Connections lead assistants to Williams College men's hoops
WILLIAMSTOWN -- College basketball assistant coaches frequently played for their head coaches or worked with them at earlier jobs.
Williams College men's basketball coach Mike Maker freely admits that he didn't know Derek Johnston or Scott Day personally before he hired them to be his assistants for the 2012-13 season. They were not, however, unknown quantities.
"It's always about a family tree and it's all about connections and people that you trust," Maker said.
While the Williams coach did not know either of his current assistants, both came to Williams with glowing recommendations from college coaches they played for -- college coaches that Maker knows well.
Maker and his staff begin NCAA Division III tournament play tonight at Chandler Gym against Mitchell College.
Johnston, 27, came to Williams after graduating from the University of Alabama-Huntsville and then spending two years as the head boys basketball coach at Lexington (Ala.) High School. Day, 25, graduated from Ouachita Baptist, a college about 65 miles away from Little Rock, Ark. Day arrived at Williams after spending a year as an assistant at ThunderRidge High School in the Denver suburbs.
For Johnston, getting in touch with Maker at Williams was less about coming north and more about networking.
"I was a head high school coach in the state of Alabama right out of college and was just trying, honestly, to expand my network a little," Johnston said. "I think you're only as good as the people you know and can learn from."
Maker said he's a good friend with Lennie Acuff, the coach at Alabama-Huntsville, and contacted Acuff about Johnston.
"I called Lennie and asked ‘Listen, I got this letter from Derek Johnston and you never talked to me about him. He said ‘Mike, I'm just going to tell you one thing about Derek -- he's the best human being I've ever met,' " Maker said. "I said I'm calling him to offer him the job."
Maker also knows Day's college coach, Mark Price, well. Price is now an assistant at Division I Belmont University and told the Eph head coach that Day played in the West Virginia-Princeton style offense that Williams uses, and said many of the same things Acuff said about Johnston.
"Derek and Scott have not only helped us maintain what we've had going here, but have certainly helped us grow and become better," Maker said.
While Maker has put his stamp on a Williams program that is in its fourth NCAA Division III tournament field in his six years at the helm, both of his assistants have multiple responsibilities.
"People talk about what's the right way to break into college coaching. A lot of people say you have to start at Division I," Day said. "You should take a small college job because you get to do more.
"Coach Maker is a great mentor. He lets us handle a lot."
Day is the head coach of the Williams junior varsity, and both he and Johnston do a lot of the day-to-day work in the program.
"It's really all hands on deck," Johnston said, "especially with everything we try to do with our program."
For Maker, giving them a lot of responsibilities serves multiple purposes. They'll do advance scouting, on-court coaching and administrative work.
"I allow them to have a lot of different experiences, to take things off my plate, because I trust them," said Maker, "and also to give them the experience they need when they move on."
Both assistants had never been to the Northeast and had never been involved in Division III athletics. Having grown up in Colorado, the adjustment wasn't quite as difficult for Day. But now, both are fully used to their jobs and being in New England.
"It's a blast," said Day, "waking up and going to coach basketball. It's what I want to do. Ever since college, I felt I wanted to coach college basketball.
"To be able to do that at Williams College, I feel blessed, fortunate and especially lucky how everything has worked out to be able to work for Coach Maker and our guys."
Johnston said that the adjustment of moving from Alabama with his wife Andee, a nurse, was tempered by the fact that he didn't have to teach six math classes a day.
And like Day, Johnston said he would like to be a college head coach some day. The division, however, isn't the most important factor.
"[Marquette coach] Buzz Williams came down one summer. He said the right place is where it's important," said Johnston. "I think that's the one thing I remember the most I want to be where it's important -- where it matters."
To reach Howard Herman:
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On Twitter: @howardherman.
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