Wilhelmi has prepared well for head coaching challenge
(pictured above: James Wilhelmi is now WSSU’s head basketball coach after serving as an associate coach.)
Winston-Salem State University introduced the Rams Nation to its eighth men’s basketball coach last Thursday afternoon.
But no formal introduction was needed for James Wilhelmi; he has been a part of the school’s basketball program since the summer of 2011. As associate head coach under former Head Coach Bobby Collins, Wilhelmi helped the Rams compile a 60-27 record, a CIAA championship and two NCAA Division II regional playoffs.
During his media roll out last week, Wilhelmi said his road to head coach was a long one. He thanked players, fans, alumni and previous coaches and choked up while acknowledging his own family.
“They have been with me through the thick and thin, the highs and lows, and they have always given me pep talks and encouraged me,” he said.
Collins left WSSU earlier this year to head the basketball program at Maryland-Eastern Shore, a Division I MEAC school. He had led the Rams since September 2006.
WSSU Athletics Director Tonia Walker said 52 candidates applied to succeed Collins. Wilhelmi’s recruiting track record while at WSSU was one of the reasons she decided he was the best fit.
“We have coined this era the next chapter being that we have a new athletics director, new football coach, a new head men’s basketball coach. It is our goal to continue in a reign of excellence from an academic standpoint, an athletic standpoint, and from a community stand point,” she said. “We feel sure and confident that Coach Wilhelmi brings the necessary skill set and necessary history to Winston Salem State as the head coach to continue our efforts and help us to realize our goals.”
Wilhelmi credits Collins for giving him the leeway to grow as a coach.
“He expanded my knowledge of the game and most importantly he taught me the most significant thing you can do as a coach is to listen,” Wilhelmi said. “Listen to your staff, listen to your players and once you understand their desires, then, and only then, can you coach their spirit.”
Wilhelmi said that the first mission of his program is to graduate champions, which is in line with WSSU’s increased efforts to help its student-athletes soar on and off the field and court.
“That is why I’m in it,” he said. “To see those guys graduate and go on and see where they end up 20 to 30 years from now.”
While Wilhelmi, who has served as interim coach since April, has not made any concrete changes to the basketball program, he did say that he wanted his players to understand the concept of synergy and teamwork. To that end, he plans to push the values of humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. In terms of on-court technique, Wilhelmi has dubbed the Rams’ style as “Shock and Awe.” He plans to raise the team’s tempo even higher.
Claudette Weston has been a WSSU fan and booster since the days when Clarence “Big House” Gaines, the patriarch of Rams Basketball, walked the sidelines. She was on hand last week to show her support of Wilhelmi.
“James has got it all, and I am so thrilled to know him,” Weston said. “What he said is the way he will coach. I think the next two or three years, will be … blow out (seasons).”
At La Follette High School in Madison, Wis., Wilhelmi played basketball, but chose the gridiron at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has served as an assistant basketball coach at the University of North Alabama, Salisbury University (Maryland), and Howard, where during five seasons he is credited with recruiting some of the MEAC’s best players. Wilhelmi also has been a part of athletic programs at the University of Evansville, Texas Southern, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Hampton, Northeastern Illinois and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
He will use all of his past experiences at WSSU, where great things are expected of him.
“This is a dream job for me,” he said. “We all want to win championships but the most important thing I can do is graduate our kids and focus on making them better people. If I do that I believe that the championship will come.”