Over the past four years, senior Jason Young served as a student manager and student assistant for the Bombers men’s basketball team. Below, the Sport Management major reflects on his experiences.
By Jason Young ’12
One of my earliest memories of coaching is when I was six years old and my dad was the head women’s basketball coach and athletic director at Yeshiva University (NY). They had a game at Emerson College in Boston and my dad took me along. Several memories stand out from my first NCAA Division III road trip: 1) We stayed at a Double Tree Hotel 2) Ate M&M’s while sitting on the bench and driving my dad nuts and 3) Drawing up my first basketball play (some resemblance of the weave you see Butler run today). All kidding aside, I had a couple handoffs drawn up on some Double Tree stationary that we talked about the night before. My dad ran the play when they were down by a lot and I’ll mark that down as the start of my coaching career. After my dad left Yeshiva and went to a New York City private school, like many coach’s kids I was at practice and on the bench during games. Coaching is in my blood but it wasn’t until 8th grade when I realized that I wanted to truly pursue this career.
High school came and went and my dreams and goals never changed from my 8th grade year. Sure, I played varsity basketball my junior and senior years, but honestly, I was a disappointment — playing at the next level was never an option. When it came time to looking at schools my criteria went something like this: the best sport management program I could get into, and the place where I could be on a college basketball staff. It came down to Indiana University and Ithaca College. I visited both places twice but I was drawn to Ithaca on the basis that I could achieve my academic and coaching goals. It took some convincing from Dr. Ellen Staurowsky and Coach Jim Mullins that Ithaca was the right fit for me. Dr. Staurowsky talked to me about being able to work in college sport, going to conferences, and consuming myself with my love for college sport. Coach Mullins was kind enough to take an hour out of his day to talk to a kid he wasn’t even recruiting. He sold me on the fact that 1) I would work my way up to being an assistant on the staff 2) That I would travel with the team and be there every step of the way and 3) The connection I could make through alumni in the coaching world like Dane Fischer, the associate head coach at Bucknell, and Zach Spiker, the head coach at Army.
Everything that was said to me that day would eventually come true over my four years at Ithaca.
When I came to Ithaca I knew that learning the ropes of a college program would be a new experience but I didn’t realize how steep my learning curve would be. My first task as a manager was to scout the fall open gyms for assistant coach Nevada Smith. He wanted me to get familiar with the guys, learn their tendencies and report back who was playing well and who was struggling since it was an NCAA violation for him to watch. In one of my first reports back to Coach Smith, I said that four-year starter and 1,000-point scorer Chris Cruz was “nothing special.” It was comical and I had a lot to learn.
After the open gyms ended and October 15th approached, my role with the team consisted primarily of managerial duties: making sure the balls were pumped, sweeping the floor before practice and working the scoreboard during practice. For road games I was in charge of packing up the uniforms, keeping scorebook during the game, and ordering the postgame meals. During home games I was able to sit on the bench and learn how the staff communicated and the thought processes that went into decisions. My first year provided me with the foundation to take on bigger tasks going forward. Additionally, I was lucky and joined a program that was on the verge of greatness. That first year we went 24-3, breaking multiple school records and earning an NCAA tournament bid. I couldn’t have asked for a better start.
A great piece of advice I have received countless times is that no task is too small for you. I took a ton of pride in my duties freshman year, most of which I would do for all four years, because if I wasn’t doing them right, I wasn’t going to be around for long. The most challenging part that year was trying to learn the offensive and defensive systems. I never really did understand the offense until late in the season and even then it was at an elementary level. The next year I knew I needed to make a big jump in my basketball knowledge. When I came back to school in the fall, in addition to watching the open gyms, I began watching tape with Coach Smith. I had a lot to learn in terms of how the offense was taught and the purpose behind each action. It was also time to learn how to watch film from the eyes of a coach and not a fan — something I continue to work on.
After going 24-3 it was time to rebuild as we lost our entire starting lineup. We were young but very talented, which led to another 20-win season and an ECAC championship. That year we added another manager, allowing me to move off the scoreboard during practice allowing me the opportunity to be more involved in drills. I was also moved to the bench for every game with the responsibility of tracking fouls and timeouts. In addition to my job, I began to see why plays were being called, how substitutions were thought out and the chess match that is the game of basketball. Sitting next to Coach Smith, who called our plays, was a lesson within itself. His ability to see the game is fun to watch. Every play, every matchup he exploited was by design and I began to see his thought process throughout a game and start going through the same process myself. That year I began to understand how the scouting reports were developed and how Coach Smith wanted to attack every team. His mindset has always been putting a lineup on the floor that makes it impossible for the other team to guard us. It is very similar to how an NBA team thinks as we ran mostly pro style sets.
