David Adam

Sunday Conversation with Mike Hanks

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 8, 2017 9:50 pm

Basketball was a huge part of Mike Hanks' life as a kid growing up in Quincy, and it was his job for more than 25 years. Now, at age 64, the only basketball Hanks sees these days is on TV, as a spectator or from the sidelines as the coach of Coleman Middle School in Tampa, Fla.

Hanks is a sales representative for Novartis, a multinational pharmaceutical company. He has three children from his first marriage -- ages 38, 36 and 35. He and his second wife, Sonya, have three children -- ages 25, 24 and 11. They live "about a mile from the water" in Tampa.

Hanks, a son of longtime Quincy High School and Quincy College basketball coach Sherill Hanks, started his coaching career as a graduate assistant for Bobby Knight at the Indiana in 1975. He was an assistant at Mississippi for five years, then became the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I at Samford in 1981. He was at South Alabama for three years, then was an assistant at Alabama-Birmingham and Florida International. He coached in Caracas, Venezuela for one year and in Manchester, England, for two, then coached for five seasons at St. Leo, an NCAA Division II school in Tampa.

So how did you get into pharmaceutical sales after a long coaching career?

I had an opportunity to join (former Kansas coach) Ted Owens at St. Leo (where he was the athletic director), and I was there for five years. I put my heart and soul into it, but I was making no money. It was all about an opportunity to enhance my paycheck. It was a radical change. It was different. It was like I was a drug addict, because right away, I was thinking, "How can I get back in (to coaching)?" But then I started to enjoy 5 o'clock every day. I enjoyed Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday. I enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas. It ended up being about quality of life.

Do you ever think about basketball these days?

I think about it all the time. Times like now (during the NCAA Tournament). I've had opportunities to get back, but it wasn't where I wanted it to be. We love living in Tampa, and the pluses far outweigh the minuses. What I miss about the game ... I mean, when you talk about a gym rat, that was me. I went to Monroe Elementary School, and after school, the bus would drop me off at the pond (between Quincy High School and Baldwin Intermediate School), and I would go to the gym.

What was that like, growing up in Quincy in the 1960s?

As I've gotten older, you think back on things. It was such an isolated bubble. It would be like someone growing up near Madison Square Garden. It doesn't get any better. I could ride my bike anywhere I wanted in town, and the Blue Devils were the biggest show in town. In my mind, there was nothing else that could be better.

Was there pressure being the son of Sherrill Hanks?

At the time, it just seemed like that it was what it was. I didn't think about there being pressure. When I look back, I feel like I lived in a glass house, but I didn't think anything about it. That was my life. You didn't think about pressure. This was how I lived. Mom and Dad were pretty good about it. We lived through people bombing our swimming pool with items, but you took the good with the bad. There was so much more good.

What was your dad like away from the basketball court?

(The basketball court) was the playground we had. One of my teammates once told me that my dad probably missed his calling. He was one of the best baseball coaches he ever saw. He coached my Little League team. He had River City Basketball Camp during the summer. My friends remember it was a great learning experience. They remember the popsicles and the camaraderie. You hoped he say something to you that was disrespectful, because that meant he was watching you. I remember being in the locker room, figuring out how to open up the locker, and then we'd all go home on our bikes. It was a different world.

How often do you think about your dad?

What I remember now as an adult, looking back, here was a guy in a little bitty town who was much more worldly than his position. I think about things he did. He was in World War II at 16 years old. He was poor as poor could be, but he was just a good guy and a great leader. He started five black guys in high school in the 1960s. Where did that happen in the United States? I was so lucky. Bob Spear and I were real close, and he gave my dad the biggest compliment. He said, "I can't imagine growing up in this little farm town and have your dad as my coach. Here I was this ugly basketball player that your dad made me think was an all-star."

When you coached, how often did you ask for advice from your dad?

We never talked about what we should have done in a game. It was always about time and effort. Did you put the time in? Did you put in the quality effort? That was enough for him. If we talked about a game, it was more about specifics -- you know, last-second shots, getting the ball inbounds. I would pick his mind about practice before the season started. He did a good job of practice planning. His goal was to be able to pick someone out of the stands during the game and come on the bench to coach the team, because they should have been prepared.

