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Matheny should fit right in at Elon

The boxes were packed, the house was empty and the car was pointed down the highway. Matt Matheny finally, officially, could get to the business at hand: being Ava's full-time daddy.

His little girl was born 11 weeks ago -- or two weeks BE (Before Elon) in Matheny family parlance.

March was a busy month for Matheny. He helped Davidson reach the NIT's second round, welcomed his first daughter and second child into the world, and was named the new head coach at Elon University.

It was a busier month for Jennifer Matheny, who gave birth to Eva and then stayed behind with a newborn and 5-year-old while her husband forged his first head coaching path nearly two hours down the road.

"She's a saint," Matt Matheny said of his wife. "It's been quite a challenge."

But earlier this week, the family reunited, unpacking their belongings in Elon, where Matheny will try to remake the magic he's been living in for the past 20 years.

From his undergraduate days through his entire coaching career, Matheny has called Davidson College home and the gentlemanly Bob McKillop mentor. In a sport overrun with questionable ethics and outright scandal, there is hardly a better bubble to live in.

His comfort at his alma mater, coupled with his contentment working alongside McKillop as an assistant, allowed Matheny to be patient and choosy. Other schools came knocking before, but until this year, Matheny never felt compelled to answer.

"Why? Because I watched my mentor," Matheny said of McKillop, who has spent 20 years at Davidson. "I learned early in my coaching career that you can't have one foot in the door and one foot out and still be successful. I was fully invested in what I was doing at Davidson and that allowed me to be patient. That's not to say you don't look around, but up until a month ago, there wasn't another place I wanted to go to."

That changed when Elon athletic director David Blank invited Matheny to the school. As a varsity football and basketball player at Davidson and 16-year member of McKillop's coaching staff, Matheny was plenty familiar with the Phoenix's campus.

But it had never been more than another stopover for another game. He never spent time looking at the campus or the surrounding town, never had the chance to know the people or even really worry about their athletics mission.

When he looked at the campus and university with a more critical eye -- that of a buyer -- he realized something:

"What first attracted me to Elon was that it's so similar to Davidson," Matheny said of the two North Carolina schools, seperated by about 100 miles. "It's a beautiful campus with a small-town feel. It's 10 minutes from the interstate, perfectly located. More than that, the people are wonderful. It has that same small-community feeling I'm used to. "

Now it's up to Matheny to make the basketball feel familiar.

No one expects it to be easy and instantaneous, least of all Matheny. He was at Davidson in the building years, when only a handful of fans filled the gym and long before Stephen Curry put the program on the map.

"His abilities as a captain and as a leader really engaged us in our turnaround as a program," McKillop said of Matheny. "As a senior, he helped us get our heads above water so we could get to be where we are today."

Going through that process, Matheny believes, will serve him well at Elon. The Phoenix jumped to Division I only 11 years ago, joining the Southern Conference in 2002. Since joining the league, the school has had but one winning record (15-14 in 2005-06) and longs for that first NCAA bid.

But with his administration's backing -- there are early plans to build an on-campus convocation center -- and a fervent desire to build the basketball program into a mid-major power along the lines of Davidson, Matheny thinks he is at a school on the precipice.

"We're not going to be exactly the same as Davidson," Matheny said. "I'm not the same person [as McKillop], but I will borrow the positives and use the million things I learned and incorporate them at Elon. No matter what job you take, there are going to be hurdles, and I've already faced a few here, but nothing I haven't faced before."

Perhaps the only downside in Matheny's move is that Elon is in the Southern Conference, the same league that Davidson calls home. Much attention, naturally, will be given to the two head-to-head games when Matheny goes up against McKillop. But the challenges of squaring off in conference stretch beyond those 40 minutes.

"It makes it difficult to share your experiences or talk about that daily routine of what you do," said McKillop, who has been down this road before. Another former assistant, Steve Shurina, spent five years leading Western Carolina. "You can't really tap into one another like you're accustomed to. This is a competitive industry, especially in conference. It's not Macy's and Gimbels."

Matheny isn't exactly giddy about going up against McKillop and Davidson, either, but couldn't turn down an ideal opportunity.

"A lot of people have asked me about it," he said, "but honestly, I haven't devoted a lot of energy to that."

No doubt. He's got work to do.

He's way behind on diaper-changing duties.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.