New Era for Pirate Basketball
Change is not easy, whatever the situation. But Janson Hightower, Southwestern’s new head basketball coach, says, “The transition has gone smoothly so far.”
Because Hightower—as assistant coach to Bill Raleigh, now the Assistant Athletic Director—recruited more than half of the current players on the team roster and has coached the other half for two of their seasons, he had already built a good relationship with his players, which he says has helped tremendously since stepping into his new role last August.
Raleigh, who was head coach for the Pirate Men’s Basketball team for 14 years, says, “Knowing that Coach Hightower was going to take over made my decision to move into administration full-time very easy. He did an outstanding job as an assistant and has shown the maturity and basketball knowledge to be a great head coach. He has done a fantastic job with the team so far.”
As head coach, Hightower says, “The players have seen a more intense side of me, but I attempt to remain positive and constructive in my teaching.” He also says that he encourages his players to drop by his office anytime, not only to talk about basketball but anything else going on in their lives.
“College athletics is so much more than just showing up to practices and playing in games. It amplifies everything one learns in college—time management, work ethic, accountability, and community to name a few.”Janson Hightower
He explains, “College athletics is so much more than just showing up to practices and playing in games. It amplifies everything one learns in college—time management, work ethic, accountability, and community to name a few.”
As an NCAA Division III team, Hightower’s players have the opportunity to create balance between academics, athletics and campus involvement. “With a limited (number) of weeks for us to spend with our teams,” he says, “our student-athletes have more time to get involved on campus or in the community. It also allows us as coaches to spend more time with our families, which is a huge benefit of D3 athletics.”
Hightower says he enjoys coaching at the D3 level because he is able to work with athletic young men of high character and high academic performance in the recruiting process and while they are on campus. “It makes my job enjoyable to have young men on the team who know how to work hard at something, love to play the game of basketball and enjoy life on and off the court,” he says.
One of those young men is Chris Lee, a junior who says he and Hightower arrived at Southwestern at the same time (when Lee was a first-year student-athlete), so the recent coaching transition has been easy. Lee says he chose a D3 school like Southwestern because “it gave me an opportunity to play college basketball, which was always a dream of mine, and at the same time I knew I’d be getting a good education, since academics are such a priority here.”
Hightower says he wants to “build a great basketball program season after season, more than just a great team right now.” To do that, he says he and his staff must continue to recruit high-character young men who can excel academically as well as athletically at Southwestern. Once they are on campus, he says, “It is my job to get them involved and to get them to buy into our culture, which needs to be one of toughness, togetherness and trustfulness.”
Hightower’s hopes for the rest of the current season include improving individually and as a team. Specifically, he says, “We need to be better a day, a week, and a month from now than we are today.” He explains, “Winning is important, but if my team gives a great effort, trusts the coaching staff and their teammates, and plays for the guys sitting next to them, we will be successful in the long run.”
Regardless of wins or losses, Hightower says he hopes to teach the student-athletes who make up his team more than the game of basketball; he wants to help build them become better friends, sons, colleagues and, eventually, husbands and fathers. “The ultimate goal is for our team to win a bunch of basketball games and to have a great overall Southwestern Experience,” he says. “But more important, I want (the team) to realize that basketball is a game that can help prepare you for what I believe really matters in life: your family, your friends and your faith, whatever that may be.”
On a personal note, Hightower says he is dedicating the current season to his uncle, who recently and unexpectedly passed away. “I will be getting a patch or button to wear on my suit jacket to honor him,” he says.
Story by Kristina Moore