Coach Marlon Sears stood up from his red and white cushioned chair to argue a foul called on his player. He lobbied that his player, Devyn Ransom, didn’t commit the foul as he put his hands in the air to demonstrate how he was playing defense. The College of New Jersey went on a nice run to start the second half and created some tension in Panzer Athletic Center. Sears calmly called a timeout to regroup his team. All eyes were centered on him like he was George Washington, leading his men for war. Sears has control as the man in charge for the Montclair State men’s basketball team.
On May 13, 2015, Marlon Sears was named the head men’s basketball coach at Montclair State University, the 15th in school history. He replaced interim coach Daren Rowe and longtime coach Ted Fiore, who retired after 15 years at the helm. The administration looked for the man to revamp the program that reached the postseason nine times under Fiore.
“I was really excited,” said Sears, “everybody [upper management] really wanted the men’s basketball program to take off and become a national powerhouse amongst Division III.”
The news of the hire had mix reviews amongst the players, with their third new coach in as many years. There hadn’t been a mainstay for the last three years, and a feeling of uncertainty around the program started to build.
Senior center Kevin McGorry acknowledged it was tough not knowing who the head coach would be each year.
“I think the unfamiliarity of not knowing who would be here took a toll on the program,” said McGorry.
Every coach has their own styles, and the players have to buy into what they are teaching. The last three years for Montclair State, players had to learn different offensive plays and understand certain structures of practices. At first, the hiring of a new coach amongst the players meant, what new plays he runs and how the culture will change.
“Everyone had their different strategy and their own way they wanted us to play the game,” said Loften-Harris.
On the court, players recognized two main assets of the game Sears focused on the most, defense and moving the ball on offense. Loften-Harris said the previous coaches talked about defense but not to the extent of coach Sears. Sears also talked about ball movement being a principal of his offense.
“The biggest thing for me is sharing the basketball,” said Sears, “if you share the basketball you have the chance to win a lot of games.”
When Sears took over the program in May, he had the opportunity to meet with the team individually and talk about their goals for the future. According to Sears, all the players had the same objective, to win a championship.
“I spoke to him and learned what he was all about, I was all on board,” said Loften-Harris.
It’s a challenge to put together an effective basketball team on the court, but it’s even harder to build the foundation for a successful program. The players have to buy into the strategy on the court, but more importantly invest in the team off it. “All in” is a phrase you here coaches describe when looking for the right players. Players are “all in” when they are great teammates off the court, good students, and the last part, a good basketball player.
Brad Stevens, the former coach of Butler University and current coach of the Boston Celtics once said, “We’re building a culture of accountability, trust and togetherness.” Stevens didn’t mention the type of ball players he was trying to recruit, he was talking about the kind of people he wanted. Talent can only get a coach so far, players that accept a coaches beliefs and philosophies can make an average program elite.
Sears was a Division I assistant coach at Cornell University prior to being named the head coach at Montclair State. He also had stints as an assistant at Binghamton, Wagner, High Point, and Columbia, where he learned what’s needed to build the foundation for a basketball program.
“The biggest thing is commitment, when you speak of commitment you talk about something you do every single day,” said Sears, “you’re talking about being on time for practice, being a student before you’re an athlete, being a great teammate. All of those things come into play before you talk about winning basketball games.”
Coach Sears laid the groundwork for Montclair State through commitment, but ultimately it’s up to the players to understand and accept the attitude. Sears understands that many student athletes think they are committed, but sometimes they just want to have fun and be a part of the team. Between study hall, practice, and team meals, the players spend a lot of time together and choose to be devoted.
“I think the family and togetherness of the program is a lot tighter with coach Sears here, it makes us come together,” said McGorry.
Coach Sears said, “I think it’s been tremendous so far, the guys really bought in and it’s showing on the basketball court. Especially with the way that we compete for 40 minutes because that’s what it takes to win.”
Playing for three coaches in three years is a challenge, but if the right guy instills a certain philosophy over time, a winning program can be created.
“I think the program is going to take steps to get better every year because of how he implements the togetherness. Everybody is going to want to play and come to Montclair State and I think we’re going to be successful” said McGorry.
Loften-Harris couldn’t find one word to describe his new coach, but he could describe how he feels playing for him, saying, “He just brings out the best in you, he makes you play hard every day, every possession.”
Montclair State | New Jersey