After being in Division III basketball for a couple years, you begin to understand how programs are built — the finances behind them, and how programs maximize resources. One resource we didn’t have compared with many other DIII and every D1 program was a good video system. It had never been a priority for us as Coach Smith would watch DVDs for scouting reports and we were winning so why spend money on it? That changed, though, the summer before my junior year when I did my internship for Ryan Bamford at Yale University.
Ryan played for Coach Mullins (pictured left), setting a school record for threes in a single season (he now places third on that list). At that time, he was a senior associate athletic director at Yale (he is now an associate athletic director at Georgia Tech). One day we were talking about IC basketball and he just says, “What do you need to improve the program?” I responded, frankly, a modern video system. He told me he would take care of it, and he rounded up alumni to get us a state-of-the-art video system used throughout the basketball community that would help us show more film and use it as an additional teaching tool. As a result, I became in charge of our video system. This became my “baby” and I was responsible for putting together our scouting video along with breaking down game tape for Coach Smith. My junior year was the most the program had ever used video and it’s something we continue to use. I’m a firm believer in the use of tape as a teaching tool, and if there is one thing I will leave with the program, it is how the team uses film to gain an edge on an opponent.
While taking on the role of video coordinator, I also was bumped to the 2nd assistant chair after we were forced to drop our JV team and as a result temporarily losing Coach Mike Burton. During the season, I also was more involved with individual workouts as well as position workouts. Coach Smith would outline what was required and trusted me to reinforce the offensive principles he taught. During practices and games I had a little more of a voice and was grateful that Coach Mullins and Smith valued my opinion enough to give me the freedom to speak up.
My third year in the program was another successful one that ended in a tough NCAA tournament 1st round loss to MIT. Although we lost, it still goes down as one of my favorite games in my four years. We had a great crowd — a white out — and it was an atmosphere you dream to be part of. Our team took the loss hard and we were hoping to make it over the hump the next year. However, in basketball nothing is certain and in the last week in August, Coach Smith took a head coaching job at Keystone College. He was instrumental in our program’s success by running the offense and he was a very good recruiter, as well.
I took Coach Smith leaving as an opportunity to get some experience with our recruiting. It was one piece of the program I truly had no experience with the past three years but knew I needed some if I wanted to continue coaching. Coach Mullins and Smith would always share stories about different players and how the process worked but to actually start recruiting was something I was excited about. Coach Smith left me with his recruiting binder of over 125 high school seniors he was interested in. It took me a couple weeks before I got the courage to make my first phone calls. Recruiting was also the one aspect of college coaching I was curious if I would really like. You can recruit in a video game all day long but it doesn’t simulate the actual process. Recruiting is the lifeline of any program, but the many negative pieces associated with recruiting can really turn people away. It turns out, though, I was hooked.
After making my first batch of calls and speaking with a few kids I got a rush and the sense to want to do more. What is more fun than selling a basketball program and a school you believe in? Coach Smith told me to recruit five days over a two-week span; on the nights that I would make calls I couldn’t focus on my work. I took it seriously and did the best job I could. I also put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to make sure it was done right, saying if I can’t hold on to these recruits we could be in deep trouble going forward. I think my mindset paid off though.
One of the seniors I called, a 6-8 forward from Pennsylvania, had already planned a trip to Elmira and I convinced him to make the trip down to Ithaca before heading home. It just so happened the weekend the recruit visited, Coach Mullins was going to scout an AAU tournament, so I was on my own. The visit went great. The kid and his parents loved the school and appreciated the insight I gave them into the basketball and sport management program. He would end up being our first committed player for the 2016 class. It’s a great feeling to sign a kid and I was glad I could contribute to our recruiting process.
