To some people, change feels wrong and uncomfortable. However, change can be an opportunity for a new beginning, allowing you to push yourself to heights you couldn’t even imagine.
Head coach of the Montclair State University men’s basketball team Justin Potts started his Red Hawk journey in August 2019, where he was named the 18th coach in program history. Potts chose to leave his alma mater Moravian College, where he also competed as a player, in search of a new opportunity.
Although it may have been tough to walk away from his alma mater and face the new challenges that would arise with the Red Hawks, he was ready for anything that came his way.
“I think anytime you take a new job as a coach you know there will be some challenges,” Potts said. “I think the biggest challenge that we faced coming into the situation was that we were going to play differently than they were playing … The system and the style was completely different so getting comfortable with that was a little bit of a challenge.”
Changing the culture at Montclair State is one of Potts’ goals to give the team an edge over their opponents. The Red Hawks played a more conservative slow-paced style of basketball under former head coach Marlon Sears.
Their style of play was more focused on slowing the game down, utilizing their bigs as much as possible and not relying on the three-ball as much. Since then, the Red Hawks have become a more fast-paced team, defense centric and more reliant on the three-ball.
Senior guard Devin Cooper feels that the team is finally starting to cash in on this style of play.
“I think it’s changed pretty significantly,” Cooper said. “Considering that he’s been here for a couple of years now and it’s very hard for a coach to come in here and [adjust our] style of play, I think we’re starting to pick it up.”
A player who has played under Potts for all his four years of college is senior forward Steve Breeman, who was recruited by the coach to play at Montclair State. Breeman played two seasons at Moravian and was part of a historically successful season where they got their first NCAA tournament win. He knows Potts’ system to a T but believes that although Potts’ goal was to change the culture on the court, he’s made an even bigger impact off the court.
“I know coming in we didn’t really have a good [team] GPA when I first got here, but this semester we were .07 points away from a 3.0,” Breeman said. “That’s never been done in history here, so I think the culture in the classroom is definitely changing [as well].”
It’s not every day where you see a head coach who cares more about players and their well-being than the game itself. Potts likes to think that the game of basketball is a training ground for life, something he and his coaching staff instills into the players.
Graduate student guard and forward Irving Callender IV has played under Potts for three years and has seen many changes within the basketball team. However, he too agrees with Breeman that Potts has made an even bigger impact off the court.
“Off the court, he’s always there for me and I’m pretty sure my teammates can say the same,” Callender IV said. “Obviously, a lot of players go through situations and he’s right there to help us and guide us through the situations even though it’s not dealing with basketball.”
While winning basketball games may be one of the biggest priorities for Potts as a head coach, it doesn’t surpass helping these young men grow as people. He maintains that he and the coaching staff will continue to put their foot on the gas to help accelerate the culture at Montclair State positively in any way they can.
“I think the culture we’re creating at Montclair State is focused on the right things,” Potts said. “I think they’re developing the right habits on and off the court and they’re really committed to representing Montclair State basketball on and off the court in the right way. And we’re recruiting people, we’re just not recruiting players and I think our guys understand how much we value growing and developing in the academic world and as a young person.”