November 01, 2012

Service and Basketball

Entering his 11th season, head coach Tom Devitt is still living his childhood dream

Practice only started three weeks ago for Wentworth men’s basketball team, and head coach Tom Devitt already has a big win behind him.

Before practice one day, his team told him that they want to lead the Commonwealth Coast Conference in assists. “As a coach, that’s the best thing you can hear,” Devitt said.

For Devitt, who is entering into his 11th season as head coach, he has kept a consistent mantra for his teams: team above the individual.

“Basketball is one of the few sports where every player can do everything,” Devitt said. “Because of that, there’s a real flow to our game. And people can achieve at high levels knowing that there’s some trust among each other.”

Devitt, a Kennedy assassination buff (“There was definitely a second shooter”) and author and columnist Dave Barry fan, grew up in Washington, D.C. His father was a philosophy professor, as well as a sports fanatic. “You can imagine the conversations at our dinner table,” Devitt said. “They fluctuated between a baseball box score and why we are here,” Devitt said.

His father instilled in him both an appreciation of education and a love of sports. For Devitt, that meant a career as a sports coach. “I basically combined the two ideas,” Devitt said.

As an undergrad at Boston College, Devitt worked for the basketball team as a student assistant to the team, making scouting films of their opponents. He stayed with the team for four years after graduation as the director of basketball operations, overseeing the development of players such as former NBA player Chris Herren.

When Devitt moved back to his hometown of D.C. to work as an assistant coach at American University, he became more involved in the recruiting process, adding a wider range of skills to his coaching resume. In 2003, he returned to Boston. This time, it was for a job as head coach at Wentworth.

In his first year as head coach, the team won five games. A couple years later, they won their conference and went to the NCAA Division III tournament. But after all the star players cycled through and graduated, Devitt faced the task of rebuilding. Armed with more than a decade of experience, he began his task. “I took pride in the process,” Devitt said. And he helped recruit some very high-level student athletes, including Sherrad Prezzie-Blue '08, who just began his fifth season playing professionally in England.

And that’s the part that Devitt really enjoys about coaching – nurturing and developing a team of student athletes. “It’s really about the education,” Devitt said. “I love the mentoring process . . . watching the growth from freshman to senior year.”

And his players learn something, too. “I tell my players that we use the word ‘play’ basketball, but that verb is inaccurate,” Devitt said. “There’s not a lot of leisure to working and grinding at your craft.”

This season, Devitt says, fans can expect a mix of “grizzled veterans and wide-eyed freshmen” on the team. Over the last three seasons, they have had the highest winning percentage in conference games in the league. The team is also involved in community service this season.

“Participating in college athletics is a rare opportunity for a person to do something on behalf of another,” Devitt said. “Student athletes in general are more wired for service for others because of the sacrifices they make for their teammates.”

So the team this year, along with the entire athletics department, has partnered with Special Olympics Massachusetts. In February, Special Olympians will visit Wentworth for a basketball clinic with both the women’s and men’s teams, as well as be invited to games throughout the season.

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The basketball season begins in a tip-off tournament in Babson on November 17, where the men’s basketball will play Colby. Most games will be streamed on the internet, and the first home game is December 1st. Full schedule at http://www.wentworthathletics.com/sports/mbkb/index.

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