Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Basketball: Engelstad joins college coaching ranks

Former Whitman High star lands assistant job at Division I Mount St. Mary’s

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When the news arrived that he had found a position as an assistant coach for Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team, Dan Engelstad was on the other side of the world. After finishing his college basketball career at St. Mary’s (Md.) College with a school-record 419 assists, and graduating in May, Engelstad took some time to visit his father in Zimbabwe, where he is stationed as a public affairs officer for the Unites States government. Checking e-mail was spotty, but during a 10-minute window of connectivity Engelstad found out that he had what every recent college graduate is looking for: a job.

‘‘Getting a chance to break into coaching at the college level is an unbelievable opportunity,” he said. ‘‘I am very fortunate.”

For, Engelstad, 22, the position on the Mount’s staff was a culmination of lots of hard work on and off the court during his four years at St. Mary’s (a NCAA Division III program). In the summer of 2004, after his freshman year, he coached the junior-varsity summer team at Whitman High, his alma mater. That team included youngsters like Michael Gruner and Antoine White, who knew Engelstad from his high-school playing days — he was an All-Gazette first-team selection in 2003, when he averaged 14 points and nine assists per game for the Vikings. Those players eventually went on to form the nucleus of the Whitman team that shocked the state by winning the Class 4A state title in 2006.

‘‘Coaching was something that I was interested in from day one,” Engelstad said. ‘‘Starting with coaching that JV team, and working with players like Gruner, Antoine and Mikey that made the decision to pursue it [as a career] so much easier.”

After Engelstad’s sophomore year, he ran the St. Mary’s College Men’s Basketball Camp, handling all operations of the camp in collaboration with women’s basketball coach Nan Hambrose. He also moved up to coach the varsity summer-league teams at Whitman in 2005 and in 2006.

‘‘Working at Whitman with [head coach] Chris Lun helped prepare me big time,” Engelstadt said. ‘‘He has been really supportive of me. He let me run my own programs during the summer, and being able to implement my own stuff was very beneficial for my development.”

The ‘‘stuff” that he learned were the defensive philosophies spawned by his first college coach, Brock Kantrow. Matt Miller, another Kantrow disciple, went on to help Lun develop and implement the defensive system that allowed Whitman to hold high-powered Eleanor Roosevelt to 38 points in the Class 4A final during its championship run, and Engelstad hopes to do the same at Mount St. Mary’s, an NCAA Division I program. First though, as the third of three assistants, Engelstad will have to do some scut work.

‘‘I’m ready to do whatever,” he said. ‘‘Recruiting, breaking down film, running the camps. I have to finish the NCAA tests so I can head out on the road and begin recruiting.”

The Mount will be looking forward to tapping Engelstad’s connections in Montgomery County in the future. Last year, Mount St. Mary’s posted an 11-20 regular-season record, but went 9-9 in Northeast Conference play and advanced to the NEC tournament semifinals for the first time since 2000. An influx of local talent might help the Mount take the next step forward.

‘‘We are excited to have Dan join our staff,” head coach Milan Brown said in a press release last week. ‘‘He is a hard worker and will be able to expand our connections in the Washington, D.C. and Maryland recruiting areas.”

Engelstad is ready to go.

‘‘The whole situation [at Mount St. Mary’s] is great,” he said. ‘‘Now that it’s official, I’m really enjoying it.”