A few weeks ago, Mount Ida College’s athletic department announced the hiring of Ben Davis, a former Wheaton College basketball player, who’ll be the new head coach of the Mustangs men’s basketball team this season.
“It’s awesome to have this opportunity to be a head coach and build your own program,” said Davis. “It’s exciting because we’ve got guys that are willing to work here and I am looking forward to being able to work with them and just try to build a foundation where we can be competitive in the league.”
Before Davis was hired to coach the Mustangs, the Dudley native spent time as an assistant coach with Sienna College, Stonehill College and Nichols College. And before he traded in his uniform for a jacket and tie, he guided Wheaton to back-to-back ECAC Tournament Championships in 2005 and 2006.
Noontime Sports recently caught up with the new head coach to chat about his new gig, as well as his past experiences on the bench.
On becoming a head coach: “I’ve been fortunate to work for some really good coaches. I broke into the business with Coach (Dave) Sokolnicki at Nichols College who knew me a little bit because I am from Dudley originally, so he knew me from high school and gave me an opportunity to coach. He was such a great mentor to me from the start and then at Stonehill College I worked under Coach (David) McLaughlin who was really tremendous. He gave me a ton of responsibility and really brought me along and helped develop me into what I wanted to be like as a coach. I worked for him for three years, which was awesome. We had a lot of success there each year I was there and then I had an opportunity to go to Sienna and had some positive experiences with each coach. The fans at Sienna were amazing. The amount of attention that surrounds that program is awesome, so again I was lucky to move up in the business and when I started out I knew I wanted to be a Division III head coach, and everything I did in coaching was to get to that point, so I feel fortunate that it worked out for me and that I finally get my chance to be a Division III head coach and I am excited to be here at Mount Ida.”
On coaching Division III basketball: “Anyone that plays Division III basketball or a Division III sport for that matter is doing it because they really love the sport and love to be on a team and compete with their teammates and for their school. You get a scholarship in Division I and II, so the higher up you get the more of a business it becomes, but Division III is just about playing for the guys that you go to class with, so it’s a pure genuine thing for people to compete at that level, but to me that’s really special and I wouldn’t have been in coaching at this level if I didn’t have that experience like I did at Wheaton. There’s really that special bond that is created with everyone you’re playing with in Division III and I knew I wanted to be apart of that by giving back to that experience I had as a player, which is something that I think is very important because that’s what makes it very unique and special.”
On coaching in the GNAC (Great Northeast Athletic Conference): “There’s some excellent coaches in the league and I know some of those coaches and the perfect job they have done with their programs and building what they’ve built. It’s a tough conference, so my expectations is that we’re trying to build a foundation for a program moving forward to eventually have some classes that come through that eventually will be younger now, but hopefully older by the time the junior and seniors fully compete in the league. I don’t think we have specific goals in terms of competing for a championship right away because I don’t think that’s realistic, but down the road that’s what we’re trying to model our program after some of the older and tougher teams like Albertus Magnus and Anna Maria that have paved the way and be successful in the league, and that’s what we are trying to build.”
On prior knowledge of Mount Ida basketball: “When I was at Wheaton we played against Mount Ida, so I was familiar with the campus and the school just a little bit from being at a Division III school in the area. We actually played them last year and aren’t playing them next year for non-conference, so we don’t get to play them unfortunately. I’ve learned a lot about the school from obviously going through the interview process and it’s a really exciting time to be here. There’s a new president that has a real vision and direction of the school that is going to be tremendous moving forward and over the summer they’ll be doing renovations to various buildings and they’re adding a new fitness center to our athletic center, which is really going to be helpful, so within the last year or two years they’ve built a new turf field for football and lacrosse and other sports, so I think the president sees athletics as a building block to create the profile of the school and help the school move forward, so I am just learning more and more about it as I get acclimated here, but it’s definitely an exciting time to be apart of it.”
On learning from Coach McLaughlin at Stonehill: “He was tremendous in my development as a coach. I was there for over three years and a day didn’t go by that I wasn’t challenged to be a better coach or be a better recruiter or have my hand in alumni fundraising or something that was going on. He really took the time and I think sometimes it gets lost as a head coach because you’re so concerned about how the team is doing or what your own well being is so sometimes that connection gets lost in terms of helping your assistant coaches, but he did such a great job of challenging me to do more on the court as a coach or recruit better or just my own professional development and I think that really helped me a lot. The reason he has been so successful as a coach is because he takes the time to teach and bring along his assistances, so that really helped the program be successful for a long period of time, and that success helped me with getting a job at Sienna and I wouldn’t have been able to get that job if it wasn’t for the success that we had at Stonehill, so I owe him a ton. I talk to him still on a weekly basis and he was even instrumental at helping me prepare to get the job here in terms of the interview process, so I definitely owe him a ton for the little success I have had as a coach, but he’s been great.”
On playing at Wheaton College: “I think from where Wheaton has come as a program – just bringing it to the point where we were that first class that really made the program successful is special. We ended up graduating with the most wins in a four-year span. We didn’t make the NCAA tournament during those four years, but to have as much success as any other class or team that has ever come through Wheaton was a real true accomplishment for us and playing with guys like Sean Kelly, Josean Vega and Mike Stanton – those kids were just tough players and guys that I really respected and it was a lot of fun to feel like you’re building something to get to that point to have success and where the program and the school never had success before.”
On playing for Coach Brian Walmsley: “I wouldn’t be here today unless it was for Coach Walmsley. He gave me an opportunity to actually be on the team as a freshman because I pretty much talked him in to making the roster as a first-year, but he gave me an opportunity, which he didn’t have to and he really cares about his players and cared about me enough to give me an opportunity to play. I came back the next year and ended up being there all four years, so that’s something I appreciate every day. He definitely cares about his players and I respect him for the way he coaches and the way he cares about the team and I continue to stay in touch with him. I’ll probably be talking to him a lot more moving forward, especially being the head coach at Mount Ida, but he’s terrific and I owe a ton to him for just what he gave us and every other player there in terms of attention and care about what’s going on in our personal lives to how we’re doing in class and obviously on the basketball court, so I don’t think that’s something you find on a lot of basketball courts, but he’s always been terrific with that.”