By Corey Donetz
Just as Alumni Gym has been renovated this offseason, Rider’s personnel on the sidelines of the men’s basketball team has also seen changes. Kevin Baggett is the new head coach, replacing former Head Coach Tommy Dempsey.
After 16 years in various Division I basketball programs, Baggett is finally seeing his dreams come true as he will lead the Broncs onto the court for the first time as a head coach.
“It was a very emotional time for me, being named the head coach here at Rider,” Baggett said. “I finally reached one of my goals in life after working so hard as an assistant. This opportunity isn’t a given for any assistant in the country.”
Dempsey’s departure from the basketball program came quickly and suddenly. He has since moved on to become the head coach at Binghamton University. Dempsey had been with Rider since 2003, and on the forefront as the Broncs head coach since 2005.
“I have some big shoes to fill here,” Baggett said. “Coach Dempsey did a great job and won a lot of games.”
Some of the players saw the departure of Dempsey as a surprise.
“It was a shock,” junior forward Daniel Stewart said. “No one really expected it, but [we] had a feeling something was going on.”
Baggett has both experience as a player and a coach. He was an inductee to the 2006 South Jersey Hall of Fame and played basketball for Saint Joseph’s University. He has been with Rider since the 2006-07 season.
Although Baggett will continue to use some of the methods that have worked in the past, being the head coach will allow him to utilize his coaching versatility and make some changes.
“The difference between my team compared to [Dempsey’s] is I want to run more in transition,” Baggett said. “I want to press full court forcing the tempo and getting after teams defensively in the half court.”
A new set of coaches will accompany Baggett on the sidelines, including a familiar face. Mike Witcoskie was given the job as Rider’s new associate head coach.
“In choosing my staff I was fortunate to have Mike Witcoskie decide to stay here with me as opposed to going with Coach Dempsey,” Baggett said. “Mike and I were assistants here the last six years together and we are very familiar with one another and Rider, which will help me with my transition.”
Beside Baggett and Witcoskie will be Louis Rowe, John Griffin III and Mike Cotton. All three have extensive experience, including playing basketball in college, professionally or both, as well as coaching.
“In choosing the rest of my staff I wanted coaches who had played and had success as players,” Baggett said. “I thought this would be important so that our players would be able to identify and relate to those guys.”
The 2012-13 team will include transfer Nurideen Lindsey along with six incoming freshmen.
“We have six new guys who will bring energy and enthusiasm to our program,”
Baggett said. “If there is a negative, I think it’s the learning curve of having to learn how we play, the terminology and just trying to figure out what their roles will be early on.”
Being at the helm will allow Baggett to take a more hands on approach with the new players. His experience with the program will certainly benefit him, but there is still a transition required.
“The biggest difference is being able to manage coaches and players along with managing my time,” Baggett said. “So much more time is required of me, and [I need] to learn how to delegate some of the responsibilities I was used to as an assistant for all these years.”
The intensity of the program will not dip even with the Dempsey’s departure, according to Baggett.
“I want our fans to look for passion when our guys step out on the court,” Baggett said. “Our guys [will be] playing hard, taking charges, diving on loose balls, rooting for their teammates and playing together. I think every fan can appreciate those things.”
Stewart agreed with his new coach.
“[You can look forward to] a very energetic group and a lot of fast breaks,” he said. “I expect us to play as hard as we can every night and keep our fans and everyone tuned in and excited for the next game, and obviously win. The league won’t expect us to make noise and we’re going to prove them wrong.”