CU grads continue basketball careers as coaches

Casey McGraw is seen on the bench last year as an assistant coach at New England College.  He is now an assistant coach at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Courtesy Photo.

Reality sank in faster by the mile as I passed the cornfields and state lines. With everything I own stuffed in my car, I made the move to Nebraska.  Yes, Nebraska.

Six days earlier, I accepted my third college coaching job since graduating from Castleton in May, 2016.  This time, I am headed to Nebraska Wesleyan University.

Moving to the unfamiliar city of Lincoln came with a leap of faith I haven’t taken before.  Growing up, I rarely left New York. I spent four years at Castleton then lived in Henniker, New Hampshire last year while coaching at New England College.

Safe to say, I’ve never been one to stray too far from comfort.

So, why was I able to suddenly move my life to a state 19 hours from home and predominantly known for its corn?

Because of Tyler Ackley.

Ackley was my teammate at Castleton for two years before graduating in 2014.  He shares the same passion for coaching and applied for dozens of jobs.  Finally, he landed one as a graduate assistant for Dale Wellman and Alfred University.

At least that’s what he thought.

“Dale called me up and asked if I submitted my paperwork to accept the job yet,” Ackley said.  “When I said ‘yes,’ he told me he took the Nebraska Wesleyan job and wants me to go with him.”

Despite Alfred being in his native state of New York, Ackley said for some reason, he never second guessed it for a moment.  He was going to Nebraska. But that didn’t stop him from taking a step back and thinking “woah, this coaching thing is a business for real.”

Similar to Ackley’s experience, my first coaching job didn’t go as planned.  Two weeks after taking the assistant job at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury, New York, I received a call from Charlie Mason at New England College. Two days later I was packing my bags to move to Henniker for the 2016-2017 season.  

This past August, I flew out to Lincoln to work a NWU basketball camp with Ackley.  On the outside, my purpose for the trip was to work the camp. In reality, my motivation for going was to create a relationship with Coach Wellman because I knew I wanted to work at NWU someday.

While I was in Lincoln, Ackley was offered a full-time position at Colby College in Maine, and my trip paid off as I was asked to become his replacement.

Tyler Ackley, former teammate of Casey McGraw, is leaving NWU to coach at Colby College. 

Ackley helped me learn the city as well as the nation-leading offense he helped create, but what I took away most was his approach at making the move.

“There’s no sense in moving out here and doing anything half-ass,” he told me.  “Give it everything you have. You got this job for a reason so make the most of it.”

He also talked about some things he got to experience in his three years in the Midwest.

“I never thought I would get to see the Rocky Mountains or drive through Wyoming or see the Cornhouse in South Dakota – a basketball gym made entirely out of corn,” he said.

Traveling comes with the territory here at NWU.  In my next two seasons, we will play games in Iowa, Texas, Minnesota, Washington D.C., Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington; none of which I have ever been to.

Unfortunately for Ackley and I, the opportunity to explore the country doesn’t come without a price.

“It drives me nuts when people say ‘oh, well you must not be as close with your family as I am’,” he said.  “No, we miss our families everyday, but in this industry, if you want to achieve anything, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices.”

In a weird way, this made me more comfortable about moving to Lincoln. He made me realize that yes, I’m going to miss my family.  No, I won’t be at Spartan Stadium for homecoming weekend. No, I won’t be home for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter.

But I’ll be just fine.

So if you’re thinking about post-grad life, don’t be afraid to take some chances.  If you want a job, don’t just apply for it; go get it. But most importantly, when you’re not sure if you have what it takes, Ackley has some advice for you.

“Sometimes you have to bet on yourself. And when nobody else believes in you, double down on it.”

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