As Penn worked through its halfcourt sets on Wednesday, coach Mike McLaughlin stood patiently at midcourt with plans for the day in hand.
Running through the motions, asking for crisp pick-and-rolls and demonstrating how to cut to the basket was assistant coach Chris Day.
As McLaughlin calmly watched, the Quakers ran through their sets - crisp and clean.
Day, who was announced as the newest assistant for Penn women’s basketball in September, has brought a wealth of knowledge and helped push the team to another level. But it is the path that led him to Indiana and back again that’s most impressive.
Getting into Coaching
Day, who grew up in West Philadelphia, never played high school basketball, but that doesn’t mean he was not intimately involved with the game .
“Although I didn’t play basketball in high school, me and my best friend, who’s now an assistant at Quinnipiac, managed the [high school] girls team,” Day said. “So we were behind the scenes with the coaches and working out the players ... we sat with the coaches and learned the game at 14 years old.”
In between playing football and running track at West Chester, he began to coach AAU girls’ basketball. Upon graduating, he became an assistant and then a head coach at Widener in Chester, Pa. After a season as an assistant, he took over as the head coach, leading Widener to its first winning season in 17 years by going 14-11 in 2002-03.
It was at Widener where McLaughlin - who was then at Holy Cross - first met Day and was impressed by what he saw.
“I’ve known Chris for 12 years,” McLaughlin said. “I got to know him on the recruiting trail and he has an unbelievable reputation and [is] just a really good family guy.”
Day then moved to St. Joe’s - Penn’s Big 5 rival - where he was an assistant for seven seasons, helping the Hawks to a 128-94 record, including 22 wins and a WNIT victory in 2012.
But Day saw himself managing his own college basketball program. So he headed to the cradle of college basketball at Bloomington, Ind.
“I left St. Joe’s because I wanted to be a head coach, and I felt like there was one more stop, being at a BCS-level and being in the Big 10 for a couple years there,” Day said.
Back Home to Philadelphia
“It started with just a friendly conversation, and then when he said he was starting to look [for a job] because he wanted to get his family back to Philadelphia,” McLaughlin said.
“We talked about [what] we need, what we had going and how we can continue to build on it ... I knew his basketball background, his reputation, I knew the type of man he was - all that was seamless. It was a pretty simple process having known him and having known why he wants to come back here.”
After a season at Indiana, family reasons - a fifth child on the way - helped bring Day back to Philadelphia. After initial conversations, he agreed to take over the position once held by Kara Cassidy - who left before the beginning of the school year due to personal reasons.
McLaughlin and Cassidy even met with Day before the position became open.
“That’s what we are trying to build here,” McLaughlin said. “Someone who is leaving the program for family reasons ... cared enough to make sure that not only I got the best person, but we got the best coach.”
With Day on the bench, the Quakers have a high-quality post coach, which has been instrumental in the Penn’s success down low this year. Both Kara Bonenberger and Sydney Stipanovich are in the top five in the Ivy League in rebounding and Stipanovich is leading the league in blocks.
“He’s a little bit different than our other coaches because he doesn’t sugar coat anything and he’s to the point,” senior captain Kristen Kody said. “He’s very serious in telling you what he thinks, which is good because it’s sometimes a reality check.”
Nevertheless, Day’s lessons have not fallen upon deaf ears. He is quick to point out though, that it was McLaughlin, Cassidy and fellow assistant Bernadette Laukaitis who built the foundation of the program and got it to where it is today.
“We just work together,” Day said. “I’m not trying to bring anything new, just being able to help this team from where they started get to the pinnacle.”