Todd Golden is a talker and the numbers said he should have been happy. He was single, 26 years old, had a budding sales career with a six-figure salary in San Francisco.
There was only one problem.
“I was completely miserable,” he said.
So keep numbers, Golden keeps up. He moved across the country and received a huge pay cut to become an assistant basketball coach in Columbia.
“It felt like heaven,” he said.
It was a pure stomach decision. If you’re a Florida fan, it should make you feel more comfortable with the school’s new basketball coach.
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Young coach can figure it out
After Mike White’s whirlwind departure to Georgia, Scott Stricklin looked to the future. He quickly hired a coach straight out of New Age central casting.
Golden is young (36, but looks to be 26), articulate, confident and at the forefront of basketball’s number revolution: analysis.
It is to apply mathematical and statistical principles to sports. That is at least one definition.
“It’s just shitty people who are really smart made up to try to get into the game because they have no talent,” the NBA star, who became television station Charles Barkley, decreed in 2015.
Time has shown that Sir Charles is wrong. If analyzes were shit, now almost all professional and college sports teams would not use them.
But Barkley’s words still resonate, in part because people do not like what they do not understand. And to understand analysis, you need to understand mathematics.
I dont do that.
It scares me and I’m hardly alone. About 15% of Americans suffer from math anxiety (MA), according to Psychology Today. It is a negative emotional response to solving mathematical problems.
Aside from anxiety, I’m just not that smart. You get a sense that Golden is.
“I was certainly gifted in math,” he said. “English and reading, not so much.”
Sports and math crossed him as a child as he ate box scores over breakfast every morning. Golden was a good enough athlete to lead Sunnyslope High in Phoenix to a state title. But he was too skinny to get much love from college recruits.
“It’s a little cliché,” Golden said, “but I’ve always been a bit of an underdog.”
He went on to St. Mary’s, where assistant coach Kyle Smith was an analysis pioneer.
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There was “hustle rate”, which tracked things like stealing, deflections, accusations, defensive rotation errors. Measurements such as shot placement, point-per-possession, assist percentage and usage rate count as much as points and rebounds.
“I loved it,” Golden said.
Analytics crushes all these numbers and formulates strategies based on percentages. That has led to the death of the baseline jumper and about 4.8 trillion 3-point shots each season.
Golden was partly a guard, partly a computer at St. Mary’s. Out of 130 shot attempts in his senior season, 122 were 3-pointers. He made 46% of them, had 82 assists, 27 steals and 22 turnovers.
“I was the most offensively effective player in the country,” Golden said.
So how did he end up in a lousy sales job three years later?
Todd Golden found happiness in ‘Nerdball’
After playing professional ball in Israel for two seasons, he longed for a regular life in the United States. The money was good; the weekends were free; the future was promising.
All that did not result in happiness.
“I just got an itch,” Golden said.
He called his old friend Smith, who had revived Columbia’s program in which he played “Nerdball.” Golden spent two years immersed in that basketball nerdiness, two years at Auburn, and then returned to San Francisco as an assistant.
He kept coming up with ways to measure hoop data. More importantly, he learned to sell it to players.
“The best coaches are able to use analytics without doing it all by the numbers,” Golden said.
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He became head coach in 2019 and just led the Dons to their first NCAA tournament in 24 years. Now, here he is, settling down in Billy Donovan’s old office.
Sometimes you just have to walk with your stomach.
“As a young coach, you strive to get to a place like this,” Golden said.
He still suffers from a reverse sticker shock. He and his wife, Megan, have two young children. They lived in college housing in San Francisco.
There was no farm. No grass. “Not nice,” Golden said.
The site was valued at $ 2.2 million at Zillow.
“It’s hard for me as an analytical guy to understand that,” Golden said.
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He has just signed a six-year, $ 18 million contract. I did not ask what he paid for his new house. But it is 5,400 square feet and has plenty of patio space. His children can not believe it.
“I mean, cloud nine,” Golden said.
Will everyone live happily ever after in Gainesville?
Will be back in a few years. Whatever happens, Golden will do things according to the numbers.
Based on how it has worked so far, I think fans will like the new basketball product.
Even if they hate math.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Suns sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley.