On December 30th, NJIT Head Coach Steve Lanpher won his 200th career game as a Head Coach. His path to NJIT has taken him from Head Coach positions at the NAIA, Junior College, and Division III levels, where he would twice be named conference Coach of the Year. After taking over the NJIT program in 2012, Lanpher led NJIT to the 2012-13 Great West Conference Tournament Championship, which was first championship in program history. That season, he also guided NJIT to the first winning record (16-15) and most single-season wins (16) in the program’s Division I history. This success was accomplished despite the challenge of the school’s NCAA Division Independent status, but Lanpher is looking to make significant strides with the program now that NJIT has finally found a home in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
How did your previous experience as a collegiate Head Coach better prepare you to take over the Division I program at NJIT?
I have been fortunate to have also been a Head Coach at a variety of different levels, including NAIA, Junior College, and Division III. At these levels, you have limited staff so you must learn and become an expert on all phases of the program. You learn to become task-orientated and multi-task.
I learned early on that being able to positively communicate with the players is paramount. They must believe that you care about them as people before worrying about your basketball execution. You must spend time with your players individually so you better understand them and know what motivates them.
How challenging has it been to build a consistently successful program with the transition from Great West Conference to Independent to Atlantic Sun Conference over your five years leading your program?
NJIT has been a great experience thus far and there has never been a dull moment. However, it also has been my most challenging job to date. The challenges we have faced due to various factors, including the independent status, have foced me to become creative in both our recruiting and coaching efforts.
We are starting to turn the corner and have success at NJIT because of the character of student athletes we have been able to bring to campus. I have focused my efforts on bringing in “ blue collar” players with a high basketball IQ who have an extra chip on their shoulder because maybe because they were under-recruited during high school. These type of players are looking to prove their worth and that extra motivation has helped us improve.
You’ve made some big strides in year two of being in the Atlantic Sun, what are your goals for your program during the rest of the season?
As a program, we strive to make a positive difference on a daily basis. I preach to my student-athletes to seize the day and to make it a positive one! We don’t talk about wins and losses so much, but instead focus on the process and about doing things the right way. I try to challenge our players to be successful on the court, in the classroom, and as positive leaders on campus. We have a core set of values (honesty, respect, discipline, unselfishness, unity, positive passion, and toughness) that we focus on and try to adhere to daily. By following these values, we believe success and wins will take care of them themselves.
Talk about the importance of building team chemistry off the court?
I feel like it is important for all of our players to know each other on a personal level. When they do, they are more apt to respect one another and work for a common goal together, while being less apt to be disrespectful towards others. We plan and organize several activities where the team must spend time together away from basketball to help enhance this.
What advice do you have for coaches aspiring to become and be successful as a Division I Head Coach?
Do not take your present job for granted. If you are a Head Coach at small Division III program, treat that job like you have the best job in America. Be true to yourself and don’t try to emulate a Geno Auriemma or Dawn Staley. You must be you, and if you are genuine, the players will respect that.
You must also continually strive to learn and become better. Be a student of the game. Make sure you find ways to attend coaching clinics, read instructional and motivational books, and watch videos. If you don’t seek knowledge, you cannot obtain or maintain success.
Written originally for CollegeInsider.com on February 7, 2017.