The following article appears in the Summer 2018 edition of NABC Time-Out Magazine. To view the entire Summer 2018 issue, click here.
Basketball coaches are no strangers to the cutthroat process of career advancement. Every job opening draws hundreds of experienced applicants. Candidate pools inevitably include coaches with deep connections and prominent references. Competitive advantages are a must.
For the last three years, the NABC has offered the game’s up-and-coming young coaches just that – a differentiator. An opportunity to stand out.
In partnership with Under Armour, the NABC launched its 30 Under 30 award program in 2016 to spotlight the profession’s next generation of talent. Since its inception, NABC Under Armour 30 Under 30 honors have been presented to a talented, diverse group of 90 head and assistant coaches, directors of operations, video coordinators and other support staff, spanning NCAA Division I to the NAIA.
With more than 5,000 active members in the NABC, landing a spot on the annual list is no simple feat. For the honorees, the award’s impact is starting bear fruit.
Kyle Church was named to the 30 Under 30 team in 2017. Then the director of basketball operations at Florida, Church was encouraged by the NABC’s efforts to recognize the sport’s behind-the-scenes grinders – a group that mostly operates in anonymity.
“I know there’s a lot of young coaches trying to make a name for themselves in the business, so to be honored was very humbling,” said Church. “Rightfully so, head coaches get all the credit and take all of the blame. But there are so many parts and pieces and people that go into running a successful college basketball program.”
This past April, Church was presented with an opportunity to leave Gainesville and join Dusty May’s Florida Atlantic staff as an assistant coach. Advancing from the operations role into an on-court coaching position was a major step for Church, who says his true passion lies in teaching the game. And while he admits a close relationship with May was key in earning the promotion – the two worked together previously at Florida – Church doesn’t discount the 30 Under 30 distinction’s influence on his resume.
“It helps you stand out,” Church said of the award. “There are so many good young coaches across the country in all levels of college basketball. It’s nice to have another feather in your cap when you’re going into an interview.”
Looking ahead, Church believes it will remain an asset.
“Having an honor from the NABC – an organization that’s so well respected – gives you a nice leg up, at least initially, to get your foot in the door for opportunities you may not have had otherwise.”
Drew Valentine just completed a season most coaches only dream of. The first-year assistant at Loyola Chicago helped lead the Ramblers’ ascension from little-known Missouri Valley Conference program to the darlings of the NCAA Tournament and a surprise run to the Final Four.
Valentine came to Loyola after two years as an assistant at Oakland, where he quickly built the reputation of a rising star in the coaching ranks. Among the contributing factors was a spot on the 2017 30 Under 30 team.
“There are so many guys that have had a great impact on teams already in their young careers,” said Valentine, who also played at Oakland. “It’s a great recognition, and it’s a great thing to have associated with your name.”
Valentine was invited to represent the entire 2017 30 Under 30 team at the NABC Guardians of the Game Awards Show during that year’s Final Four in Phoenix. He shared the stage with a who’s who of basketball’s most iconic coaches.
“Being able to speak in front of so many people that have had such great influence on the game was something that was so cool for me.”
Like Church, Valentine points to a variety of influential elements to the job search and hiring process – accolades being just one. But recognition from the NABC, he says, no doubt carries weight.
“I can’t say it was a make or break thing,” Valentine said of landing his current position at Loyola. “But it definitely helped.”
Valentine also echoes Church’s sentiment that the award isn’t just an individual honor, but one that esteems the value of assistant coaches and support personnel in general. Loyola’s historic berth in the Final Four only reinforced his conviction that every level of a program’s staff is vital.
“The NABC understands that a program can’t succeed without everybody doing their part,” Valentine says. “There are a ton of head coaches that are really talented and are really good at what they do. But without the support of everybody else on staff, you can’t get done what you want to get done.”
For B.J. Dunne, the significance of earning a spot on the inaugural 30 Under 30 team went beyond a career lift. Dunne – who was named head coach at Division III Gettysburg in April following five years as Vassar’s head coach – saw his inclusion as validation of small college basketball. And that coaches at his level deserved recognition alongside the game’s name brands.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re coaching in March Madness or in small Division III gyms,” he said. “It’s basketball. When you get put on a list like this, you’re not just representing the institution and yourself. You’re representing Division III as a whole.”
“I think it’s really great to see all levels get recognized.”
Dunne was the youngest head coach at any NCAA level at the time of his hiring at Vassar, and he won the Liberty League tournament in his first season with the Brewers. His resume speaks for itself.
Still, earning 30 Under 30 honors gave the young coach a vote of assurance that carried into his new job at Gettysburg.
“I think it gives you some natural credibility,” Dunne says. “You can’t just rest on the laurels of that award, but it definitely gives you confidence knowing that there are people who believe in you and have seen what you’ve done to be successful. I think that certainly helps going through an interview process because you’re confident in yourself.”
All three are quick to stress that accolades are no substitute for hard work. Trophies and plaques will never replace the nitty gritty of developing as a coach – the hours spent breaking down film, running camps and honing a recruiting pitch.
Their advice to other young coaches? Don’t simply chase awards. And fight the temptation to obsess over the future.
“Sometimes people get so caught up in their next job that they forget to do their current job,” Church said. “Make sure you’re locked in on doing your current job to the best of your ability. And if that goes well, good things usually happen.”
“Find your lane. Figure out what you have in yourself,” adds Valentine. “Whatever strengths you have, be the absolute best at those. And for the things you aren’t great at, try to keep improving.”
Individual honors are meaningful to any coach at any level. A well-deserved source of pride. But they’re not the point. They’re not why coaches coach.
“If along the way we happen to stumble upon awards, those are all great,” Dunne says. “But there’s more joy when you see your kids have success.”
“That’s the heart of coaching.”