Joel Hines takes an unconventional path to an Osbourn coaching job
By Preston Williams,
No, I didn’t, actually.
But he was the coach when you were there.
I didn’t play at Potomac. I just went there.
Hines, 28, takes part in some version of that exchange on a regular basis. He never played a high school sport, let alone basketball, yet last month he took over an Osbourn program — his second head coaching job — that reached the past two Virginia AAA tournaments.
Hines is not the first coach to go from the bleachers to the bench, but it is a seldom-taken route, one that in his experience seems to demand an explanation. Because inevitably, the conversation will veer to his hoops background, or lack of.
“There’s that assumption that at least you played high school basketball,” Hines said with a laugh one recent afternoon over lunch at a sandwich shop near his home.
Hines’s at times awkward position raises a question: Why should playing a high school sport be an assumed prerequisite for coaching a high school sport?
You don’t hold it against a lawyer if he bypassed the high school debate team. You don’t storm the restaurant kitchen to grill the cook about what culinary courses he took at 17. You don’t quiz your doctor about his frog dissection prowess.
In sports, though, there is the default notion that if you’re teaching it, you did it. So for Hines, being a non-athlete at Potomac, a school with a high-profile boys’ basketball program, has been both curse and blessing.
In area basketball circles, Potomac’s history is well known — a state title in 1995 (the only one for a Northern Virginia team between 1981 and 2008); All-Met players such as Rolan Roberts (Virginia Tech, Southern Illinois), Cliff Hawkins (Kentucky) and Eric Hayes (Maryland) and a 423-win coaching run for Kendall Hayes in 21 seasons with the Prince William County program.
So if you’re a basketball coach, and you went to Potomac, then you’re part of that tradition. Unless you’re a 5-foot-single-digit guy who barely made the Woodbridge Middle basketball team and figured you had no shot at cracking a Potomac roster.
“Reality kind of set in early,” Hines said.
During his four years at Potomac, Hines’s only contact with the elder Hayes was having him for driver’s ed. But Hines would sit across from the benches at the Panther Pit and in other gyms and observe Hayes and the coaches at rival schools Gar-Field (Andy Gray) and Woodbridge (then Will Robinson) . He absorbed their tactics and player management styles through his black-rimmed glasses, digesting the game in his own way.
So far, he’s made it work. As someone too intimidated to go out for the team in high school, Hines now has a personal message that should resonate with his own players: I missed my chance. Don’t miss yours.
There are some players at Osbourn who might benefit from hearing that. The Eagles graduated their top six scorers, and Hines senses that the City of Manassas school has a lot of guys like he was, players who previously were too leery to try out because they feared they might not measure up or they assumed that all the playing time was earmarked for the more talented guys.
“I’ll use it to my advantage to motivate them and let them know if there’s something in life you want, don’t be afraid to go for it,” said Hines, who succeeds Osbourn graduate Mike Dufrene in the position. “Don’t let somebody tell you you can’t do something. Don’t succumb to your own inhibitions. If you want to play, play.”
Just as he was an observer from afar at Potomac, Hines was in a similar position at Old Dominion, videotaping games. He decided he wanted to find a way to get a basketball job down on the floor, closer to the team.
Since then, he has taken a more standard coaching route: grunt student assistant at ODU; junior varsity coach at T.C. Williams; head coach for a year at Hampton school Kecoughtan, where he led the Warriors to their first Eastern Region tournament berth since the 1995 team lost to Potomac in the state final. Then three years as director of basketball operations at ODU, where the Monarchs won Colonial Athletic Association tournament titles in 2010 and 2011.
Hines has now accomplished enough in coaching to help compensate for what he did not accomplish in a uniform.
“The journey that I’ve been on having not played helped me to get here, in a sense,” Hines said. “It let me get a different perspective. If I [had played], who knows where I would be?”