By Dan Woodlock
Times-Junction Sports Editor
The name Nick Dials has been synonymous with basketball over the years.
Not so much in chess.
But as of June 5, the Willard High School graduate merges the two into one, as he looks to begin redirecting the path of the Knight from an L-pattern to that of a W.
Dials was hired as the new men’s basketball head coach at NCAA Division II Urbana University, in Urbana, Ohio, replacing Rob Summers, who had coached the Blue Knights for the previous three seasons.
The former WHS All-Ohioan, Ohio State Buckeye, Akron All Mid-American Conference guard and overseas standout in Ehingen, Germany now steps into his first career head coaching opportunity, after an eight-year assistant coaching run that has included stints at Division II Alderson-Broaddus (West Virginia) and Rogers State (Oklahoma), along with Division I positions at Miami (Ohio), Akron and Toledo.
“I’m excited and ready to get to work,” said Dials. “From the minute I got hired for the job, my mind went from being anxious about possibly getting the job, to being ready to roll. There’s no time for a honeymoon period for me. Now my family, that’s completely different for them. They’re looking forward to the new beginning and opportunity for us as a family."
Dials’ family includes his wife, Kathryn, and children Dominick, 8, Audrey, 6, and 18-month twins, Devin and Emma.
Now 33, Dials reflected on his basketball love kicking into high gear much around the same age as his children.
“Basketball has been my thing, basically since I was in diapers,” he noted. “It’s pretty special when you begin to realize your dreams are taking form. It was my goal to be a coach even before I started to set goals for myself as a player.
“Coaching was a big part of my family,” he continued. “My dad was a coach. My uncle was a coach. It was just something I always wanted to do. It’s amazing to think about how you are achieving things you dreamed about 20-to-30 years ago. All the cliches you can imagine are true right now with how special this opportunity really is."
He takes over a Blue Knights program that finished 12-17 a year ago (7-15 in the Mountain East Conference).
"Urbana plays in the toughest Division II conference in the country,” he said.”Three of the top-10 teams in the nation are in our conference, when you look at (national runner-up) Fairmont State, West Liberty and Wheeling Jesuit. It will be an uphill climb. Two years ago the program only won two games. Last year they won 12, but some of those came against branch schools.
"Some changes will definitely need to be made," he continued. "Styles change from coach to coach. We’re going to pride ourselves on floor-burns. We’ll have a defensive-first mindset and we’ll have shooters. We’ll be a fun team to watch, but it’s going to take some time. I won’t sit here and be irrational and say we’re going win a national championship, or even a conference championship within three years. But we will make steady improvements and we’ll ramp up our recruiting and continue to bring in people that fit our system. I not only want to recruit talent, but also develop it."
Along with the tremendous coaching opportunity, Dials was won over by the Urbana community.
"What made Urbana attractive was the people,” he stated. “They’re good people down here. We want to represent them in a way that they deserve and give them a team and program they can be proud of."
He steps into the Urbana program with the confidence of having played, worked for and learned under many of the finest coaches in the region and beyond.
"I’m thankful to have been with so many tremendous coaches along the way,” said Dials. “I was able to play for Jim O’Brien, who is one of the absolute best. I’ve had the chance to be with Keith Dambrot at Akron, as well as Shaka Smart, who’s now coaching at Texas. Lamont Paris is a name not as many people may know, but he was an assistant at Wisconsin and is now the head coach at Chattanooga, and is outstanding. There’s Jeff Boals, who was at Ohio State and is now a head coach out East (Stony Brook). I was fortunate to be with Charlie Coles, who is like second all-time in wins in the MAC.
"And I can’t say enough about Greg Zimmerman at Alderson-Broaddus," he added. "Greg’s a guy I learned so much from in working with him. He allowed me the freedom to be me and really molded me. He was making NCAA tournaments with five scholarship kids where others had 10. He was always doing great things with what seemed to be both hands tied behind his back at times. Each one of these coaches did things differently, but with each one I was able to take away something. They are right there in my back pocket and I know I’ve learned from the best. I think I’ve grown to understand that there’s always the opportunity to figure out a better way to do something, even when things are going well. I never want to just be satisfied."
Dials finished his WHS playing career with 2,180 points and well over 500 assists, which at the time, made him only the second player in Ohio high school basketball history to accumulate 2,000 points and 500 assists. The 2003 Ohio Division II Player of the Year went on to not only play in Ohio’s North-South All-Star game and the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star game, but he also took home MVP honors in both games.
He played 19 games at The Ohio State University before transferring to the University of Akron, where he put together a three-year run with the Zips in which he tallied 1,087 points and 326 assists. Dials finished his collegiate career with 1,172 points, 366 assists and 146 steals, while connecting on 217 three-point field goals and shooting 86 percent from the free throw line.
The Ehingen Steeples signed Dials to a professional contract in Germany, where he established himself as the team’s top all-around player.
Success has always been a result of hard work for Dials, and that is the approach he is taking in order to instill a winning mentality into the Blue Knights’ program.
"We’ll look to create a work ethic that is unmatched,” he said. “We will have to do things the hard way and earn our stripes. Conditioning will be huge. Our guys will need to have their track shoes on. We can’t expect to hit shots late in the game if we’re gassed. Our players will need to push outside of their comfort zone. There are times as a player when you think you’re working hard, but you’re not completely going as hard as you could.
"This needs to be a players program. These guys need to take ownership in this. To fight through the bad, when things aren’t going so well and find a new path.”
His initial connection with the returning and incoming Urbana players included some group texting, followed by a team day on campus, where the players returned to get some time with their new coach.
"I thought this was a good way to let everyone hear where I’m coming from,” noted Dials. “We talked through one of the NBA Finals games. The other night at the end of the third quarter, the Cavs looked fatigued. So it opened up a great opportunity to stress the importance of conditioning.”
While the task ahead is a tall one, Dials has never been one to back away from any challenge.
“This job will require a lot of elbow grease and patience. And at this point, I have one of those,” he said. “I’m still working on the patience part.”