Despite team struggles, CSU's Dildy upbeat

Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy lives life with a smile on his face.

He texts in CAPS. He’s dishes out hugs like point guards with passes. He laughs. He jokes. He enjoys life. There’s little that can get him down.

He’s no different when it comes to his team’s season, and he has all the reason to be depressed about that. Even though the Cougars are one of three Division I teams still winless this season and have lost 25 consecutive games dating back to last season, Dildy has remained upbeat.

“It hasn’t been hard for me,” Dildy said by phone on Thursday. “The crazy thing about it is all the support and the people who are always emailing and texting me, giving me a hug and showing me encouragement. That’s why it keeps me excited and gets me ready to go. I don’t have a bad day. For those people, I want to turn the program around and turn it around a lot quicker.”

Dildy believes the program has made progress in his second season. By wins and losses, that would be hard to say, but Dildy isn’t judging the program by its record right now.

One way Dildy is currently measuring his program is by its academic success. The Cougars have recently been a mess when it’s come to the classroom.

Chicago State was banned last year from postseason play, penalized two scholarships and had its practice time limited after the team failed to improve its Academic Progress Report for the 2009-2010 academic year. The APR is calculated based on eligibility and retention of student-athletes who receive scholarships. Rates are based on performance over the past four years. The Cougars’ APR has ranged from 818 to 848 from 2006 to 2010.

“When you’re talk about academic things, we’re cleaning up the APR situation,” Dildy said. “That’s a thing that will be behind us. We’ve gotten students to return to school to finish up their degrees. We have players now who will be able to graduate early. We’ve raised the standards on the type of student-athlete we’re bringing in.”

The second barometer for Dildy has been the competitiveness of his team against one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. His schedule, which ranks No. 31 in the country, has included Cincinnati, Creighton, DePaul, Illinois, Iowa, Oregon State, San Diego State and Wichita State.

Chicago State has taken some lickings. The Cougars have been defeated by 25-plus points eight times this season. But they’ve also been in some games. They were within striking distance against DePaul. In their past two games, they trailed Air Force by only four points at halftime and actually led No. 22 San Diego State by seven points in the second half.

“Both of those games, we’re in them at the end and have a chance to win,” Dildy said. “What I’m thinking now is we’re peaking at the right time. Our whole focus is to win our conference. That’s the bottom line. I think these games have prepared us to do that.”

Chicago State’s schedule gets a whole lot easier from here on out. It faces St. Francis, a Division III team, in its next game on Sunday and then goes into its Great West Conference schedule. No one in the conference currently has a winning record.

“We’ve got 14 games remaining with nine at home,” Dildy said. “We’re not going to see anybody like San Diego State. We’re not going to see anybody like DePaul. We’re not going to see anybody like Illinois. We’re not going to see anybody like Cincinnati. We’re not going to see anybody like the teams we’ve faced.

“The realistic goal is to win 14 games. That’s the realistic goal. The worst-case scenario is to win 12.”

Now that would be a reason to really smile.