Griff Aldrich looks to build tradition, reputation at Longwood

Published 3:25 pm Thursday, March 30, 2023

FARMVILLE – Griff Aldrich knows how to deal with challenges. When the Longwood Lancers’ head coach took over in 2018, the team hadn’t seen a 17-win season in more than a decade and had never won a conference title in Division I men’s basketball. Five years later, the Lancers have a Big South Conference title, back-to-back 20-win seasons and a 2022 appearance in the NCAA Tournament. 

But for Aldrich, the work isn’t finished. He’s signed a 10-year extension with Longwood, a decision the team announced on Thursday, March 30. And the focus remains the same as always, to continue building the Longwood brand. 

“What attracts a kid to a Duke or a Kentucky?” Aldrich said. “It’s tradition. Is it known to be a school that wins? It’s reputation. When you go home and you wear that team jersey, is it a team that garners respect?” 

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That’s what Aldrich wants to do with his extension at Longwood, continue to build a program that’s respected across the Big South Conference and beyond. It’s already making strides. Counting the 2022-23 season, Aldrich has a 68-58 record over five years as head coach of the Lancers. By comparison, the team was 42-120 the five seasons before that. But a goal like the one Aldrich has isn’t reached in a single season or even five. Building tradition takes long-term planning and commitment. 

“You’re trying to overcome some perceptions about what Longwood is like, as we’re still a relatively new entry to Division I,” Aldrich said. “You’re building that reputation, you’re building that name recognition and competing against people who have been on the ESPN ticker for years and decades and have been in the NCAA tournament.” 

Changing images for town, university

Part of the challenge Longwood deals with is similar to one faced by the town of Farmville, where the university calls home. The town of more than 7,400 residents has renovated buildings, added restaurants and stores over the last five years, while also starting construction on a new splashpad. But people don’t know everything that’s in the area until they show up. 

“Oftentimes, kids hear the term Farmville and it puts a certain idea in their mind,” Aldrich said. “But once they get there, you can’t count the number of times I’ve heard ‘I had no idea it was like this’. I think Farmville, the Prince Edward community and Longwood overall are truly hidden gems. It’s been a place where our family has really been able to thrive and establish roots, not only at Longwood but throughout the community.” 

And just like the town, the university and basketball program continue to grow. They’ve added new buildings, including the donor-funded Basketball Performance Center that opened in the fall of 2022 and the upcoming Joan Perry Brock Center. That 3,000-seat facility will replace Willett Hall as the home for Lancer basketball this coming fall. But like the town, the key is to raise awareness of what’s changed, both on campus and on the court. That’s the challenge Aldrich continues to face, but one he’s very aware of. 

“When I got here, we would call a recruit and say ‘hey do you know much about Longwood?’ The answer was mostly no, I never heard of that school,” Aldrich said. “Every year, we get that kind of response less and less. Now it’s ‘oh yeah, I’ve heard of you guys’.”

The numbers are hard to ignore. Longwood’s 27 conference wins over the last two seasons are the most in the Big South. They’ve finished in the conference’s top five each of the last four seasons, after never making it higher than eighth before. 

This past season, Aldrich, a 1996 Hampden-Sydney College graduate and Tidewater native, led Longwood to a second-straight 20-win campaign. It marked the first time the men’s basketball program posted back-to-back 20-win seasons at any level. Willett Hall has also become one of the hardest places to play in the Big South, with the Lancers going 54-20 at home during Aldrich’s tenure. 

“Hopefully that’s something we continue to build, which will in turn help with recruiting,” Aldrich said. “You have to build the winning tradition, you have to build the reputation. You have to build the narrative why the program is successful.” 

Griff Aldrich looks ahead 

But it’s about more than just building a team to win for one year, Griff Aldrich said. Another reason he decided to sign the extension is because everyone is moving in the same direction. 

“It’s a situation in which you have an alignment between the university administration, the athletic administration and the head coach, where there’s the opportunity to potentially do something very special and build something people dream about,” Aldrich said. “That’s really exciting and something that captivates (my wife) and my heart and passion.” 

University officials echoed his enthusiasm, saying they’ve been impressed by what he’s done and look forward to what’s ahead. 

“Griff Aldrich has transformed the culture of Longwood basketball into a program defined by excellence, hard work, and character that reflects the University’s values and shows them to the world,” said Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV in a statement. “Griff and Julie have also been tremendous leaders and voices for good in our home community of Farmville. The future is bright, with an elegant new arena set to open on campus next season, and Griff leading Lancer men’s basketball into the far future.”