Coaching without a safety net

More news about: Anderson | Immaculata | Trinity (Texas)
Terrance Stewart
Terrance Stewart went from being front and center as a star at Rowan and a pro player, to behind the scenes at La Salle. Now he's got his own program at Immaculata.
Immaculata athletics photo

Before becoming a collegiate head coach for the first time this season at his alma mater, Trinity (Texas), Cameron Hill worked in corporate America and coached a high school girls program in Dallas before a cursory call changed his career path.

A former All-American and national champion at Rowan, Terrance Stewart toiled outside the spotlight in the City of Brotherly Love, doing everything behind the scenes other than game coaching for the Division I men at LaSalle before becoming bench boss for the Immaculata men in the Philadelphia suburbs.

From a three-year apprenticeship at a perennial NCAA Tournament contender, Owen Handy now finds himself applying his lessons learned while trying to rebuild the Anderson men.

As they head into the homestretches of their first seasons as head coaches on their respective sidelines, we decided to check in with all three about the acclimation process, the results, and the tone this first year has set for what each hopes to establish within their new programs. It is a brave new basketball world for each of them, but what we found was three men energized by their respective challenges.

“The big thing is having to own what happens: The responsibility of what goes on in the program,” Handy said. “Instead of throwing out 75 ideas (as an assistant) and two of them are maybe worth something … I have to own my decisions.”

Cameron Hill: Returning to his alma mater

After starring for three seasons at Trinity and a professional career in Germany and Italy he equated to “an espresso shot,” Hill took a coast-to-coast journey before returning to his roots.

It all started in the Big Apple, where he spent three seasons assisting his father, former NBA head coach Bob Hill, at Fordham from 2000-03 before moving to the Commonwealth to become director of player development at the University of Kentucky for the next three years. Cameron Hill even coached the Seattle SuperSonics' summer-league team when his dad was bench boss and there was every intent of the son coaching under his father again until Bob Hill was dismissed in 2007.

From there, Cameron Hill's decisions centered around he and his wife, Colleen, raising their two sons. He became the head coach of the United States Basketball Academy, teaching the game to Chinese players who came to the States, and went to work in sales in Dallas — the latter leading to a personal epiphany.

The Tigers trend

Hill inherited a program that had been coached by Amie Bradley for the previous seven seasons and had won 20 games as recently as 2008-09.

2012-13 (13-4, 7-0 SCAC)
2011-12 (9-17, 7-9 SCAC)
2010-11 (14-13, 9-7 SCAC)
2009-10 (17-9, 11-5 SCAC)

“I knew 10 days in it wasn't for me,” Hill said. “It was worth doing to have time with the family. I kind of rode that to exhaustion and decided to get back into basketball.”

Just before the 2011-12 season, he took over the Ursuline Academy of Dallas girls program, his first experience coaching females, leading them to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools 5A Championship when Trinity’s athletic director called to gauge his interest in the newly available women's basketball position at his alma mater, where he had maintained close connections since graduating in 1999.

Not until he went on the interview did Hill truly believe this could be a fit, but meeting his future players, who were coming off a 9-17 showing in 2011-12, during the process convinced him.

“From the moment I walked in the room with these girls, I could see they were really hungry to be good,” Hill recalled. “Things hadn't been go well and it had been a hard season … they had that look that, 'If you think you could fix this, we're in.'”

Where Trinity (13-4, 7-0) is now: First place in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, riding a seven-game victory run which commenced with a New Year's Eve triumph over Texas Lutheran while the trio of Murphy Burns (18.9 points per game), Anecia Richardson (13.5 points, 5.8 rebounds), and Hannah Coley (10.5 points) provides much of the scoring.

“There's been ingredients on the table,” Hill said. “We've mixed them and it's been working.”

Although the SCAC split into two conferences last offseason, the SCAC half retains the automatic bid. And Hill's work turning the program around gives the Tigers a good chance to take that bid.

“I'm always going to be the guy that credits the players because no matter how good a coach you are, if they don't make a commitment to buy in, you have nothing, man,” Hill said. “These girls have grasped onto what we're trying to teach them and they really want to be good. We're putting them in a position to have success and they're go out there and making it happen.”

Owen Handy: Taking the reins

In his previous three seasons working under Mike Schauer at Wheaton (Ill.), Handy gleaned the intricacies of everything needed to succeed: Fundraising, game plans, recruiting, scouting …

Well, almost everything.

“There are certain things you can't be prepared for until you do them,” said Handy, who spent nine seasons total as an assistant at Wheaton before getting hired at Anderson last June. “In that sense it's been diving in and saying ‘I messed that up’ and own my mistakes. I certainly haven't been perfect as a coach this year.”

The Ravens trend

Handy inherited a program that iTom Slyder coached for the past seven seasons and was coming back off a peak of 23 wins in 2010.

2012-13 (7-11, 3-8 HCAC)
2011-12 (15-12, 10-8 HCAC)
2010-11 (18-9, 13-5 HCAC)
2009-10 (23-6, 13-3 HCAC)

Only the coaches of No. 2 Rochester, No. 3 Middlebury, and No. 6 WPI remain perfect in 2012-13, so Handy is hardly alone. Even so, no coach takes control of his first program, a program that might play out the string without high-scoring senior Phil Hogan (26.9 points) because of injury, without being granted an extended period of acclimation.