Whenever a new assistant is brought in, there is a change in thinking. No two coaches think alike and as someone in a support staff position, it was my job to assist any way possible to make the transition easier. Coach Jon Tanous (pictured left) didn’t begin working until late September — only a few weeks before the start of practice. As a staff we met for several hours trying to get everyone on the same page offensively, as we didn’t want to change too much from Coach Smith’s offense that had brought us a lot of success. At the end of the day, though, a coach has to run what they are comfortable running.
The first semester of the season was a trying one, we stunk. Losing games everyone knew we were supposed to win and losing close ballgames makes it tougher knowing one or two things can be the difference between a “W” or “L.” Even though we ended the first semester a dismal 3-8 we had yet to play a league game. We were 0-0 like everyone else. One thing I took away from the year was understanding each season is truly a new year even if most of the team is returning. Many in the program felt comfortable with the fact that we had a veteran group so things would start like they had left the year before. It just doesn’t work that way and as a coach you have to look at each group like this is their first year again, going over the same principles, teaching points, and philosophy. Luckily, we realized that before it was too late.
Coach Mullins and Tanous did a great job making sure morale was up heading into our final fourteen games. As coaches, we implemented new offensive and defensive concepts that were more appropriate for this team. We came together enough to earn a four seed in the league tournament before making an unprecedented run and winning the league tournament for the first time in school history. You see it all the time teams cutting down the nets, well, to do it for the first time was a great experience. The tournament title gave us a bid in the NCAA tournament. It’s one of the reasons why I came to Ithaca, because I knew there was a great to chance I’d be part of a team playing in March, but I never thought I’d go three times in four years. For those who don’t know, when you get to the NCAA tournament, the NCAA tries to make it as much of an experience as possible, with the logos on the floor, the television timeouts, and even a selection show on the Monday after the season to announce the bracket. I’m a sucker for all of it as it is what I dreamed about as a kid — lifting the brown and gold trophy.
From a coaching perspective it is a lot of fun but a little more hectic than usual. Our first round matchup was against the College of Staten Island (CSI) with the winner facing Rhode Island College or Salem State. The games would be held at CSI on the Friday and Saturday. The NCAA DIII tournament does not publicize the seeding because it truly is a regional competition the first few rounds. However, if you were to analyze it and where we were placed in the bracket, our game was the equivalent of a 15 seed vs. 2 seed. From our perspective it didn’t matter and it doesn’t change how you prepare.
As soon as the bracket was released Coach Tanous started making calls asking for film on the other three teams in our pod. His focus would be on CSI while I was responsible for looking at all three teams. Most schools assign one team per coach in an NCAA tournament for the first two rounds, but with our short staff we do what we can to advance scout, so I gladly took on the film study. It’s a rewarding experience; as you know, if you advance the staff will rely on your notes to create the game plan for the next game. Unfortunately we never reached that second game as we lost to CSI by a significant margin and one that I still lose sleep over.
Being a senior, when the last horn sounds you realize your undergraduate experience as a student assistant is over. It goes by fast as everyone says but you reflect a lot on what has transpired. To say I have learned a lot would be the typical understatement. I think it’s more appropriate to say Coach Mullins guided me to make sure I had experiences that would allow me to continue coaching after my days at Ithaca. My desire to coach has not changed even though I have come to realize how hard it is to stay in this business. he opportunity as a coach to educate, mentor and potentially guide people is very fulfilling and one day I aspire to be in that position.
I discussed my goals early on and they were important to me. Ithaca provided me with the tools to achieve them. I had an opportunity to be a part of the basketball program for fours years — growing my role each year. Also the Sport Management and Media department — and Dr. Staurowsky — allowed me to channel my passion for college sports into three great projects. The first was an independent study I did with her on crimes athletes commit and the punishments they receive from their respective schools. I presented this research at the 2011 National Conference on Undergraduate Research held at Ithaca College and the 2011 College Sport Research Institute Conference (CSRI) held at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Additionally, I was a part of two case study teams that competed in the CSRI case study competition in 2010 and 2011 that also took place at UNC-Chapel Hill.
My experiences at Ithaca are invaluable to me. The basketball program is something special. Coach Mullins and Tanous have it built for future success and more championships. The Sport Management program allowed me to learn more about college sport, having an internship in college sport and potentially working in college sport for a long time as either a coach or administrator. For now, I will try my hand at coaching at the Division I level as a graduate assistant and continue working my way up the ladder.
Photos courtesy Ithaca College Sports Information and Jason Young