Xavier University's director of basketball operations said there are more Jewish coaches in college basketball than you might think.
When I think about playing basketball in elementary school in suburban St. Louis, I remember that I was about 4 feet tall and not scoring a whole lot. I also remember that my friend Jeremy Growe actually had some skills and already seemed determined to spend his life around the game.
Growe, who is Jewish, has since followed through on that dream. He started as a student manager of the basketball team at Indiana University. After graduating in 2009, he spent two years as a graduate assistant at Xavier University in Ohio and then in 2011, began working at the school as director of basketball operations. The Xavier Musketeers lost to the Villanova Wildcats in the Big East championship and come into this year's NCAA tournament with a No. 6 seed. The day before the Musketeers played the Ole Miss Rebels in the second round of the NCAA tournament, I asked Growe, 27, about what he thinks his team’s chances are and whether it’s lonely as a Jew working in college basketball.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell me about the first time you decided that you wanted to either be a basketball player or do something in basketball.
I always wanted to be an NBA player but then you come to the realization that you’re just not good enough and when that happened, I wanted to coach. I felt like I knew the game, had a high basketball IQ and I was always interested in the Xs and Os. I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be a college basketball coach — I would say junior high — and I’ve been trying to do it ever since.
What’s it been like to go to Indiana and come up through the ranks to where you are now?
I’ve had a great experience. I’ve been lucky in a lot of ways; I’ve gotten a couple huge breaks that people spend their whole life in college basketball trying to get. It’s a really, really hard industry to break into. There are only so many set jobs and it’s a really competitive industry. A lot of people — a lot of former players — are trying to get in and since I didn’t play college basketball, much less Division I college basketball, it’s a little harder for me.
When you say you’ve gotten a lot of breaks, could you elaborate on that?
Right when I graduated college, I was lucky enough to get a graduate assistant job, which is an entry-level position in college basketball, at Xavier, which at the time was coming off back-to-back Elite 8 and Sweet 16 appearances. Sean Miller was the head coach at Xavier, and he left to go to Arizona as the head coach, so when that happened, Chris Mack, who is my current boss, got hired. I knew Coach Mack just a little bit, but when he formed his new staff, one of the assistant coaches he hired was a guy that I worked with very closely at Indiana; he was the video coordinator when I was the student manager, so he was able to help me get the graduate assistant job. When I got my master’s and my two years was up, the director of basketball operations happened to go to take another job in basketball, and Coach Mack promoted me at that point. Those were two really huge breaks that I got at a young age and was lucky to get.
So you got Bruce Pearl at Auburn, but how many other Jews are there working in college basketball?
You know what, there’s more than you’d think. There’s actually what’s called the Jewish Coaches Association that meets every year at the Final Four. Head coaches you’ve got: Bruce Pearl; Larry Brown at Southern Methodist University; Rob Senderoff at Kent State; Josh Pastner at Memphis. That may be it for head coaches but there are a lot of assistant coaches and staff members around the country.
So is there a lot of camaraderie?
There is. Like I said, every year at the Final Four, there’s the National Association of Basketball Coaches convention, and every college basketball coach in the country is there and so you’ve got a series of meetings and networking, and something I attend every year is the Jewish Coaches Association breakfast. It’s Saturday morning, the day of the Final Four, and I would say about 50 to 75 coaches attend.
What do you think about your chances this year?
We're playing Ole Miss Thursday; they're a very good team. They are really good on the offensive glass. They've got really good guards. We're a young team — we have nine freshmen and sophomores on our team. We're led by two really experienced seniors. We didn't start off the way we wanted, but we're playing really, really good basketball right now. We've won seven out of our last 10. We advanced to the Big East championship game Saturday night and lost to what's probably the second-best team in the country, Villanova. We've got eight R.P.I. top 50 wins, and a lot of them came in February and March, which tells you you're playing your best basketball.