When the UM-Dearborn women’s basketball team had the chance to set the highest single-season win total in the program’s 40-year history, they did. But they didn’t stop there.
With their 24-7 2018-2019 season, they became the winningest basketball team in campus history — surpassing the 21 wins by the 2017-18 men’s basketball team.
Coach Jordan Sweeney said the team was prepared to have a winning season — and knowing the history-making opportunity was within reach pushed them even harder.
“Breaking the win record was a great feeling. And when I went into the locker room at the end of that game, they doused me with a bucket of water,” said Sweeney, noting the celebratory tradition that coaches often receive from their players after a monumental win. “Not every moment is going to be a big moment, but we did have some great ones this season. As a coach, you always want to see your team, your players succeed.”
Sitting down with Sweeney after the season, he shared what basketball has taught him and why he loves the game.
Get in the game — your way.
If you don’t fit into traditional forms of success, keep looking. There is something for you out there.
Growing up, I didn’t fit within the box in school. I had a speech impediment — every once in a while, you can still hear it — and it affected my confidence in the classroom. I tried, but I wasn’t the best academically. So I looked for other ways to stand out.
When I was young, my dad used extra cement from a basement job he did to pour a slab of concrete in the yard for a basketball court. My older brother, Jason, and I played with kids in the neighborhood all the time. Basketball gave me a way to grow; it gave me confidence and helped form my drive to push myself. It also gave me a way — as a small town kid in the Upper Peninsula — to fit in. In high school, my senior-year team won a state basketball title. I averaged 12 points per game and was noticed by recruiters. Without basketball, I don’t know if I would have gone to college and graduated. I’d like to think I would have, but I have to acknowledge that it opened doors for me that might not have been there.
Success is a combination of preparedness and luck.
If you want something, put yourself out there. But realize you also need to come prepared. It’s important to be ready when your lucky break comes.
After I was done playing basketball in college, I helped coach a high school team and a summer AAU league out of Mount Pleasant, Mich. I knew basketball helped me grow as a person and I could see how it helped develop these other young players too. That’s when I knew I wanted to get into coaching college ball and make this a career. Professional coaching spots are hard to find; but I was persistent in offering my time and was eventually called to help with a college’s summer basketball camp.
I got the opportunity to prove myself; I was always on time and worked hard. Sometimes work ethic is enough to get you noticed and help build your network. Word of mouth led to a meeting with a Ferris State University assistant coach and I got onto the coaching staff for the men’s basketball team. That was the foot in the door. It’s where I was prior to coming to UM-Dearborn.
Working toward goals is similar to playing on a basketball court. If you work hard, it is not going to guarantee you a win. But it does give you a better opportunity to win.
Surround yourself with people who make you better.
Our basketball team broke a win record this year. That’s something we are all very proud of. My players worked hard for that; so did the coaching staff.
It’s important to share that the team has spent the last couple years rebuilding. Last year our overall record didn’t reach .500. But that’s a part of the process. The most difficult thing about a rebuild is patience and realizing that success isn’t an overnight thing, especially if you want it to last. You need to put in a lot of hours and learn what motivates your players, find concepts that will put your team in the best mental place possible and recruit people who are the right fit for your team. You need to lay a foundation before you get to a winning season.
I don’t have an exact science to it all yet, but I do know that I have a really good coaching staff. They are talented, dedicated people; we all work well together. I’ve found that if you surround yourself with the right people, you’ll have a better chance at success. This is true on and off the court.
Winning is nice. But there are lessons in losing too.
You experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in sports. It is important that you learn from letdowns too.
Earlier this season, with seconds left, sophomore forward Cydney Williams hit a three-point shot to send us into overtime against a team that we weren’t projected to beat. Fans were going wild. The girls ran out onto the court. But as overtime wound down, our opponent hit a last-minute shot — we lost by two points at the buzzer. I’m not going to lie, it was crushing. In only a few minutes, we experienced a wide range of emotions.
A coach’s job isn’t just to win. It’s also to help players make sense of those moments and prepare them going forward. I have players who know they aren’t going to play pro basketball; they are studying to be doctors, business owners and engineers. And the life lessons gained here in lifting yourself back up, team building and trust, and work ethic will last long after the season ends.