BUCKHANNNON – Familiarity and comfort are two adjectives that are important in the coaching community.
That is what the newest hiring at West Virginia Wesleyan will bring to the Bobcat basketball program this upcoming season.
Wesleyan recently announced that Buckhannon native and Wesleyan graduate Tom Kotol was hired full-time as the new assistant coach of the West Virginia Wesleyan Bobcat men’s basketball program.
Kotol served on the bench with head coach Jack Meriwether last season as a student-assistant coach.
Following a successful high school basketball career at Buckhannon-Upshur where he was a three-year letterman, Kotol joined the Wesleyan basketball team in 2015 as a preferred walk-on under then head coach Gary Nottingham joining his friend and fellow B-U teammate Tanner McGrew.
“I really wanted the chance to continue to play with Tanner and he was a big reason why I went to Wesleyan” said Kotol.
Kotol never had the opportunity to play with McGrew as an injury forced him to permanently step away from playing the game he loved.
That forced Kotol to find other ways to stay connected to the game.
As a freshman at Wesleyan, he somehow wound up as a co-head coach of the Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School boy’s varsity basketball team for one year with Dave Chipps.
Following a one-year stay at the middle school, Kotol spoke with new Wesleyan head coach Jack Meriwether and asked for some direction.
“I told him I want to coach basketball but I have no idea of what I am doing,” Kotol joked. “I told him I would do whatever I needed to do to be around the basketball program. From that moment he sort of took me under his wing.”
Kotol became the team manager his sophomore and junior years before being bumped up to student-assistant coach last season as a senior.
Meriwether gives high praise to Kotol during his time with the program as an undergraduate student and said his hiring was an easy decision to make.
“Tom has been a true asset to our program over my tenure as head coach and his promotion to the assistant coaching position is the natural progression of his time here,” stated Meriwether. “He has done every job imaginable in our program and that has uniquely prepared him to tackle this coaching position.”
Meriwether feels that Kotol being a Buckhannon resident and a West Virginia native will be a huge plus for his program.
“When I took over my earliest priority was to value our relationship with Buckhannon and the state of West Virginia as a whole,” stated Meriwether. “We’ve done our best to be involved and visible in the community at every turn, and we have worked tirelessly to recruit the entire state of West Virginia and give those young men precedence in our efforts moving forward. Tom is the embodiment of that, he’s a valued and involved member of the community and knows the state of West Virginia as well as anyone.”
The respect between Kotol and Meriwether is quite reciprocal.
“We have a great relationship,” Kotol said about his coaching relationship with Meriwether. “He is really someone I really look up to. I have been around basketball enough to know who knows what and he has a great basketball mind. The opportunity to have the chance to learn from him, someone who knows the game, is something I am really, really excited for.”
Kotol said the experience he gained last year under the tutelage of Meriwether will be a positive for the 2019-2020 season.
“A lot of it was simply learning to coach at the collegiate level,” stated Kotol. “How guys respond at this level and how to coach each player differently.”
Kotol noted that as a student-assistant last year some of the players he was coaching were actually older than him and stated that making that transition from a peer to a coach was something he worked hard on early in his coaching career and feels it will be easier for the current team to accept.
“You have to earn their respect,” remarked Kotol. “I had to show them that I knew what I was doing. That was the biggest thing from last season. I think the fact that I was moving from manager to coach was a bigger deal for the team than my age was. It took a few games, especially for the older guys, but they understood I was here for a reason.”
There is an old saying that you never know where life is going to take you, and Kotol assumed after he graduated from Wesleyan this past May that it would be anywhere else other than the Bobcat campus. But then the assistant coaching job came open unexpectedly and things changed for Kotol.
“I was originally planning to get a graduate-assistant coaching job somewhere else,” explained Kotol. “I was ready to go somewhere and attempt to start climbing up that coaching ladder. It’s difficult to find a graduate-assistant coaching job. Actually getting into coaching basketball at any collegiate level is so tough. So when this opened up, and Meriwether said this was my job if I wanted it, I felt very fortunate. It was sort of being in the right place at the right time.”
There are many aspects of coaching but Kotol stated he enjoys being on the recruiting trail the most.
“We play such a specific system that we have to recruit players differently than other teams do,” said Kotol.” A guy could be a killer player, but we have to find players who fit what we do. Then building that relationship with the player is something that I really enjoy.”
Meriwether stated that the familiarity that Kotol brings to the team will be very beneficial to the Bobcats.
“Tom has a great understanding of our system on both sides of the ball which gives us great continuity throughout the program with an experienced coaching staff and now an older team who have been in this system,” remarked Meriwether.
Kotol and the Bobcats will see their first regular-season action the second week of November.