Including Wednesday's 85-61 loss at Defiance, the Ravens (7-11) have now lost six straight and are now even more focused upon the future. Handy and his staff have identified recruiting targets with both skills, academics, and an understanding of Anderson's faith-based identity while noting that, “I'm a firm believer that talent plus culture equals success. … The guys that I'm really focused on know who we are and buy into who we are.”

More than just the feeling of finding the right kind of recruits to deliver a new era of Anderson basketball, Handy has identified the prospective leaders who can deliver a message about his expectations and the Ravens' new direction in juniors Carson Breckenridge and Cody Jackson — although both are role players and not currently captains, the rookie head coach believes, “Sometimes the strongest voice in the room can have the least to gain by having a strong voice.”

Owen Handy's Anderson men's team got off to a competitive start but has struggled of late.
Anderson athletics photo

In the here and now, even with a depleted squad Anderson has brought about encouraging on-court developments. With many of his current players facing their former coach, North Park bench boss Tom Slyder, for the first time, Handy enjoyed perhaps the biggest highlight of his first season: Hogan hit a buzzer-beating bucket to force overtime, then fed James McCloud for the winning lay-up in the second overtime of a 91-89 win on Nov. 28.

“It was a really exciting game,” Handy said. “I was really resisting a tendency to overcoach ... a lot of times on the sideline I'd say, 'What would Mike Schauer be doing?' A lot of times the answer is, 'Step back and let your players play.' ”

Although the Ravens have struggled since, Handy sees a future on the horizon complete with contending for conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, just like he experienced while at Wheaton learning under Schauer.

“I've loved it,” Handy said. “I love the school, the institution, I really believe in the institutional mission here at Anderson and I love the guys. We've had some injuries and adversity, but I feel like we've play hard and focused despite that.”

“I think we have a group of guys in the programwho are committed to the program and who we are and who we're going to be,” Handy continued. “It's our team, it's not Coach Handy's team. We're moving quickly in that direction.”

Terrance Stewart: Scratching the coaching itch

Terrance Stewart played for John Giannini for four years and went to three Final Fours at Rowan, winning the 1996 national title. But when he went to work for Giannini, it was in a support role.
Immaculata athletics photo

After an extended professional career in Europe and South America, Stewart joined his former coach at Rowan, John Giannini, now the longtime bench boss at LaSalle. The more the former star helped compile scouting reports and coordinate recruiting visits, the less he was able to stifle a feeling growing within himself.

When the Immaculata men's job opened, it took Stewart beyond beginning his new life off the court as a video coordinator and assistant director of operations.

“G (Giannini) said, 'You kind of want to do this,' and I said, 'Yeah, I do,'” Stewart recalled. “I said I want to have my own program. I want to instill my own philosophies and I want to see it work.”

After his hiring last July, Stewart first needed to temper his expectations considering his experiences at Rowan, where the Profs reached three Final Fours and he hoisted the Walnut and Bronze championship trophy at the end of his senior year in 1996, capping a career in which he scored 1,628 points.

Inheriting a Mighty Macs squad that finished 11-16 last season, Stewart admitted his past “gave me a false sense of what to expect.” So he adapted his mindset, learning a new generation of student-athlete and enduring growing pains as his new team lost his first four games as coach, three by double-digit outcomes. After a four-game victory run that included a 66-60 road win at 2012 NCAA national finalist Cabrini in mid-December, Immaculata lapsed into a spell of inconsistency until the past two weeks.

The Mighty Macs trend

Stewart inherited a program that is still growing, having replaced Jamie Chadwin, who coached the first seven years in the program's history.

2012-13 (9-8, 8-2 CSAC)
2011-12 (11-16, 8-10 CSAC)
2010-11 (10-16, 8-10 CSAC)
2009-10 (15-12, 12-6 CSAC)

Since a 70-53 loss at Colonial State Athletic Conference rival Neumann, the Mighty Macs (9-8, 8-2 CSAC) have reeled off four consecutive victories, including a 77-64 win over a Marywood squad two weeks after losing to that very same opponent by 28 points just two weeks earlier.

“Now it's starting to sink in,” Stewart said. “Guys are starting to figure out where they're going to score, where they're going to get their open shots. I think guys are just getting more comfortable with the way we want to play.”

After alternating between starting and entering as something of a sixth man much of the season, senior guard Nelson Torres (15.0 points, 5.1 rebounds) is leading a balanced effort powering Immaculata's revival, an aboutface that also includes junior forwards Brandon Smith (11.1 points, 6.5 rebounds) and Adam Jones (7.5 points, 5.0 rebounds), sophomore guard Xavier Brown (8.5 points), and senior guard TJ Klinger (7.2 points) playing the type of style makes Stewart's squad difficult to defend;

“I don't want one guy to lead the way,” Stewart said. “I want a band of Merry Men.”

A band of Merry Men that have the Mighty Macs a half-game behind Cabrini and Keystone in the CSAC standings.

“I'm feeling good about the direction we're heading in,” Stewart said. “I told the guys at the beginning of the season we want to get better at the end of the season.

“We'd like to have a better record at this point, but it is what it is. I think we're going to have a better half of the season than we did in the first.”

Ryan Scot

Ryan Scott serves as the lead columnist for and previously wrote the Mid-Atlantic Around the Region column in 2015 and 2016. He's a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College.
Previous columnists:
2014-16: Rob Knox
2010-13: Brian Falzarano
2010: Marcus Fitzsimmons
2008-2010: Evans Clinchy
Before 2008: Mark Simon