Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Williams basketball coaching tree continues to grow

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It is spring, and with the change of the season comes the greening of our area. Before long, the trees will be green, your grass will be lush, and everything will look beautiful. The Williams College basketball tree has sprouted two new branches this month from the Dave Paulsen trunk. One of them has quite a challenge ahead of him.

Dane Fischer, who spent 15 years working alongside Paulsen at three different schools — including two years at Williams — got his first Division I head coaching job when he was hired at William & Mary. Within a couple of days, another former Eph assistant with Paulsen's — Aaron Kelly — was hired as the head coach at Division III Catholic University.

"I was ready to make the move," Fischer said, when we spoke during the week. "It's not easy because you leave behind really good relationships you have with people, whether it's with members of the staff or the players that you've been able to coach and recruit. That's always the hardest part.

"The easy part about it, was the excitement for the opportunity."

I remember when Paulsen was hired at Bucknell, he described it as a bigger Williams, and that was what a major attraction was. For Fischer, it is much the same.

"I think that's a way to put it," Fischer said. "I think they are very similar, and I think that's why this was so appealing to me, and it's why William & Mary felt like it could be a really great fit because of the relevant experience between both being at Williams, and certainly the time at Bucknell."

Fischer and Kelly are just two of the latest branches off the Williams tree.

Four of Paulsen's former Williams assistants are now head coaches. Fischer and Kelly join Josh Loeffler at Johns Hopkins and Dale Wellman at Nebraska Wesleyan. Wellman and Kelly were assistants the same year at Williams.

Mike Maker's branch has current Williams coach Kevin App, Haverford coach Patrick Doherty and current Quinnipiac assistant Shaun Morris.

Pete Hutchins, who worked for Paulsen, and Justin Bradley, who worked for App, are both on the staff at Division I Dartmouth.

The tree goes back to the Harry Sheehy era, because Paulsen played for Sheehy at Williams, as did current UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette.

And if you want to know just how small of a world it is in college basketball coaching, one of Fischer's teammates at Ithaca College was Zach Spiker, who is the coach at Drexel. Spiker came to Drexel from Army, where he was App's boss before App came to Williams.

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Another one of Fischer's Ithaca teammates is current UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford, who told me on Saturday that he was truly excited to hear of Fischer's ascension to the head coaching job at William & Mary.

"You can draw connections to everyone in coaching," Fischer said, when we spoke late last week. "It's a really small circle."

For Fischer, getting a first job has been a long time in coming.

"I think any time you go through processes, interviewing for jobs and you don't get them, I think that's always going to be your reaction," he said, when I asked him if he thought he was going end up being a career assistant. "The thing that I've tried to do, is try to take every experience as a learning experience, and work to get better. Everybody keeps telling me the more and more opportunities you have, the more likely that something's going to work, if you keep doing a great job where you are.

"But yeah, there have probably been a couple of moments where I'm like 'Hey, maybe it isn't in the cards.'"

Fischer is not stepping into the easiest of jobs. Then again, if former coach Tony Shaver had been more successful, it wouldn't be open.

In 16 seasons at William & Mary, Shaver was 226-268. The Tribe is one of only 44 — count 'em — 44 of the 353 NCAA Division I teams that has never played in an NCAA Tournament. Let that wash over you for a minute.

"It's a place where you can really embrace the academic mission of the institution, and at the same time, be a part of a program that competes on a very high level of Division I basketball," he said. "To me, the mid-major level is such a unique level, because you can have four-year guys and run a program. I think William & Mary is set up to have consistency in terms of the roster."

That consistency is going to be a bit of an issue. Two players, according to the Virginian Pilot newspaper, are currently in the transfer portal. A third, 6-foot-10 center Nathan Knight, has made himself eligible for the NBA Draft. A fourth player, point guard Luke Loewe, will — according to the newspaper — return.

The Tribe has nobody signed for next year, and Fischer said he would be hitting the ground running when it came to recruiting.

It's going to be interesting to see how all the branches of the Williams coaching tree bloom this winter.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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