Vancouver, British Columbia - Steve Hanson is the next man up. After coaching perennial powerhouse Terry Fox, Coach Hanson made the jump to the NCAA to take on Head Coach position with the Simon Fraser University Program. We catch-up with Coach Hanson in the midst of a cancelled season, sidelined due to national travel restrictions affecting Canada's only NCAA Program.
VB: Your journey to becoming a University level head coach is unique. Tell us a little about your story to this point? How did you get to SFU?
SH: Looking back, I had an early obsession with coaching at about the age of 21 that eventually led to the goal of being a full-time coach. In Canada, that is no easy endeavour, so I had to make a plan and it started with returning to school full-time in my early 30's, giving up my management position and taking a leap of faith to earn my degree and follow my dream. At that stage, coaching and teaching at high school was the plan. I was lucky to be mentored by Rich Chambers and my high school coach Don Van Os at Terry Fox. I volunteered at Fox for 10 years while I was still working in the grocery industry. I learned a lot and had a chance to be a head coach with the junior boys in 2010. In Spring of 2011, Rich announced he was taking over the University of Victoria Women's program and was leaving Terry Fox and coaching the senior boys team. Don and Rich asked me to take over and I was like "YES!". In 2011, we had just lost in the semis to a very talented RC Palmer team and were graduating three very talented and experienced seniors (Bret Macdonald, Scott Hind & Matt Trimble). The 2011-12 team was a team I identified with, mostly role players and one talented senior in Ryan Sclater. We had some success early, but getting out of the Fraser Valley was always tough with Pitt Meadows, WJ Mouat and Walnut Grove being Top 4 teams all season. We got hot at the right time and upset a talented Walnut Grove team in the final led by Jadon Cohee who was an outstanding 10th grader. Grove was a team we could never beat all season, so in the final, we just wanted to keep it close! It was a special year with a special group...a bond of brothers forever. Three years later, I was able to help another group get to the final in 2015 and this time, being on the other end losing to Yale 69-63 (yes, I remember the score). A very good year, with a very tough end. When I look back, getting to two finals with two different groups of players was really special. My four years as the senior boys head coach of Terry Fox was a big opportunity for me. In April 2015, I had a phone call from Virgil Hill, who was just announced as the new head coach at SFU and I took the job as his assistant. Virgil resigned one year later and I had a chance to apply for the head coaching job with very little experience. Although I learned a lot in that one year, I knew my chances were very low to get hired. Initially, the lead assistant coach at Alaska-Anchorage was hired, but he backed out after accepting the position. I felt my interview went well and a few days later I got a call from our Athletic Director, Theresa Hanson, and the rest is history.
VB: Who Was Your hero Growing Up?
SH: Hero? That is a powerful word. Terry Fox is my hero for what his legacy has become. Being from Coquitlam, playing at Terry Fox, coaching at Terry Fox and now coaching at his former university is a neat connection. But, my basketball idol was Magic Johnson. He drew me to the sport, was entertaining to watch and had so much charisma. That is what stood out the most, his personality, his passing flair, and the show time Lakers were the greatest show to watch. Magic was fun to listen to and how he handled the media – always entertaining. Without a doubt, the Bird-Magic rivalry was special to me, but that was soon surmounted by the Jordan-era. Air Jordan, Mars Blackmon and Public Enemy...those were my high school years in a nutshell...thank god those pictures of me aren’t around!
VB:How has your path and specifically speed transitioning from a top HS Coach at Terry Fox to the level University positively influenced your coaching style / approach?
SH: Coaching basketball is the same at every level. Show players how much you care about them, show them what they are good at and what the team can achieve when everyone is pointed in the same direction. How you deliver this at each level may be a little different, but it is a team game and you need a team-first mentality to win. I can’t think of many teams that have won a championship that didn’t have that mentality.
VB: What was the biggest adjustment for you?
SH: I'm human. Although I believed in myself, I had no experience. I had self-doubt not playing university basketball and I wanted to be authentic and honest. But just like athletes, coaches have to prove themselves every day. I think you do it with knowledge, passion and setting BIG goals. I wanted to WIN, but that wasn’t realistic at first. You have to keep growing as a coach and this is what makes it fun - always learning. The game is always evolving, always growing and the game rewards people that evolve with it. Once you’re comfortable in your own skin, you can then be yourself. That took some time my first few years.
VB: What are the unique challenges you face at SFU as an NCAA school compared to USports Schools?
SH: Being in the NCAA, there are over 1000 member schools and over 300 schools fighting for a D2 Championship. I think most Canadian kids don’t realize the amount of teams competing at Division 1, 2 & 3. That is a big difference between the 46 at U Sports. It is a huge challenge, but also what I love! The competition is amazing and that is what makes SFU unique - the US College experience but playing at home in Canada and getting a Canadian education. No doubt, fans would love to see a regular SFU vs UBC rivalry game as well, but that can be arranged even if we play in two different associations. We have great players all across the country and SFU is a great way to showcase that talent in the NCAA.
VB: How have you turned these challenges into opportunities for your program?
SH: When I took over the program, we had just finished a 2-24 season including a 19-game losing streak. That is really tough on everyone. Most of my colleagues said I couldn’t take losing because at Fox we were always winning. That is not quite true, but we had a culture of high expectations and a system that was built on competing. At SFU, they took a chance on me and I want to prove we can win and shock the doubters. That is what drives me. You certainly find out in those tough times who you can grind with and who wants to be a part of growing a program. We had a lot of hard work to do. We had to recruit a lot and we had to grow our scholarships to compete with our US counterparts. It has been a team effort with our administration, our alumni and my staff. We are still growing and working on these things each day.