Were you nervous when you coached against his Quincy College team when you were at South Alabama (in January 1986)?

It was a helluva lot scarier for me. I was supposed to win, but he's the savvy coach. I'm just this young punk on the bench. Really, it just gave us an opportunity to be together.

When you got out of college coaching, how did you get involved in coaching internationally?

Not only did I coach around the world, but when I was in my heyday, I was on two different USA Basketball teams. One team went to the Far East (Korea in 1984), and one team competed in the FIBA World Championships (in Colombia in 1982, where the U.S. team led by Doc Rivers finished second to the Soviet Union). I was coaching a team of players (Knight) thought that in two years might make his Olympic team. I literally saw the world as a basketball coach. It was an eye-opening experience.

Describe what it was like working for Bobby Knight.

For me, it was a little different than for someone else. My dad was a lot like Knight. He was real black and white. Going in, I had it figured it out. If Coach told me to do something, I just did it. There was no "Why?" or "What's in it for me?" It was a pretty easy experience.

After you were fired at South Alabama, you were an assistant for two years before you went to Venezuela. Why did you go overseas?

I was offered a job coaching a team that was like coaching the Yankees in New York. I was in Caracas, and the money was good. Everything was good. They paid me a lot of money to go there. I had a blast. I was there for three years. When I was hired in Manchester, my connection there was (former Indiana standout Scott May). He was part owner of the team, and he offered me the job.

Is coaching overseas much different than coaching college kids in the United States?

Not a whole lot. It's very similar. One of the things I did learn was you had a big disparity in talent, but your coaching philosophy still had to be, "How can you get the best players the ball? Where can you make up for the deficiencies?" It was the same.

When did you know that it was time to get out of coaching?

I didn't think about it until toward my end of my tenure at St. Leo. I didn't think I was going to be able to make another move, and I didn't know if I could continue to put in the effort and do all the recruiting. One year was running into the next, and I was not being able to put any money away. When I got out, I was a little bit bitter. I was working harder or just as hard as I had before, but I was making school teacher money. I wish I had got into pharmaceuticals earlier. People say to me, "You have so many memories that the rest of us will never have," and that's true. I'm really grateful for those memories and the relations. I didn't know anything else, and that was one of my regrets. I put my heart and soul into it, but I missed out on some things. You give, and you take.

So are you around basketball at all?

My wife decided late in life she wanted to teach school, and they had a special program that would fast track people with biology degrees to become a teacher. The school she was applying to, they needed a basketball coach. She told them she could have a winning basketball team. Three years ago, I become the volunteer coach at Coleman Middle School. We've gone 14-1 in three years. We only play five games. My son, Sam, will play next year. He's 11. I think I'm either going to be in elementary school or Little League my whole life.

What are his chances of making the team?

He's pretty sure if I'm making the time to coach. I'm not sure how much playing time he'll get (laughs).

Keep in touch with any old coaches?

I still have a few friends. I follow Steve (Hawkins) at Western Michigan. One of my assistants at South Alabama is an assistant at Oregon. Mike Woodson is coaching in the NBA. (Former Orlando Magic assistant) George Scholz and I call each other from time to time.

So what do you do for fun these days?

You know what I really enjoy? We're Tampa Bay Lightning season ticket holders. We went there (last) Saturday night. We went to Opening Day for the (Tampa Bay) Rays, and we have season tickets. We're season ticket holders for the Miami Hurricanes football team. I still go to the games, but it's on a have-fun basis. Someone will call once in a while and say, "Did you see this game or that game?" I might not even know it was on, but I might have been doing something with Sam. I can go to games now without having a dog in the fight or being critical. I'm just a fan.

Do you get back home often?

No, I don't since Mom and Dad have both passed away. I missed my 45th reunion. It's a long ways away, but I do follow all the sports. I followed Quincy Notre Dame's success, and we followed Quincy High School and Quincy University's success. You know, I think I'm a good mix of my dad and my mom. My mom never left Quincy but saw the world through magazines and books. Mom didn't go to college, but she was a voracious reader and had a great interest in the world. She just never left Quincy, and she encouraged both my sister and I that there's a life outside of Quincy. Kris (his sister) lived in Europe for 17 years. I got the best from both of my parents. I'm really happy and really content and love my life.

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