Zags assistant Giacoletti takes Drake’s top job

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SPOKANE — Gonzaga assistant coach Ray Giacoletti has had several chances to return to the head-coaching ranks the last few years but he was admittedly picky about finding the right fit.

After meeting twice with Drake University officials, first on Sunday and again on Wednesday, Giacoletti was convinced that a return to his Missouri Valley Conference roots was the correct career move.

Drake introduced Giacoletti as its men’s basketball coach at a Thursday afternoon press conference in Des Moines, Iowa. He agreed to a five-year contract. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Giacoletti, who just completed his sixth season at Gonzaga, has been a head coach at North Dakota State (1998-2000), Eastern Washington (2001-04) and Utah (2005-07). He had winning records at all three schools. He led EWU to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 2004 and Utah to a Sweet 16 in 2005.

“I was raised on Missouri Valley Conference basketball,” said Giacoletti, a native of Peoria, Ill., home of MVC member Bradley University. As a youngster, he watched numerous MVC greats perform “from the rafters” inside Bradley’s Robertson Memorial Field House.

Giacoletti replaces Mark Phelps, who was 77-86 in five years, including 15-17 this year. The MVC will have a new look next season with the exit of defending champion Creighton to the new Big East.

Giacoletti, 50, wants his program’s cornerstones to be rebounding, defense and fundamentals. He said he learned a ton at Gonzaga working for close friend Mark Few the last six years, most notably GU’s environment of “getting better.”

“I’ve had a unique experience in the middle of my career,” said Giacoletti, an assistant at Illinois State of the MVC from 1990-93. “Whether you’re a lawyer or doctor or whatever you are, you get very few chances to learn again. Six years ago after getting released by Utah, I had an experience that at the time was devastating but has made me a better person and a better coach because I had a chance to learn a new system.”

Drake has committed to building a $7 million practice facility that will be crucial to the program’s development, Giacoletti said. His goal is for Drake “to be the best Drake can be, not try to be Gonzaga or anyone else.”

Drake’s last NCAA tournament came in 2008 under coach Keno Davis, who guided the Bulldogs to a MVC championship. It was Drake’s first NCAA appearance since 1971.

Few didn’t return a phone message.

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