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Gee-Gees basketball coach creates a winning program

It’s been four years since James Derouin started his first-ever head coach position with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. The men’s basketball team has had great improvements since Derouin started. The Gees have moved up from a .500 regular season record to winning the bronze medal last year at the national championship. The Gee-Gees are having an amazing start to the season thus far with a 6–0 season and have been ranked third in the country three weeks in a row.

The Fulcrum: Comparing the teams from four years ago to today, what are the main improvements and differences in the dynamic of the team? 

Derouin: From my first year, I think the major difference for every new coach is to have four years of guys that understand what the coach expects from them and the coach’s style of play, what he is looking for. Add that to the ability to recruit guys that fit that mould of what you see as a coach. All those things add up to be a better product on the court.

If you can say one thing you have learned as a coach what would it be? 

There are a lot of things. When I interviewed for the job, Andy Sparks (women’s head basketball coach) was on the hiring committee. I had been an assistant for eight years and I think at one point one of the questions was if I was ready, or something along those lines. I said I had done six years of David DeAveirio, who was one of the top coaches in the country. And two years of Kevin Hanson, the coach at University of British Colombia who’s considered one of the top three coaches in the country. It’s almost like that was my education—I had graduated and I was ready. Andy took that as meaning I knew everything that I needed to know. He sort of stopped me and said, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I still don’t know, I’m still learning.” That’s one thing that I have learned: the game, there is so much to learn. I couldn’t even have imagined there’s still so much to learn from a coaching standpoint. You have to have that thirst for knowledge.

What are the big differences for you from assistant coach to head coach?

Being an assistant is fun—not to say being a head coach isn’t fun, but there are very little consequences to your ideas. You can throw anything out there. You have that freedom. I didn’t really appreciate that as an assistant coach. Once you’re in the head spot, it changes dramatically because you have to start to think of the consequences that you have made whereas an assistant, the consequences are whether or not he uses it or doesn’t use it. And if he uses it and it works you’re the hero. As the head coach you really have to weigh the consequences.  It’s a much more complicated set of decision making. That is the role of the assistant; throw everything on the table because ultimately I have to pick the one that will work.

Did you always know you wanted to become a head coach? 

I remember thinking as a kid, there are better ways of doing some things and I always thought there is a better way of getting more out of certain players on our team. I would often watch how the coaches treat players on our team and see how they would react: frustrated, upset, stressed. I remember thinking that wasn’t very smart; there is a better way to get more out of that kid. Once I finished playing, I was the type of player that if I had 10 years of eligibility, I would still be on student loans and still be playing. I love being around the university and love being around the basketball team. When I started as an assistant, it was pretty clear that this is what I wanted to do.

Do you think having someone as experienced as Andy Sparks for the women’s team has helped you grow in your position as a head coach? 

Having a “mentor coach,” Andy didn’t realize that he was being volunteered into that position but he has been a suitable mentor coach for me. It’s not necessarily specialty things that he has taught in terms of Xs and Os. For the first time in a long time, he would answer me with something I haven’t heard before or even seen before. He inspired me to go back to the books and videos, it made me realize that there is still 99 per cent left to learn and I had only learned 1 per cent.

As head coach, what was it like going to the nationals for the first time with the men last year? 

I had been there as an assistant coach and I also played at national championships during college. It was my seventh trip to nationals and I wanted that message to get across, that I had been there before and this is how we were going to take of care of this. For the most part I was most excited for Warren Ward, Dimitrios Seymour, and Jordan Vig, our fifth-year players. Also I was super excited that I had such a young team that moving forward they would get that experience in both the Wilson Cup and the national championships. I think you see that this year. I think you see that our veterans have been there before and they handle their situations much better than last year. I was thrilled, I knew what it meant to our seniors and I knew what it would mean to our young core moving forward. The guy’s faces after we won (the bronze medal), it was really special. From the emotional roller-coaster situation it was an amazing turn around and I think that was a proud moment.

Are there any songs or artists you listen to before games? 

No. We’re usually just watching game tape or I am listening to Justin (Serresse) tell me how to do my job.