Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Terrence Stewart has had a lifelong relationship with basketball.
Four D-III NCAA tournament appearances in four years at Rowan–including a national championship in 1996, when he was named Postseason MVP. A 10-year professional career took him to 10 countries, including France, Germany, Israel and Spain; he was named to All-Import teams in seven of those 10 seasons. Stints as an AAU coach for the East Coast Elite in 2009-10 before a two-year stint as video coordinator at La Salle University.
Now, he’s got his own collegiate program for the first time, as the head coach of D-III Immaculata University. And he’s working on some new relationships–15 of them, to be exact.
“I’ve gotten to know the guys very well from summer league, just watching them and learning them off the court moreso than on the court,” Stewart told CoBL before a Mighty Macs practice last week. “I think we have to build a relationship, i kind of equate it to…we’ve been married together, so I just want them to get to know me and know where I was coming from, from a basketball standpoint and personally.”
“The biggest thing with me was just getting together, and not being able to get on the floor until October 15, I had to know them personally. I wanted to set that tone first, like it’s more than about basketball with me, I care about them what they’re gonna do after this and why they’re on this campus.”
The Mighty Macs are one of the more experienced squads in the Colonial States Athletic Conference, which also includes Philadelphia-area schools Cabrini, Gwynedd-Mercy, Neumann, Rosemont and Cairn. Losing starting guard Rob Siter (16.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg)–one of the most athletic players in the CSAC last season–will certainly be a setback, but a group of five seniors led by 6-3 guard Nelson Torres (16.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg) will look to give Immaculata their first winning record since going 15-12 (12-6 CSAC) under former head coach Jamie Chadwin back in 2009-10.
While Torres, who has a chance to be the school’s all-time leading scorer when he graduates in the spring, and fellow senior point guard T.J. Klinger (7.9 ppg, 1.8 apg) look to hold down the starting backcourt spots, team captain Todd Stokley (9.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) will most likely play out on the wing while Kendall Peters (6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) could start or come off the bench at either forward position. Brandon Smith (9.9ppg, 5.1 rpg), a 6-6 junior who could be one of the best big men in the league, will most likely start up front after transferring into the school halfway through last season.
“I’ve got a great bunch of guys, just character-wise, just good kids,” Stewart said. “They’ve just bought into what we’re trying to do. They’ve listened, they’ve been very responsive–and i’ve tested them, I’ve tested them early as far as conditioning and I’ve tested them in the preseason, things they haven’t been through and the response has been more than I can ask for. Just having 15 guys hang onto your every word that don’t know me, that trust factor we’ve had to build over the first couple of weeks but they’ve just been tremendous.
Chadwin was the only leader the men’s Mighty Macs have known since the school became co-ed and started the team back in 2005. Stewart said it wasn’t just the older players who have bought into their new coach, just the second in the school’s men’s basketball history.
“From my seniors down to my freshmen, everybody’s been very responsive,” he said. “Whatever I’ve asked them to do they’ve done willingly, putting forth 110 percent, so the effort’s been there.”
As someone who’s been around the game his entire life, Stewart knows that there are really only two things that any individual can control, his energy and his effort. Though it’s early in the process of turning Immaculata into the program he wants it to be, Stewart knows that those are the two things he expects from his team on a daily basis.
“I think that’s the one thing we can control every day, how hard we play,” he said. “I have a saying that we wanna play hard, but we wanna play smart and hard.
“The biggest thing with my team is, they gotta compete every night. I want guys that just wanna show up, every night. I want teams to know that they’re gonna be in for a fight for 40 minutes.”
A Philadelphia native who graduated from Engineering and Science, Stewart has gotten plenty of advice from a few well-known local coaches as he adjusts to running his own program.
“(La Salle) coach (John) Giannini, he’s been my biggest supporter out of everyone,” Stewart said. “A couple of other people I’ve spoken with through email and different avenues…(Temple) coach (Fran) Dunphy’s been huge, talked to (Virginia Commonwealth’s) Shaka Smart a few times.”
The experience is there. The energy and the effort are there. If Terrence Stewart is right, the rest will come for the Mighty Macs.
“In order for you to be a great leader, you have to be a great servant too, so I let them know I’m here for them,” he said. “It’s not about me, it’s about Immaculata–and we’re trying to do something big.”
Last year, Immaculata went 11-16 (8-10), losing in the second round of the CSAC tournament to Cabrini, 87-68. The Mighty Macs open the 2012-13 season on November 16 at Albright College in Reading, Pa.