After only one season at Bishop McLaughlin, Hurricanes boys basketball coach Michael Slonaker is leaving to take the same job at Plant.
Panthers principal Robert Nelson announced today he has hired Slonaker, who has collegiate coaching experience and is the son of a former college coach, to replace Mike Phillips. The program's all-time winningest coach, Phillips was dismissed earlier this year after acknowledging he provided housing information to the mom of a prospective Plant student-athlete.
"I feel like this is really a place you can put your roots down for a long time," said Slonaker, who met with Plant's returning players -- including University of Florida commitment Michael Frazier -- Wednesday afternoon. "Academically, it may be the best public school job in the state of Florida."
A 2007 Mercer University graduate, Slonaker, 27, inherited a Bishop McLaughlin program that won once in the 2009-10 season and led it to a 10-12 mark this past winter. He said he pursued the Plant job in part to be nearer to his fiancee, a medical student at USF.
Before arriving at Bishop McLaughlin, he spent two seasons as an assistant at Division I Campbell University and one year at NAIA Shorter College, which posted the second-highest victory total (19) in program history during his season on the staff.
As a player, Slonaker served as Mercer team captain and was an Atlantic Sun All-Academic performer. A point guard, he played for his dad, Mark.
Philosophically, he said he'll adapt to his team's strengths, but believes in working the ball inside and getting up-tempo when possible. The cornerstone of his inaugural team almost certainly will be Frazier, the county's top scorer in 2011 who averaged a double-double.
Slonaker said the meeting with Frazier and the other Panthers seniors went very well.
"I challenged them as a group of seniors as to how they want to be remembered," Slonaker said. "It's a new start, new challenges for them, they can be united. I just talked about letting the past be the past and trusting me and trusting each other. ... They want to be remembered as champions, not just as good players but as champions."
Bishop McLaughlin now will be seeking its fifth coach in four seasons. The program has been veritable coaching turnstile since veteran Greg O'Connell abruptly resigned midway through the 2008-09 season amid a conflict with parents over how he was running the program.