Penn basketball hired Joe Mihalich Jr. as an assistant coach, replacing Mike Lintulahti and joining assistants Ira Bowman and Nat Graham on staff for coach Steve Donahue. Mihalich spoke with the DP on Thursday, talking about his history with Philadelphia basketball, his excitement for the job and his goals as an assistant.
Daily Pennsylvanian: What is your relationship with Donahue and how did you first hear about the job opening?
Joe Mihalich: Coach Donahue used to coach at Penn, of course, back when he was an assistant coach. My dad was an assistant coach at La Salle. I used to be the water boy for La Salle when my dad was a coach, and I used to be at the Palestra all the time. Coming up as I was playing in high school and playing in college, I knew I wanted to get into coaching, so whenever I was with my dad or with any of my dad’s friends, I tried to drink in whatever I could about hoops. I really love being around the game. I love talking basketball.
Coach Donahue was always around. He was definitely one of my dad’s friends. Coach Donahue, he actually came to one of our games when we played up at Babson. Scranton was playing at Babson when I was coaching at Scranton and Coach Donahue came to one of our games. We got to know each other a little bit and over the last 10-15 years, I [have] known him since I was a little guy. I guess our relationship goes back a pretty long time.
DP: After going to college and working as a graduate assistant at Villanova, what is it like being an assistant coach in the Big 5?
JM: Honest to goodness, it is a dream come true. The Big 5 and college basketball in Philly for my money is the best college basketball in the country. Just to be a part of it, to coach in the Big 5 and to coach at the Palestra. You start thinking about the guys that have played at the Palestra, it just gives you the chills. Being a basketball guy, thinking about all the greats who came through. Not just at Penn but the whole Big 5, so I’m honored to be a part of it. It really is an honor.
DP: What is it like coaching and recruiting in the Pennsylvania, and now Philly, area?
JM: I think it goes back to Philly basketball. There’s something about Philly basketball players. Some of the greatest high school basketball players are here in Philadelphia. You just look at the Pennsylvania state championships, I think there was six different teams, boys and girls, that were playing for the state championship this year out in Harrisburg. So I think that speaks to just how good high school basketball is around here and college basketball of course, so the basketball landscape in Philadelphia is one of the richest.
So to be coaching in a hotbed of basketball is a thrill. To recruit for a school like the University of Pennsylvania that basically recruits itself – a great school with a great basketball tradition and an unbelievable facility like the Palestra and the top-notch coaching staff with Coach Donahue, it’s just a thrill.
DP: What did you learn from your four years at Scranton that will help towards your time at Penn?
JM: My head coach at Scranton: His name was Carl Danzig. He’s been there for 15 years, give or take, and he was actually a Patriot League coach, so there was a lot of similarities. But the Division III level, you are really recruiting the student-athlete in the truest sense, much like at Ivy League schools. You are recruiting young men who aren’t just good basketball players but they’re great students and great people who have a future in just about anything they want to do. They are excellent young men with great character. This is Division III, Patriot League, Ivy League, the Landmark Conference like Scranton, you’re dealing with such high caliber kids on and off the court that it makes your job so easy. It’s a pleasure to come to work when you’re dealing with young men like this.
DP: In the press release, it said you met with the players. I know you haven’t been on the job for very long but what have you had the chance to do as an assistant for Penn thus far?
JM: Yeah, just getting started. Just getting started. I got to meet with [the players]. I got to hang out with a few of them. They’ve stopped by the office, I’ve seen them around and everything, and I can already tell that these guys, especially these young guys, they’re enthusiastic. They’re ready for … shoot, they’re ready for games right now I think. We’re excited. We’re excited to get going. I’m excited to start working with them.
Our ultimate goal is winning that Ivy League championship and like I said, I’ve been back and forth, getting settled a little bit. Every single one of the guys has been awesome. As I said earlier, you can already tell these are such high-character kids, so coming to work every day is going to be an absolute pleasure.
DP: Had you followed the Penn team at all? And did you have any familiarity with the players beforehand?
JM: I have followed Penn. Like I said, I’m a Philly guy, man. I’m a Philly basketball guy. So I’ve been keeping an eye on Penn, always following along and I can’t even tell you how thrilled I am to be a part of it. I know that Penn is a special place and the tradition they have is second to none. I’ve always had my eye on Philly hoops so you know I’ve been following along.
So I’m thrilled. Always been following along with Penn. Shoot, we actually, at Scranton, we stopped by the Palestra and we walked around. We took our players around and walked around the Palestra. It’s just the Cathedral of Basketball, man. You go in there is and it’s feels like it’s a museum. To coach in there, that’s an unbelievable dream.
DP: You spoke in the press release about the Ivy League title being the team’s overall goal. What are your personal goals for yourself within this job?
JM: My goal that I mentioned in the press release is to bring a lot of enthusiasm and energy. It’s a long season, it really is. Being positive is a competitive advantage. If you can always be positive because you’re going to have ups and downs in your season and if you can be a guy that’s always positive, day in, day out, good game, bad game, win, lose, if you’re always positive, good things happen. Positive energy breeds positive energy so I think that’s an important aspect for me.
Another one of my goals is to learn from these guys. I want to soak it up. I want to be a sponge. I’m a pretty young coach and this is my first Division I assistant coaching stint. To be around a guy like Ira Bowman who not only graduated from Penn but also played in the professional leagues, played in the NBA, played in the CBA, played overseas, to learn basketball from him. To learn from a guy like Nat Graham who coached with Coach Donahue for so long and he also played at Penn. And of course, to learn from a guy who’s been to the Sweet 16, who’s been coaching for 30 years, who’s coached in the ACC, I’m just thrilled. I’m a lucky guy right now. I’m honored to be a part of it. I’m really looking forward to getting started.Comments powered by Disqus
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