VB: What is it about your job that specifically lights your soul on fire and inspires you?
SH: When you win, it is a good momentary feeling. But when you win a championship, it is so emotional because you reflect on the journey and what it took to get there. Coaches always talk about "the process", so when I see players that LOVE the process of getting better, grinding on their own without a coach telling them to do things, this fires me up! Kobe said it best, "this is the dream". Finding the intrinsic value of working hard every day. This is what it takes; the realization it takes more! More than others are willing to give. When I see this, I know we have the right culture and special people helping create this culture. This is a big part of the journey to a championship.
VB: What is the current status of your season?
SH: The GNAC announced this week that the conference is opting out of the championship season due to Covid-19. There will not be a conference tournament and no GNAC team will make it to the National tournament if there is one. Seven of the ten teams opted-out in November with the remaining teams pulling the plug this week. It is not easy, but the right decision at this time.
VB: When your squad finally gets to hit the floor and compete, what are you the most excited about with your current group?
SH: I am really excited for our group. Seeing the growth of Jas Singh, Julian Roche and Wilfried Balata has me excited. Our up and coming players like David Penney, Devin Collins and Drew Bryson are going to be exciting for fans as well. We have all-around scoring, size and we will play more up-tempo this year. I’m most proud of the growth I am seeing each day from all of our guys during a tough time in their careers. These guys will be ready.
VB: What has training looked like for the team with the restrictions?
SH: Each conference was able to make some adjustments with training rules and we were able to go almost every day. Our team lifts 3 times per week, then on the court 5 days as a team and then they do voluntary workouts on the off days. We have seen some big improvements especially defensively since September. We are hoping for some real games in 2021, fingers crossed.
VB: How has Covid positively affected your life? How have you grown as a person / coach / professional development?
SH: I think last Spring was a great time to look in the mirror and see what I needed to change personally. For my wife and I, we have never spent so much time together so we connected a lot through fitness and taking on some challenging hikes. It was great to enjoy the outdoors when you are forced to be indoors for so long! April to July for me is about professional development and growing my coaching game and this didn’t change. I did every free clinic I could, spoke at two other clinics online and tweaked some of my philosophy from this educational time. I also purchased two more all-access videos. Spring 2020 gave me a lot of time to look inward and see how I could improve in different ways.
VB: What are the Non X and O non-negotiable when you are evaluating student - athletes?
SH: When I go to watch a player, the ability to be "coached" is huge. Your coach can play a huge role in your life if you let him or her. Do players listen intently to their coach? Are they willing to learn and grow? Players have a lot to learn when they leave high school and come to university. To be successful, you have to listen and learn. Second, you have to show you can defend someone. Not everyone can score, but everyone can learn to defend if they work extremely hard. Third, is being a great teammate. There is only one ball and if you play hard enough, you will not be on the floor the entire game. I want to see "how do players act when they are subbed off and on the bench?" This is crucial to me. Do they give energy to their teammates on the floor while they are on the bench? We want great people in our program and these things say a lot about who you are as a person.
VB: Which coaches have you pulled inspiration / learnings from over the course of your coaching career?
SH: I have taken lessons from almost every coach. You can learn from great coaches and you can learn from coaches that may not do a great job. Good teams will have talent, but teams with less talent can accomplish great things with a team-first attitude and a togetherness that talented teams may lack. Locally, Rich Chambers, Don Van Os, Rich Goulet, Tony Scott and Paul Eberhardt I have seen up close a lot. Each of these coaches has their own unique style, but more importantly willing to share ideas. Nick Nurse, Brad Stevens and Eric Spoelstra are some of the younger NBA coaches I look up to. There are so many great college coaches in Canada, the US and Europe we can learn from. With the internet and YouTube, there is no excuse not to learn from all over the world.
VB: Advice for young athletes trying to play college basketball?
SH: You have to love the game! You have to be in the gym a lot to be great, so you have to love the game and improving your skills. Your "want" to play in front of the lights on the biggest stage has to be matched by what you do in the gym on your own. Ball handlers are not born, they ball handle...a lot. Shooters are not born, they are made from countless hours of repetition. There are no shortcuts in life and certainly not in basketball.
VB: You are one of the most positive people that many of us in the basketball community know - how do you balance the hectic lifestyle coaching brings to your life to maintain your mental health and positive outlook?
SH: Well, I take that as a great compliment – thank you. I want to give back like the people did that helped me on my journey. How do you want to be treated? I like to be around good people that say ‘hello’ and love basketball. Basketball is simple, but we can learn and teach a lot of complicated things about life in this great game.
VB: Any words of wisdom you have for upcoming coaches in our country?
SH: Coaching is a tremendous profession. It is rewarding in so many ways and creates a lot of positive relationships. However, it is a highly competitive profession and if you love doing it for free, you may be lucky enough to do it for a living one day.
VB: You get 5 minutes with yourself your first year of coaching at the University level - what do you tell yourself?
SH: My first year? Oh, boy! I think I had this conversation with myself a lot, "You’re losing a lot more than you’ve expected, so be positive and get better each day."Vancouver, British Columbia - Steve Hanson has risen the ranks. He made the jump from the Vancouver High School level coaching perennial powerhouse Terry Fox to Head Coach at Simon Fraser University. Vancouver Basketball catches-up with Coach Hanson amidst their cancelled season due to travel restrictions for Canada's only NCAA program.
SFU is on the rise - keep an eye out for this team when they can safely return to the court.