For many of us, men’s basketball will have a new face on the sideline this season in Head Coach Kevin App. App, however, is no stranger himself to Williamstown or to the Eph coaching staff, beginning his coaching career as an assistant to former Head Coach Mike Maker during the 2008-09 season. After graduating from Cornell in 2007 with a civil engineering degree, App bounced from Williams back to his alma mater and then to West Point, where he spent the past four seasons as an assistant under Head Coach Zach Spiker.
“The one season I spent at Williams was unbelievable,” Coach App said. “This place left an impression on me after 14 months here and when the job opened up this summer, I knew I absolutely wanted it.” Coach App cherishes the relationships he made during his brief stint in Williamstown, including meeting his future wife and developing a close relationship with the entire Eph roster and coaching staff.
Expectations for a Williams program that has made the NCAA Div. III Final Four in three of the last five seasons are very high, and App recognizes that “it’s tough to change a lot after a team comes two seconds away from a National Championship.” It is no coincidence that App and Maker have very similar philosophies and approaches to the game of basketball.
Coach App is connected to an impressive pedigree of coaches spanning across all divisions of the NCAA that includes Maker, Spiker, Cornell Head Coach Steve Donahue and, indirectly, Michigan Head Coach John Beilein. As an assistant under the tutelage of Maker, Donahue and Spiker, App cited how fortunate he was to be given so much responsibility at a young age. “I was a voice on the floor and was able to be an authority figure and teacher,” he said. While the transition from assistant to head coach will be a noticeable change, his mentors have instilled in him a great basketball philosophy and intelligence.
Coach App considers Maker one of his biggest mentors and best friends,and is confident in his ability to bring continuity to the successful Eph basketball program. “We both believe in an aesthetically pleasing selfless, skill-based basketball where everyone on the floor can dribble, pass and shoot,” App said.
Yet, despite their many similarities in style of play, their coaching styles differ. “I like to teach quick, play quick and learn quickly from mistakes.”
App seeks to reinforce the pillars of Eph basketball: trust, selflessness, balance and appreciation. “We feel we have the opportunity to compete for a National Championship every year, and we appreciate that,” he noted. Yet, App is committed to not letting the winning culture at Williams be a burden and is instead focused on imploring his players to enjoy every second of it.
Asked if he feels any pressure, App admitted to some internal pressure before adding that pressure is normal and healthy as a competitor. “Staring at these trophies in my office everyday, that’s fun for me. That’s enjoyable,” App remarked. “That’s one part of why this job is so special, but it even more has to do the young guys whom I’m fortunate enough to teach.”
App praised his senior tri-captains Dan Wohl ’15, Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 and Ryan Kilcullen ’15 for their leadership and making his transition as smooth as possible. With only two weeks from the start of practice to the first game, App has been emphasizing togetherness and learning on the go in his quick-paced style of play.
App plans to use the team’s speed and pace on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Ephs will remain in the familiar four outside, one inside arrangement that focuses on selfless, quick passing to create open looks. On the other side of the ball, App plans to primarily play man-to-man due to the elite level of individual defense demonstrated by his team. “I know we rode a 2-3 zone to the National Championship game last year, but we’re an athletic team that can guard the ball one-on-one on the perimeter,” App remarked. “I think that’s how we’re going to be the most successful this year to start.”
Returning to Williams, App uniquely recognizes the tradition of Williams’s basketball and is poised to continue its winning ways, while shaping the lives of bright young men. The Ephs open their 2014-15 season on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Chandler Gymnasium.