Hammel knocking on coach of year door

By Wes Swietek

It’s not too often that a coach with a sub-.500 record is seriously considered for coach of the year honors.

But that’s exactly what is happening to NIU’s Brian Hammel.

In his first year at the helm of a Division-I program, Hammel has kept a team that was picked to finish eighth in the Mid-Continent Conference in the thick of the race.

The Huskies have fought to a 10-14, 7-7 mark despite severe adversity. Injuries, academic ineligibility and off-court problems have left Hammel with six scholarship players.

But even with a full squad, media prognosticators tabbed NIU to finish at the bottom of the standings in a preseason poll.

Hammel’s effort to disprove that forecast has been getting him increasing support in the media for Mid-Con Coach of the Year honors.

But Hammel said he would rather do without that kind of talk.

“I don’t pay too much attention to it—actually, it’s kind of embarrassing,” Hammel said.

“The kids should be getting the credit for some of these things, (especially) our seniors—it’s a tribute to guys like (Brian) Molis and (Mike) Hidden.

“There are a lot of good coaches … It’s obvious that (Wisconsin-Green Bay’s) Dick Bennett continues to do a marvelous job, (Illinois-Chicago’s) Bob Hallberg is doing a marvelous job, even (Valparaiso’s-Homer) Drew in his own way is doing a good job,” Hammel said.

“I’ll leave (picking a coach of the year) to the self-appointed experts.”

Bennett, who has led the Phoenix to a league-leading 20-3, 11-2 mark is the obvious front runner. NIU’s Jim Molinari earned last season’s coaching honors as his Huskies won the regular-season league title with a 14-2 record.

Although this is his first season as a Division-I head coach, Hammel recently moved over the 100-career wins mark when his record at Division II Bentley College (Mass.) is included.

“Every team has presented a different area of concern. This year has been a challenge, but not necessarily a more difficult challenge,” Hammel said.

And although he admits to critiquing his coaching, Hammel declines to grade his job performance this season.

“Coaches and players are no different—everybody critiques themselves. We’re constantly in a state of evaluation.

“(But) I’m not a professor—I’ll leave grading to the media,” Hammel said with a laugh. “I have enough problems just grading my players.”