New coach fosters ambition in men’s basketball team

JOHN GALLAGHER
SPORTS EDITOR

“I’m just smiling all the time,” said new men’s head basketball coach Joe Wallace. Though he and his wife Cory recently moved to Ohio in anticipation of his position, in the moment he was not discussing basketball. Rather, Steubenville’s newest father beamed with pride at the mention of his newborn daughter, Francesca.

His wife now at home with the baby, Wallace has turned his attention to final preparations for his team before their impending first game of the season. Formerly an assistant coach for the San Jose State basketball team, Wallace said he initially had “no idea the job was open,” but jumped at the opportunity.

His love for Franciscan exists separately from his love for the sport itself.

“This place is special,” he said. “The school itself really piqued my interest. It was a no-brainer for this part of my career, to help these young men out and to grow my faith as well.”

Still, the move was a foundational one for Wallace, who at Franciscan University assumes the title of head coach for the first time in his career. His additional duties, he said, involve executive decision-making.

“You make every decision,” he said. “You’re doing what you feel is best for the program, and best for the long-term of the program, every day.”

The fact that he fully intends successfully to head the men’s basketball program into the future necessitates decisions which include consideration of changes “down the road.” Said Wallace, “I plan on being here for a long time to turn this into what it should be.”

His expectations are sky-high, but Wallace knows them to be attainable. He said the “proud basketball tradition” at Franciscan University makes its home-court advantage a crucial one, especially for a team he intends to return to “powerhouse” status.

“I see the national championship banner when I walk into work every day,” he said, and the frequent reminder fuels his season goals.

“I firmly believe that we will be one of the top teams in the conference every year,” said Wallace.

“We’re a young team, and everything is brand new: defense, offense, the way we want to play, stances, everything.”

The resetting of the team is refreshing, especially for a Barons squad that went 1-23 in 2015.

The previous year’s record, the head coach said, is simply a number. “Nothing about the past,” he reminds his athletes. “That’s over with. The more we hang on to the past, the more we’re never going into the future.”

Wallace understands that his team already possesses many of the necessary requirements for a successful season, starting with what he called “strong guards that have been proven already in this league” in senior Jacob Divens and junior Keoni Sablan. Most recently, Divens embodied his role as team leader during downtown Steubenville basketball clinics, voluntarily run by members of the men’s team.

Wallace cited two preseason scrimmages as containing “a lot of positives.” The learning process is a fluid one, but Wallace’s confidence is evidenced by the fact that he expects the bleachers to be packed when the Barons take on Chatham University on Nov. 15 at 8 p.m.

Ultimately, Wallace wants students to know he is as excited about the Franciscan experience as he is about his team. “I have a lot of energy and passion for this place,” he said. “I’m here to be a part of this university, to the fullest extent, to help Franciscan University to continue to grow and promote the faith.”

A revamped men’s basketball squad is primed in all phases of the game for a solid run at the postseason. Led by Head Coach Wallace, the man who, by his own admission, “is as fired up as it gets” about the season, the Barons are going places. The rest of the AMCC conference might want to check its back.

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