Ryan Restivo does a great job covering college basketball and some smaller conferences at NYCBuckets.com. He had some kind words in this article about myself and Mike Maker.
The question seems to be the first one on everyone’s mind – How are you going to handle the differences between Division 3 and Division 1? Well, for starters I don’t have to ref intramural football on Tuesday afternoons anymore, so that’s a lot better. Everyone is very interested in the major difference between D3 and D1, but that starts with a misunderstanding. Most people don’t have an appreciation for what Division 3 basketball is all about – the level of talent, the dedication of the athletes, the genuine love for the game. D3 athletics often get dismissed as if its just sign up and play, like a winter league that’s offered at the YMCA. I can’t tell you how often I was asked questions like “Do you go out and, like, recruit your players?” or “Do you guys have a tournament at the end of the year?” Yup. Games are two 20-minute halves. 3 referees. We keep score and everything.
Many people, even some who are pretty serious college basketball fans, have no idea how good the level is or how competitive the players and the teams are. That leads to a generally dismissive attitude towards Division 3 players and coaches. It’s a label that takes on a negative connotation. “You play ball at Rhode Island College? What level is that, D2?” Nope, D3. “Ohhh, D3. Okay.” As if it doesn’t really count.
I’ve been the head coach at the University of Maine for almost 6 months now, and a lot of people want to know what the differences are, and there are differences. My staff is bigger, so now I’ve got 4 full-time guys in the office every day. The recruiting calendar is much different, dictating when and where you can go and watch kids play. My time is much less my own compared to when I was at RIC – there are more demands on it, more responsibilities, more people to meet and see. I’ve had to learn how to delegate to my assistants a lot more. Our budget is bigger, the players are bigger, the arena is bigger. There are certainly more people interested in the program, and that energy is really cool.
But when the team gets together at center court to start practice, everything is the same. I’m confident and comfortable and fully prepared to be the coach at Maine because of the 9 years I spent as a Division 3 coach. The drills that we do, the ability to connect with the players, trying to build trust, getting our guys to compete – the challenges and rewards are all the same. They don’t look at me as a D3 coach, they see me as their coach, and I don’t feel like I’m coaching D1 players, I’m just coaching my team. A lot of the stuff around me is different, and that’s definitely stuff that you have to learn to handle. But the coaching, the relationships, the ability to motivate, the basketball, trying to build trust – it’s the same as it’s always been.
In fact, the main reason why I’m prepared to be the coach at Maine is because of the 9 years I spent as a D3 head coach. Had I gone right from Providence College to being a D1 head coach, I wouldn’t have been nearly as prepared. I’ve always said being a D3 head coach made me so much more prepared to be a D1 head coach, even if it made me harder to hire for a D1 job because of the stigma placed on division 3. But if you want to accelerate your learning curve as a coach, try and get a D3 head job.
Coaching at the division 3 level was incredibly challenging, incredibly valuable and incredibly rewarding. It’s hard to describe how much better you get as a coach by doing it at a lower level – without a full-time staff, without a lot of money in the budget, having to share the gym with the gymnastics team. You learn to be low-maintenance, to care about what really matters, to worry about the things you can control, and to really focus on your kids. The kids I got to coach at RIC taught me so much and challenged me to be at my best every single day. It’s almost impossible to to quantify how much I improved as a coach during my 9 years at the D3 level.
Ryan does a great job as a writer and I appreciate the compliments he is paying to myself and Mike Maker. But I have no problem if anyone considers me a “Division 3 coach.” If people get to know the talent and commitment there is a that level – between the coaches and the players – they’ll realize how good the basketball is and how dedicated the coaches are. I was lucky enough to spend 7 years in the Big East before I went to RIC, and there were some great coaches in the Big East. But I competed against many different coaches at the D3 level who were just as good, and some of them better, than the coaches we faced in the Big East. That’s the simple truth.
The division 3 level is where I learned how to be a head coach. It made me better in so many ways that being an assistant at Providence College couldn’t. So if you want to refer to me as a “Division 3 Coach” I’d have to say you are absolutely right.