NIU end of long journey for top-Huskie Hammel

By Wes Swietek

It is a long and winding road that finds New York-born Brian Hammel living and working in DeKalb. A road littered with basketballs.

For it is mainly due to Hammel’s profession—he is a collegiate basketball coach—that he looks out his kitchen window and sees, not skyscrapers, but corn.

In May, Hammel was picked to be NIU’s 23rd head men’s basketball coach after Jim Molinari left for Bradley. The 38-year old Hammel, his wife and their two children left the sunshine of Los Angeles, where Hammel was an assistant at USC, and headed for DeKalb.

“Coming here has been quite a transition, there’s no doubt,” Hammel said.

But the new head-Huskie is glad to be here.

“Most of my life, I’ve lived in metropolitan areas, but there’s no doubt that a small town has its strengths and weaknesses, like everything else.

“The small town has so many positives—it’s much more of a personal relationship with people, it’s not as much of a meat market. You’re not just a number,” he said.

The proverbial small-town friendliness of DeKalb has also pleased Hammel.

“In a small town, you can get to know people. There’s a lot more trust.

“Also, You don’t have the traffic, pollution and environmental problems. It’s a tremendous place to raise a family—you have crime and drugs wherever you go, but it’s not as magnified as much as it is in bigger cities,” he said.

“There’s a lot more strengths for a small town than a larger one.”

But if it sounds like Hammel is auditioning for a job with DeKalb’s Chamber of Commerce, it should be noted that he has found gainful employment coaching what is often called “the city game”—basketball.

After starring as a 6-1 guard at Bentley (Mass.) College, where he set the then school-records with 1,767 points and 601 assists, Hammel was picked in the third round by the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and in the fourth round by the ABA’s Indiana Pacers in 1975.

He started his coaching career the following year at a Mass. high school before becoming the head coach at Bentley in 1978. His teams had a 91-70 overall mark at Bentley.

George Raveling, then the head coach at Iowa, picked Hammel as an assistant in 1984 and took him along when Raveling became the head coach at Southern California.

Now starting his 14th season of collegiate coaching, this time as the boss of a Division-I program, Hammel is driven by the same motivations that drew him to coaching in the first place.

“I love athletics and particularly basketball. I love the quick pace of the game, the strategy, the dealing with 15 individuals and trying to make them one. There’s tremendous satisfaction when you can bring out the strengths of each person,” Hammel said.

“I’ve always thought that coaches have had a strong influence on my life. Hopefully, that will rub off on our athletes—that I and the other staff will have a positive influence on their lives.”