If any head coach is asked about their first year on the job, most likely will remember the experience to a 'T.' The stress and long hours that go into coaching cannot be accented enough; it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. And SUNY Canton's new head coach has more than one goal in his first season, despite the great challenges.
Ben Thompson experienced said stresses immediately upon accepting the job over the summer, but also felt more exhilaration than trepidation.
“It’s my first head coaching gig,” he exclaimed in an exclusive interview with HERO Sports. “I’m pretty pumped. I’m not nervous, but I am pretty excited and a little anxious. This is the first time I’ve [coached] on my own. But I’ve worked for some really incredible people and coaches over the year and they’ve prepared me for this.”
Thompson's inexperience as a head coach shouldn't be overstated, as he possesses plenty of experience in the coaching realm. The Virginia Tech grad served as assistant coach on a number of teams including 2015 D2 basketball champion runner-up Lincoln Memorial. In other words, he knows what he’s doing, which is why he couldn’t pass up the chance to flex his coaching muscles when the job at Canton opened up after last season.
“A couple of things attracted me to this job,” he explained. “For one, the team is still new to D3. Very new. That challenge to me alone was exciting. They’ve never been to the NCAA tourney, so it’s going to be exciting to try and get past that threshold and break through the ceiling with that.
“The people here sold me on the university and community. They bend over backward for you. They’re competent and know what they’re doing and do their jobs well. Plus, they’ve got some great new facilities that are pretty incredible.”
Intriguingly, one of Thompson’s first decisions as head coach was to make his team’s upcoming season … more difficult. The coach's goal comes into play with his team's schedule.
“I’m not gonna make any bones about it,” Thompson said, “Our goal is to make the NCAA tournament. At any level, especially at the D3 level, the way you separate yourself is through strength of schedule. I felt that to get [to the tourney], we had to put together one of the toughest schedules in D3 basketball.”
“We’ve put together a really difficult schedule so hopefully we have a good year and the committee will see that we went on the road and played everybody we could. Hopefully they’ll look at us more favorably.”
Of course, committee love wasn’t the only reason for the difficult schedule.
“We also want to provide valuable experience to our guys,” Thompson continued. “I think they’ll be up to the challenge. I’m really looking forward to it. This schedule puts us in best position to be successful.”
Speaking of the squad Thompson inherited, the Kangaroos finished last season with a 20-4 overall record (8-0 at home, 7-3 away, 5-1 neutral) before winning the USCAA consolation round in convincing fashion.
With quite a few of its core group returning, including Romario Fletcher, who averaged 15.2 points per game and worked on the search committee that selected Thompson, the team is poised for success.
“All the guys were excited,” Thompson said. “I chatted with ‘Ro’ after I got the job. He was incredible during the interview process. Incredibly supportive. He really wanted me to be here. They’ve all been nothing but great since I took over and really bought into the vision and what we’re going to do. I’m excited to see them [when practice starts] this week.”
Thompson was pretty happy with the Kangaroos, though admitted to wanting to add a few new wrinkles to the mix.
“They’ve been a pretty good defensive team, but I want to take a lot of the defensive principles I learned at LMU and use them here. I also really want to push the pace and play fast. I want to fly the ball up the floor. We want to bring an even more exciting pace of play to Kangaroos basketball.”
Still, Thompson understands that basketball can’t just be about winning and losing, a notion he picked up from other coaches he worked for over the years.
“It’s all about your players and putting them forward.,” Thompson explained. “Sometimes that gets mixed up. The most important part of this job is helping my team become ‘gentlemen student athletes’ — a term I heard years ago from one of my mentors. Nobody wants to win more than I do, but you also have to put things in the proper perspective. Winning is important, but making sure these young men transition into adulthood is the most important thing we can do as coaches. We need to make an impact on these guys as they transition to life after college.
“I want to make sure the men that we coach are good representatives of society and set them up for success for their families down the line.”