A growing trend in college basketball has seen many universities choosing alumni to lead their programs. Examples include Penny Hardaway at the University of Memphis, Jon Scheyer at Duke University, Thad Matta at Butler University, Patrick Ewing at Georgetown University, Hubert Davis at the University of North Carolina, Juwan Howard at the University of Michigan, and Mike Woodson at Indiana University Bloomington.
But this trend is not solely limited to men’s college basketball. Katie Gearlds of Purdue University and Kellie Harper of the University of Tennessee are both coaching at the schools they used to play for.
And this trend is also not limited to NCAA Division I basketball, either. Otterbein University is another on the long list of schools that have hired alumni to roam the sidelines. In the case of the Otterbein women’s basketball team, two alumni have been tasked with coaching the Cardinals. Diana Noles, who graduated in 2004, took over the women’s coaching job as part of a basketball program-wide overhaul at Otterbein.
The men’s and women’s teams both made coaching changes that year, with Connie Richardson stepping down after 28 years and the men’s team looking to turn around after several years of poor results. Former coach Richardson was more than satisfied with her replacement. “My dream was always to have [Coach Noles] come back and take over when I was done[…]she is probably the greatest basketball mind I have ever been around,” she said.
Richardson also described Noles' fiercely competitive nature. Opposing teams hated playing against her, coaches dreaded coaching against her, and, in some cases, referees were scorched by her competitive fire. Both Richardson and Noles found their love of basketball through playing sports with the older boys in their neighborhood, town, and family.
Basketball is ingrained in Noles' family. While she coaches here at Otterbein, her brother coaches professional basketball in Germany. However, she did not always know that she wanted to get into coaching. Initially, she was not convinced about a career in basketball after playing, but eventually decided that coaching might be a good avenue to pursue. “So many people gave so much for the opportunities I’ve had. At a certain point I felt like I needed to give back. I wanted to find a way to give other women a chance to carve their own paths and succeed," she said.
Richardson echoed the same sentiment of receiving so many great opportunities along the way. In the same way, she passed some of her fortune and guidance to Noles, who is now doing the same for her players, including one who has played for both Richardson and Noles. Delaney Cutteridge (‘20) played three years under Richardson and one year under Noles, and is now in her first year as an assistant coach. Like Noles, Cutteridge has been described as showing leadership traits and a great work ethic. Richardson said that Cutteridge "[...] had a personality that drew people to her. She was always very welcoming and warm. She was a great teammate.”
Having two former Cardinals leading the women’s basketball team has also been beneficial for the players. “They know what it is like to be a[n NCAA] Division III student-athlete. So having them as guidance when making the transition from high school to college has made everything ten times easier. They are always in your corner on and off the court,” said senior forward Kathleen DeCarlo.
Senior guard Natalie Galaida shared the same sentiments. “Noles and Delaney know what is required of us on and off the court. They hold us to a high standard in basketball, but the standard is just as high with academics. They both live successful lives and had an impactful playing career here at Otterbein. It is great to have Noles and Delaney as coaches and role models," she said.
Noles’ advice to other coaches or future coaches was to “surround yourself with the right people. I try to make sure I do that, especially with the things I need help with or things I’m not good at. I’m just one person and I don’t have enough time to do everything by myself.” She also emphasized the importance of patience in every aspect of coaching.
Richardson had very similar advice. She said part of hiring Noles as an assistant was about surrounding herself with the right people. “I would always tell my assistants, ‘your job today is to make me look good',” Richardson said.
As of Feb. 15, the Otterbein women’s basketball team has earned a 14-9 record after a victory over Heidelberg. Coach Noles always enters the season with high aspirations.
While a regular season conference title is off the table, the Cardinals look to maintain a top-four seed for the conference tournament, which would have Otterbein hosting their first game in the tournament. The Cardinals’ next games are Wednesday, Feb. 15, and Saturday, Feb. 18. Both games are on the road, at Wilmington and Mount Union respectively.