Having heart, appreciation, brotherhood, being invested, showing toughness and sacrifice (HABITS) is the motto that first year Montclair State University men’s basketball coach Justin Potts looks to instill in all his players on and off the court. The terms used in HABITS are important to Potts and how he gets his players to buy into his coaching style.
This acronym is what Potts repeatedly tells his players to live by throughout life and basketball.
For Potts, becoming the new head coach was a homecoming. He was born and raised in Sparta, New Jersey where he began his basketball journey. He fell in love with the game at a young age, coming from an athletic family with his brother and sister being great athletes in high school, as well as college. Potts was fortunate to be around Sparta basketball great John Deeb and his high school head coach, Dennis Toban, who were influential during Potts’ high school days.
Potts went on to play college basketball at Moravian College.
“I wasn’t a very good player, but I did play,” Potts said.
After his four years of playing at Moravian, Potts transitioned right into coaching at only 22 years old. It was difficult for him at first as he stayed at his alma mater coaching players he was friends with when he was a player.
After two years of coaching the team, he landed his first assistant job at East Stroudsburg University (ESU), where he met the most influential person in his professional career. Jeff Wilson, the head coach at ESU, took a shot on 24-year-old Potts, where he picked up the philosophy of press defense and up-tempo basketball. Potts uses this in his coaching today, giving credit to Wilson for teaching him.
Potts returned to Moravian where he stayed the last four years building the program from a five-win team to winning consistently. Potts led Moravian to 20 wins in each of the last two seasons, the only 20-win campaigns in 84 years of the program.
Potts talked about his decision to leave his alma mater and make the change to Montclair State.
“[It was] the toughest decision I have made professionally,” Potts said.
Potts detailed his opportunity to get back to New Jersey and how Montclair State, as a whole, swayed him.
“I think Montclair State offered a really good opportunity,” Potts said. “What they have in place from educational size, enrollment and the way campus has grown and what they are trying to do to enhance programs, it is a unique opportunity.”
Potts is passionate about the sport but feels that he is more than just a basketball coach.
“The most important thing for me is to take care of them as people, not players,” Potts said.
Junior forward Irving Callender IV talked about his new coach.
“He really knows how to connect and talk to players on and off the court,” Callender said. “He wants the best from you.”
Potts looks at goals and success in a different sense that is important to Montclair State basketball.
“By the time the journey ends, did we max ourselves out?” Potts said. “Did we get as good as we could be? Are we playing Montclair State basketball?”
Those three questions will have to be answered at the end of the season, but gives motivation to players and coaching staff to stay true to who they are and play to what they are capable of playing.
Potts knows it took a lot more than being a decent basketball player to get to where he is today. He credits his family, especially his parents and wife that have supported him through the journey of becoming a coach. He talked about how understanding his wife is, sacrificing time throughout the season.
“To be a coach’s wife is probably one of the toughest things there is,” Potts said.
When Potts has free time he enjoys watching basketball and playing golf, as well as raising his two young girls. He spends time at the Jersey shore during the summer just like many other New Jersey residents.
The future of Montclair State basketball is bright with Potts at the helm, being more than a coach on and off the court.