, Shaver was energized about the future and the possibilities. He has adapted to Division I from his days running a D-III national power at Hampden-Sydney, and he adapted his system to one that's more suited to the talent they can recruit and a style that permits them to compete.
"I'm in the right place," he said. "I'm in a good place. If I wanted comfort in my life, I should have stayed at Hampden-Sydney. I got pretty used to winning 25, 28, 30 games every year and competing for national championships. But you've got to challenge yourself and I've done that. I've taken on the challenge.