Jan. 22, 2011

by Pete Spiewak '10

To Saint Joseph's fans, assistant coach Mark Bass will always be remembered as a tough point guard with a deadly accurate jump shot. They have fond memories of Bass and players like Reggie Townsend leading the Hawks to New York City and the NIT finals in 1996.

To the current Saint Joseph's team, which consists of five freshmen and three sophomores on scholarship, Bass, the 38-year old coach, is "old."

"It's different now, because they never watched me play," said Bass. "It's a different generation. They look at me now as, `you're old, you can't play anymore,' so you have to take a different approach to them."

Even if his playing career seems like ancient history to his players, Bass earns the team's respect thanks to a coaching resume that includes 12 seasons at Saint Joseph's.

While some guys his age are putting the finishing touches on their professional careers, Bass has already cemented himself as a mainstay on Hawk Hill, as he is head coach Phil Martelli's longest-tenured assistant. Following a stellar career at Saint Joseph's, during which Bass once led the Atlantic 10 in three-point percentage (42.3) and free-throw percentage with a school-record 86.9 percent, the guard headed to China, where he played one season professionally for the Tianjin Breakers.

Much to his disappointment at the time, his one season in China would be his last, signaling the end of his career on the hardwood, and sending the South Jersey native into the real world looking for a way to support himself.

"I didn't know I wanted to get into coaching," said the graduate of McCorristin High School, which is now Trenton Catholic Academy. "At the time, I wanted to play, but it was a blessing in disguise."

That blessing was getting an opportunity to get right back into the game that he loved. This time, however, his view was from the sidelines.

Once he returned home from his one-year stay in Asia, Bass got a head start on his coaching career, joining his former prep school coach Max Good at Maine Central Institute in his first year removed from his playing career. He would spend two seasons at the Maine school, helping lead the team to back-to-back New England Prep School Championships. After just a couple of seasons in the prep school ranks, he knew he had what it took to lead teams at the college level.

"It was a good opportunity for me to go up there and be around Division I players at the prep school," Bass said. "I got the chance to coach for two years, and I knew I had the ability to take it to the next level."

And in a right-place, right-time type of moment, Bass received a phone call from Martelli, who was his head coach just three years prior, during his senior year at Saint Joseph's, asking him if he was interesting in coming back to Hawk Hill to fill an assistant coaching vacancy.

Bass accepted the offer, jumping at the opportunity to return to his alma mater. But despite what the two-time team captain's playing instincts might have told him, Bass kept quiet when he first joined the Saint Joseph's staff, focusing on learning from Martelli, as well as his fellow assistants, veteran coaches Monté Ross, who is now the head coach at Delaware, and Matt Brady, who is in his third season as the head coach at James Madison.

"I didn't want to go into it thinking 'well, I know everything, I want to do this, I want to do that,'" said Bass. "I came in here with my mouth shut, my ears wide open. I wanted to take everything in. I wanted to learn, and talking to [Martelli] and talking to [Ross and Brady] helped me learn."

And for over a decade, Bass, who has earned a reputation as a tireless recruiter, continues to learn.

"I've been doing this for 12 years now and I'm still learning," said Bass.

One of the things that didn't take long for Bass to understand was that becoming a college-level coach comes with more than just on-court responsibilities. His job would was much more than a three-hour practice, or a trip to a see a potential recruit. With many players living far from their homes, their coaches serve as mentors and guardians--the closest things they may have to parents while they are away from home.

"It's a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week a job," said the experienced assistant coach. "It's not just recruiting, it's not just coaching. It's everything off the court: make sure their academics [are in order], make sure they're not getting into any trouble off the court. You're trying to make these young kids into young men. That's my big philosophy with these guys, turning you into a young man, so when you are out in this world, you're productive."

And this year, Bass is helping mold more than a few of his players into young men, as the team is made up mostly of youngsters, with the Hawks boasting just two seniors and one junior--Martelli's team even features three starting freshmen and one starting sophomore. With the Hawks relying so much on inexperienced players on game days, Bass and the other Hawk coaches have their work cut out for them at practices and in team meetings.

"With the young team that we have now, you do more teaching and you have to be patient," said Bass. "They're 17, 18 years old. They haven't experienced big-time basketball before."

Somewhere down the line, the Hawks' youthful core will bring Saint Joseph's back to the top of the Atlantic 10, Bass expects. With age and experience should come wins for the Hawks--that is, as long as they continue to learn from "old" coach Bass.