First head coaching jobs can often carry the “project” label, but Delaware native Bryheem Hancock has anything but an uphill climb on his hands as the first-year head coach at Radford University.
Fresh off a Big South double (that’s the regular season and conference tournament titles) and six straight winning seasons, Hancock’s task as a first-time head coach will be sustaining the winning culture in the small western Virginia town.
“We obviously want to get further in the NCAA tournament,” Hancock said in a phone interview earlier this month. “It would be great if we could get all the way to the College Cup since it’s in Philly this year.”
The Highlanders otherwise don’t have any scheduled games in our area, but after spending the last eight years as an assistant at the University of South Florida, the 37-year-old is happy to be a little closer to home and have family - his mom and brother are both in New Castle - able to come to games.
While head coaching was never a dream back when he was a star at Delcastle Technical High School near Wilmington and captaining the United States in the U17 World Cup in Egypt in 1997, Hancock said getting the job at Radford was the natural next step in his career.
“When I was younger I thought I was going to play professional until I was 50,” he said. “Obviously that's not realistic. I knew at some point I’d want to be in coaching.”
Hancock’s professional career lasted just four seasons in a professional environment with far fewer opportunities than there are today. He was drafted out of UConn in 2002 by the LA Galaxy with the 22nd overall pick, but after spending a year on the reserves bench - there were only 10 teams in the league at the time - he moved on to the Atlantic Silverbacks in the old A-League and then retired from playing after a season with the Toronto Lynx in 2004.
After coaching a local club in Connecticut, Hancock joined George Kiefer’s staff at USF in 2009 and was part of a program that made the NCAA tournament seven of eight seasons he was there.
Successful as he was with the Bulls, when Marc Reeves left Radford to take over the program at Elon, a perfect opportunity presented itself.
“You do want to have that opportunity to run your own program,” Hancock said. “I'm just fortunate and blessed to be in the situation I am now.”
That situation is one where the Highlanders are again the team to beat in the Big South. Captain Fraser Colmer, who spent the past two summers with Ocean City Nor’easters, is one of 21 returners on the squad, which includes Spanish defender Victor Valls, English forward Kieran Roberts and Norwegian forward Sivert Daehlia.
“It’s exciting when a new coach comes in everybody has a point to prove to him,” said Colmer, a Southampton, England native who was name preseason co-defensive player of the year in the conference. “He hasn’t changed a load with the group, but we’re playing out of the back a little more and pressing more. After the success of last year we’re really excited to see what we can do.”
The Highlanders’ season kicks off with a brutal five-game road trip that includes visits to national power Clemson and strong Coastal Carolina and ETSU teams.
“We have a good nucleus back and I feel good about the group,” Hancock said.