Primesport 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 Penn assistant Joe Mihalich.
What led you to pursue a career in college basketball coaching?
“My dad is a college basketball coach, and growing up I was always around the game. I used to spend lots of time with him, going to the office, hanging in the gym, working out on my own to prepare for my own season. As I got older, I realized that I always wanted to be around basketball, and coaching seemed like a great way to stay in the game – since no NBA team seemed to be interested in my services! And my own college career was an awesome experience. I spent four years with people who became my best friends. I want other people to have the same experience as I did, and I would be happy to be part of that.”
What has been the biggest challenge so far in your career, and what have you learned from it?
“The biggest challenge for me has been constantly pushing myself to learn the game more, to increase my basketball IQ, and to become a good coach each day. I’ve been lucky to work for and with great coaches, and I having been trying to listen, observe, and learn from all of them. One thing in particular I’ve seen is that no matter what level you’re at, coaching basketball is all about the pursuit of excellence. Like our players, we have to always push ourselves to get better. The values and skills that you learn as a college basketball player are more than just X’s and O’s – just as much as a coach. You learn how to deal with success and failure, you learn how to push through adversity, you learn the value of hard work, goal-setting, leadership, teamwork – and no matter what level of basketball you’re at, as a coach or as a player, those skills translate.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
“I think the most powerful form of leadership is leading by example – if you want to show your players how to act, how to commit to the team and the culture, then you have to commit yourself. That applies to all the small things, like keeping the locker room clean, wearing the travel sweats, being on time. If your players see you demonstrate that details matter, then those details will matter to them."
"Additionally, your players need to know that you care about them. Once they know that you care about them as people, then they’ll see you as their leader. One of my favorite coaching quotes is ‘they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.’”
Aside from knowledge of the game, what skill do you feel is most important for coaches to possess?
“When I was in college, I studied math and education. I feel that a lot of the skills I learned in my education classes translate to coaching. Essentially, we are teachers: the gym is our classroom, our practices are our daily lessons, and games are our tests. Good teachers find ways to connect with their students to find out how students learn. I think good coaches find how their players learn – some need demonstration, some need to see it on film, some need to hear it. So I think finding how your players learn is important.”
What kind of impact – both on the court and off – do you hope to have on your student-athletes?
“I hope that I’m more than just their basketball coach. I want to be part of our players’ lives. I want them to know that they’re more than just X’s and O’s on the whiteboard. On the court, I want them to be motivated and hungry to compete. Competition is what drives us, both as players and coaches, and I want them to compete in every practice and every game. That is the best way we can improve as basketball players and as young men.”
What career goals do you have for your future, and how do you plan to achieve them?
“I really like working at Penn – it’s a special place, both throughout campus and in the athletic department. We’re surrounded by the world’s brightest people, so I’m happy here. Eventually, I want to be a head coach and run my own program. I like the college level – since I had such a great college experience, the college level is a great fit for me. I hope to be a college head coach someday in any division.”
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to somebody considering a career in coaching?
“I started my career by working lots of summer camps. I bounced around a lot of different colleges’ camps throughout college, and when I coached at Scranton I worked a lot of Hoop Group camps. It was a great opportunity for me to not only be on the floor and work on teaching the game, but also to develop genuine relationships. I think it’s important to have genuine relationships with other coaches at different levels and from different parts of the country. For anyone looking to get into coaching, working camps is a great start.”