NABC Next Generation is an interview series with assistant coaches and support staff from across the country, highlighting their career experiences and future goals. Today's feature is Brooklyn College assistant coach Tom Keenan.
What led you to pursue a career in college basketball coaching?
I have been around the game of basketball my entire life. I played at the college level at Division III Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. My dad was a head basketball coach at both the college and high school level. He was also an assistant Division I coach at St. Francis-N.Y. and Niagara University for several years - so the coaching bug has always been in my soul. After working in the corporate world for a long time and suffering a severe brain injury three and a half years ago, I knew it was time to change my life and basketball was a very therapeutic part of my recovery from my traumatic brain injury. I'd be lost without basketball. I think with my playing and coaching experience, and my recent brain injury can only help the players I work with daily to become better players, men, and human beings.
As a young professional in the industry, what key decisions and experiences helped get you where you are today?
I think biggest decision for me was to follow my heart after my brain injury. My heart was dragging me back to basketball. Basketball has always been a big part of my life. However, after my injury I wanted to make basketball part of my daily life so I started coaching at the high school level. When a potential opening became at the college level this past summer, I pursued it. Now here I am coaching at the college level! Some of the items I experienced that helped me where I am today included my collegiate basketball playing career, my previous coaching at both the high school and college levels, and spending the past summer working college basketball camps all over the country. I had the chance to work for and learn from some of the best coaches in the coaching fraternity.
What are the most important skills for young professionals in the industry to possess, and which are often overlooked?
I truly believe the most important skill for young professionals is the ability to learn every day. Learning can occur from other coaches or even your own players. Players can teach you what works and what doesn't, both on and off the court. It then becomes your job as the coach to implement those tools into your program. Wins and losses are important, but to me, the most overlooked thing is to create the best experience for the student-athlete. The four years the student-athlete is in college goes quickly, and I feel it's on the coach to provide an environment that the player will always look back on fondly and be proud of the experience.
Why is developing mentor relationships so important to young coaches, and who have been your most influential mentors?
Mentoring relationships are important because they can be our best teachers. We can learn a great deal about X's & O's, recruiting, conditioning, player development both on and off the floor, how to relay positive and negative feedback to players, dealing with administration, and working with the alumni. My most influential mentor - my father - passed away in 2003.
What professional competencies are you working to develop at this stage of your career?
I'm trying to instill in our players that getting an education is the most important thing. Having an opportunity to play basketball at the college level is great, but it should be used as a tool to get a degree that you can use for the rest of your life. I teach my players to be a great teammate. Great teammates become great people. Great teammates make teams GREAT teams!
What career goals do you have for your future, and how do you plan to achieve them?
My career goal is to continue coaching basketball at the college level. I would hope to eventually work my way up the ladder to coach at the D1 level down the road. I plan to achieve that by learning everyday to become the best basketball coach I can be. I also want to build coaching relationships that can help identify the positive things I do as a coach, but also the negative things that I can change to get better in the future.
What is one thing about the profession that you wish you would've known earlier in your career?
I guess it's similar to what I mentioned earlier about developing the most positive experience for the student-athlete. Sometimes as coaches, we believe that winning and losing are the most important thing. While winning and losing is a big part of the game, I believe that developing an amazing experience for our players should be the biggest part to coaching. I want current and former players to look back on their playing experience fondly. I want my players to talk positively about our program and develop relationships that will last forever.