Coach Raymond has spent the last 17 years as the Head Coach for Ithaca College Women’s Basketball. At the helm of the Bombers squad he has compiled a career record of 355-123 overall, which makes him the all-time winningest women’s basketball coach in the history of the school. The Bombers have been to the NCAA tournament 12 of the 17 years he has led the team, including three Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite 8 run in 2014. Coach Raymond has also had five All-Americans play for him at Ithaca and has been named D3hoops.com’s East Region Coach of the Year three times.
Every Coach Has Their Own Path
As we have said before on The Coaching Assist, every coach has his or her own path and Coach Raymond’s story is one of the most unique we have heard! Coach began his journey into college basketball coaching at age 35 with three children and his wife by his side. Becoming a college coach was always something he was interested in doing but despite that interest began his professional life as an electrician and technician. As people who are trying to break into the industry know, you have to be willing to go anywhere in order to take an opportunity that could lead you to where you want to be. With a firm push of encouragement from his wife, he finally took the leap into coaching when his uncle became the varsity boys’ coach in his hometown and offered him a chance to coach at the junior high level alongside of him.
From sacrificing and taking any volunteer or low paying position at every and any level that he could, while picking up technician freelance work on the side, he eventually climbed his way to becoming the head coach for the Ithaca Women’s Basketball team. “The people who knew me would have never said that I was a find a way and chase your dream type of person. I give credit to my wife for helping me to make the decision to pursue something I always wanted to try.”
Budgets and recruiting strategies are different at every school you talk with, so know yourself and your school’s agenda first off to identify the right fit for your program! Being a Division III school (no Division III schools can offer athletic scholarships) means you have to be very efficient with the limited budget you are working with to find players that fit your team. For Coach Raymond, potential student athletes that reach out to him are a great place to start. Typically, this looks like an email or letter with a link or information on where to see highlights of the player. “If they send something, that is one step taken care of; they want to come to us.” Although Coach Raymond knows that you can’t see the important non-negotiables such as body language and coachability on video, they can get an idea if athletically this is a player that matches who they are as a team. Although video can help narrow his search and generate interest in a player, he will never take someone on his team that he has not seen play in person.
A creative strategy for Division III coaches to use that he shared is speaking to your admissions office about the locations that the university as a whole is drawing from. If there are certain areas in your state or region that the university is attracting, speak with admissions and try to find players in those areas to recruit. Chances are higher that they will have interest and familiarity with the school. In terms of identifying players that are worth spending time recruiting, he also encouraged young coaches to not give up on a player that you think is too good for your program early. Making a connection with a few of those players and getting them on board can drastically change your program for the better!
Recruiting Character … and Parents
As mentioned above Coach has some non-negotiables in regards to the character of the young women he wants to bring to his team. “Character is the most important thing and there are many ways to define that. Being sincere, honest, and having some degree of passion for the game is all important.”
For him the parents of the recruit and their relationship to the player have also grown in importance. If a player is constantly looking to their parents for approval during the game or you can sense that the player is still very dependent on the decisions of the parents, it can lead Coach Raymond in a different direction. As I jokingly made a reference to Lavar at this point in our interview, Coach laughed and said that is a great example of a parent that clearly has great influence on the career of his son and the team that he plays for. As a Coach you have to decide if the impact that parent is going to have is worth the risk of having that player.
Finally, when talking about players he recruits and how his philosophy has changed over his successful 17-year career, he assured me that he wants quality people, quality students, and then really good basketball players, in that order. As the program has found long term success under his helm he can now be more selective in terms of the players that he brings in. Specifically, they can identify the academic programs that are really outstanding for their school and find kids that will be very interested in being students in those programs. In terms of basketball players, his specificity has also been narrowed since his first days as a coach. He knows more now what type of on court player he wants and can be successful under him. Overall he does not view his program as a “system” type program and tries to find the best players that he can and then builds a system around those players in terms of style, pace, and play action.
Growing the Game
“Winning a championship should be a result, not the goal.” – Coach Raymond
Coach Raymond is adamant about having his players consider a career in coaching after they finish playing. Recently his former player Kathryn Bixby (one of five All- American players he has coached at Ithaca) was named the head coach for John Hopkins women’s basketball and he has had several others go onto be coaches in the game. Coach sincerely wants to give back to women that have any interest in the game and want to coach for the right reasons. “This profession can be very, very, special; it’s a great way to make a difference.”