March Madness connection: Spainhour builds West Stokes program from past experience under FSU's Hamilton
A March Madness contender from the ACC has a special significance to Dan Spainhour, and its team colors are nowhere close to Duke blue, but rather garnet and gold.
Eighth-seeded Florida State, which faced No. 3 Michigan in the Elite Eight on Saturday, was the home of the 57-year-old West Stokes head basketball coach back in 2005. Spainhour was the director of basketball operations for roughly a year and a half under Coach Leonard Hamilton of Florida State, and has since utilized the experience to shape the Wildcats into a competitive high school program in the Northwest.
“I learned a lot from him (Hamilton), and he really taught me how to build a program instead of just a team that may have a solid year here or there,” said Spainhour. “I learned how to take things serious, but not too serious, and I have the utmost respect for him.”
Building from experiences
Now in his 11th year as the head coach at West Stokes, Spainhour’s team was the first Class 2-A school in history to win the Frank Spencer Holiday Classic Champion Bracket in 2011 and then took the Pepsi Bracket in 2013. The Wildcats won 20 games this season and made a run to the third round of the NCHSAA playoffs — their deepest run in the past five years — with a young team that had just two seniors on the roster.
Spainhour credits his past and present players “buying in” to their roles on the team to try and become something bigger than themselves — a team mentality rather than about any single player or coach.
It’s an aspect of the game he perfected from sitting in on Hamilton’s practices at Florida State, even though his primary role within the Seminoles’ program was handling logistics, like scheduling team planes and meals.
“Coach was always very good at getting guys on board, and finding the right guys that are happy with their roles,” said Spainhour. “He always played a lot of people, and that’s how they had depth at every level.”
Another aspect of Spainhour’s role was managing the Leonard Hamilton Basketball Camp, which took place on Florida State’s campus in Tallahassee, Fla. There he coordinated two four-day training sessions in the summer for boys ages 8-18 who were interested in high-intensity practices with Seminole players and staff.
The experience helped him to train his eye to spot basketball talent on the court.
“Being around those guys day in and day out, you sort of have an idea that, well, this one might not be a D-I athlete,” laughed Spainhour. “It really gives you an honest evaluation of the level your kids can play at.”
Although, Spainhour wasn’t the only one in this program learning lessons.
“There isn’t just one thing that sets Dan Spainhour apart from other coaches. His ability to communicate, to teach more than just the game of basketball and his desire to make others better people are just some of the things that make him special,” said Hamilton, who was in Los Angeles on Thursday for Florida State’s Sweet Sixteen matchup and later the Elite Eight at the Staples Center. “Though he worked for our team for only one season, I could tell in that one year that he possessed many of the characteristics of a successful person. I always knew he’d be a successful coach.”
The FSU connection
But how did Spainhour land the job at Florida State? It all stems back to an encounter between the two coaches more than 20 years ago.
Spainhour began his coaching career in 1982 at Bishop McGuinness as an assistant to head coach Jim Corrigan, now the special assistant for Duke women’s basketball. During the summers as the Villains’ eventual head coach from 1987-95, he attended Duke Basketball Camp in Durham, which was attended by high school coaches from across North Carolina and facilitated by the university’s athletics department.
That’s where he befriended Tommy Amaker, the assistant to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. In 1996 during a visit to the National Association of Basketball Coaches conference around the time of the Final Four, Amaker introduced Spainhour to Hamilton, the head coach at the University of Miami at the time.
“I would always just go and kind of hobnob,” said Spainhour. “Those stories about college coaches hanging out in the lobby of the hotel, that’s how I met Coach Hamilton for the first time.”
Hamilton later brought Spainhour on as a graduate assistant when he enrolled at Miami for a masters degree in sports administration. He graded game film, watched daily practices, and was even on staff when the Hurricanes — then in the Big East — made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 1997 after a 36-year absence.
Spainhour’s ability to break down plays made him stand out among coaches in high school athletics, according to assistant coach Stan Jones.
“There’s no question Dan knows the game inside-out, and he has the ability to articulate it and share it with players and staff members,” said Jones, who befriended Spainhour when he was an assistant coach at Miami with Hamilton and now at Florida State. “I think he’s one of the premier coaches at the high school level, in terms of being a teacher.”
Leaving the college game behind
Spainhour then left Hamilton’s staff from 1998-03 to serve the first basketball coach in West Stokes’ school history before rejoining Hamilton at Florida State.
But West Stokes called again. Around the time of the housing crisis’ first waves in Florida in late 2006, Spainhour decided it was time to move back to King.
He hasn’t regretted it.
“I knew that I missed coaching,” said Spainhour. “The operations part was great, but I missed being on the floor — things just happened.”
But the nearly year-round coaching position hasn’t kept Spainhour from catching up on March Madness highlights and regular-season games. Although sometimes he might not be just an objective student of the game.
“Of course I’m pulling for Florida State,” Spainhour said.
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