BLOOMFIELD, NJ--Never one to see the glass as half empty, Gerald Holmes is pushing forward with what is normally a busy time of the year.
The Bloomfield College men's basketball coach would generally be on the road, recruiting players for the upcoming season. But, of course, with the coronavirus pandemic, Holmes isn't able to get out as much. Usually a staple at local high school basketball games, Holmes missed out on seeing some key players when the NJSIAA basketball tournament came to a sudden halt, following the state sectional round in mid March.
Nevertheless, Holmes is excited about the upcoming 2020-2021 season, having already signed some talented new players, to go along with a solid core of returning student-athletes.
The Bears, which finished 16-14 this past season and advanced to the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference's (CACC) semifinal round, have attained a level of success under Holmes, which has made it one of the top programs in the East Region of NCAA, Division 2 basketball. Among the key seniors on this year's team was Safee Abdus-Sabur, who was named to the All-Metropolitan team.
"The recruiting process is ongoing," said Holmes recently. "It's definitely a different off-season, but with technology, we're able to keep up with kids that could fit into our program."
Recently, Holmes appeared on 'Black Cager Sports', via YouTube, along with Wilmington University coach Dan Burke and West Chester University's Damien Blair, to talk about Division II basketball, with host, Delgreco K. Wilson
(To see the entire show, click here. )
With some changes in NCAA rules, Holmes indicated his recruiting is still focused on an overall strong student-athlete.
"Family has always been big with us, at Bloomfield," said Holmes, who is also an assistant athletic director at BC. "I say that, when I walk a kid around campus. We're a small school, about 1700 students. If a kid fits in socially, academically and athletically, they can do well here."
All three coaches on the show agreed that injuries are a key factor in a team's success, especially at the D-2 level, which has an up-tempo kind of game.
"The injury bug was a factor," said Holmes, who has attained four CACC Coach of the Year awards, as well as being a three-time winner of the Metropolitan Writers Association's Coach of the Year. "We lost some key players for extended periods of time this past season, and that affected our overall year."
Division 2 schools provide athletic monies, but the coaches also know there are other options, as well, to help a player pay for school.
"We have the ability to cover everything, depending on how it's worked," said Holmes. "Our school issues institutional aid, and there's out-of-state and international aid, as well as in-state aid. And then you factor in the FAFSA, Pell and in-state grant, which in New Jersey, is TAG (tuition aid grant). We look for kids that can get the most possible monies, elsewhere, so that we can give them the least that we need, to cover everything. I can't give out a full athletic scholarship, because the school is giving institutional aid to anyone that gets admitted."
All three coaches agreed that the quality of basketball in D-2 is very competitive. Holmes did say the difference between his school and possibly a bigger D-2 school, or a lower-level D-1, may be an inch to two inches, height-wise, with some of the key players. "Some of those programs could have three guys who are 6'8", said Holmes. "But there's no difference in quality of play."
Bloomfield plays in a smaller gym than some of its opponents.
"I'm competing against D-2 schools, with great facilities," Holmes said. "We lose kids off that. It does become an issue. But if we get them to a home game, and they see the atmosphere with our fans, that makes a big difference."
Holmes' journey to coaching began, as he said, literally overnight.
"I didn't start until six years after college," Holmes recalled. "I was reading the local newspaper, and saw the high school I went to (Columbia High, Maplewood, NJ) had a coaching opportunity, for a freshman or junior varsity position. I ended up with the JV job and coached for six years. I then took a part-time assistant coaching job, at NJIT (Holmes' alma mater). When the head coach got fired, I called the Bloomfield College head coach (about a job), and he said yes to me, right on the spot, which I never forgot. He saw me hustling and recruiting all the time and when I called him, he said 'yeah, you can join my staff'. I loved that.
"A year later. that head coach took an AD job at a JUCO. I thought in back-to-back years, I'd be looking for a job, but fortunately for me, (Bloomfield College athletic director) Sheila (Wooten) hired me as head coach, and I've been here for 18 years.
"My advice? You have to be willing to hustle, do anything and everything. Sweep the floor, sell concessions, whatever the coach wants you to do. Building relationships is very important. Network, network, network. Be in touch with as many people as possible. We're a pretty good Division 2 program. I tell a coach, you're going to put on your resume that you're an assistant coach at Bloomfield College, and that could be a good resume-builder."
Holmes has led Bloomfield College to seven CACC tournament titles and 11 regular-season first-place finishes. His advice to a prospective player?
"Go where you're wanted," he said. "The percentage of kids that play in high school and go on to college is around three percent. At our level, you have a chance to play for four years. If you're getting the job done in the classroom, and working hard, it's highly unlikely we'll let them go. I played D-3 basketball myself, enjoyed it, and got my degree. Stop worrying about the level. Go where there's a good fit and go where you're wanted."