New Wilkes coach Metz draws from diverse background

Last updated: April 15. 2014 11:14PM - 1667 Views
By - dlevarse@civitasmedia.com

New Wilkes men's basketball coach Izzi Metz, right, is congratulated by university President Patrick Leahy during his introductory press conference on Tuesday.
New Wilkes men's basketball coach Izzi Metz, right, is congratulated by university President Patrick Leahy during his introductory press conference on Tuesday.
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WILKES-BARRE — Boston College is the job that jumps out the most on Izzi Metz’s resume.

But just as important to Wilkes is the one he held before that — at Hobart.

In taking over as the Colonels’ men’s basketball coach, Metz brings experience from the highest level of college hoops as well as a history of success in the Division III ranks.

Both backgrounds will be necessary at Wilkes as he takes the baton from Jerry Rickrode and looks to lead the Colonels back to the NCAA tournament.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” Metz said Tuesday as he was introduced in the Hall of Fame room above the gym at the Marts Center. “I see this as a big-time job. This (the news conference) all has a D-I feel right now, and I’m thrilled to be in this seat.”

Metz knows plenty about the Division I atmosphere after spending the last three years on Steve Donahue’s staff at Boston College, including as an assistant coach this past season.

With his players, he’ll be able to draw from his experience helping the Eagles knock off then-undefeated Syracuse at the Carrier Dome just two months ago.

With university administrators, he can point to his time as a head coach at his alma mater — Division III Hobart — in which he rapidly grew the program. In his final season in Geneva, N.Y., he led Hobart to a school-record 21 wins.

The combination of those two is what convinced Wilkes athletic director Addy Malatesta, who chaired the search committee.

“It was vitally important,” Malatesta said. “Where Izzi had us sold was that he built the program at Hobart. He represents a coach that takes a great deal of pride in the scholar-athlete. … You need to have that profile.”

Malatesta and a committee that included administrators, head coaches from other Wilkes teams and returning players Alec Wizar and Jeremy Hartman, personally interviewed seven candidates from a pool of roughly 150 applicants.

For Metz, the past month has been particularly hectic as Donahue’s job at Boston College was very much up in the air. Metz had previously served as an assistant for Donahue at Cornell from 2001-06 before heading back to Hobart.

By the time Boston College had fired Donahue in March, Metz had already begun thinking of getting back into the head coaching ranks at the D-III level.

“I was, in all honesty,” Metz said. “I really loved my five years being a head coach at Hobart. I felt like I was able to give the most back to our players in that capacity. I felt that was a really fulfilling time in my life, and I was excited to get back to that.

“I’ve always loved this level. This is where I was a student-athlete. So while the ACC might be different in terms of, yeah, the arenas are bigger — basketball is basketball and players are players.”

With that philosophy in tow, Metz’s goal is to install an up-tempo style at Wilkes, referencing national powers like Florida and Louisville, as well as VCU and its famed “Havoc” system.

Metz admitted that making that transformation can be a challenge for a Division III squad, but that it will pay off in the long run.

“You’ve got to be in great shape, your guys have to be in great condition,” Metz said. “You have to be committed to playing this way. And as a coach, you relinquish some control once the game gets going because you’re relying on your players’ instincts.”

One advantage Metz will have is that his predecessor, Rickrode, is still at Wilkes in an administrative position. So he’ll be able to pick the brain of the man who ran the program the past 22 years and who can give detailed reports on each returning player and incoming recruit.

Rickrode, who stepped down at the end of February, was in attendance on Tuesday and was recognized by both Metz and Wilkes president Patrick Leahy during the introduction ceremony.

“I consider myself very, very lucky,” Metz said. “In my opinion we have a coaching legend here on campus. To have somebody with that breadth of knowledge and experience, and having won that many games … I just feel extremely fortunate to have him on this campus.”

Malatesta said Metz showed “a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Rickrode and the tradition of the program” during the interview process, and she said that was important to bridge the two eras of the program with alumni and the returning players.

Wizar and Pittston Area grad Steve Stravinski led the Colonels in scoring in 2013-14 and both will have junior eligibility for next season.

Under Metz, Wilkes is looking to return to the postseason after missing the Freedom Conference tournament each of the past two seasons.

“We believe we’ve hired a proven winner,” Leahy said. “No matter how you want to define it.”

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