Fox Leads Hoops Charge

January 8, 2007
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Coaching college basketball for 10 years, most recently as the assistant coach for the Aquinas College team, has proven challenging for David Fox. Now an even bigger challenge awaits the new general manager/head coach of the Grand Rapids Flight: endeavoring to bring an enthusiasm for basketball back to Grand Rapids.

When the International Basketball League (IBL) Grand Rapids team — The Flight — began playing in 2005, the former Continental Basketball Association’s Grand Rapids team — the Hoops — had been defunct for two years. Fox is determined to win over Grand Rapids basketball fans, saying, “… once they realize that we’re here to stay, they’re going to love us.”

IBL commissioner Mikal Duilio recently bought the Flight, and hired Fox as general manager. Fox had sent his résumé to Duilio via e-mail, and when they spoke on the phone, he said, “We talked for four hours.” Fox continued to work as assistant coach for the Aquinas team, but when the former coach of the Flight left, Fox went to work for the Flight full-time as head coach and general manager.

Fox first had an inkling his calling had to do with basketball when he reached 5-foot-7 — in the sixth grade.

His first coaching experience began in high school, when his younger brother’s fourth-grade team needed a coach. In college he tutored basketball during “basketball study hall” while earning his bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

After graduation Fox worked for an ad agency, where he helped design the bottom of Reebok aerobic “step” sneakers. Although Fox enjoyed his career in graphic design, he often missed the person-to-person contact he experienced when coaching.

“I didn’t like the 18 hours a day in front of a computer,” said Fox. “That’s when I decided to go into coaching full-time.”

Fox coached a high school team in Northern Indiana for one year. Then he began coaching college teams: Valparaiso University, the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay, Western Carolina University, Georgia College and State University (where he earned a master’s degree in business), and Central Arkansas University, before working at Aquinas College last year.

Now Fox looks forward to working with professional players. When coaching a college team, he said, “You’re always on call.” Making sure college sophomores make it to their 8 a.m. classes is no longer part of the job. Now it’s all about the game.

Each player for the IBL has a game-to-game contract, and, according to Fox, is hoping to prove himself to the coach. The Flight’s leading scorer and 2006 All-Star, Lamont Barnes, is among five players who have already signed with the team. The IBL players range from high school graduates to college graduates who played Division I or Division II basketball, to players who’ve been out of school for several years. If a player does well in the IBL, he may get to play overseas or move to a different league.

Twenty-five teams currently make up the IBL, up from 17 in 2004. The IBL offers a fast-paced game, allowing only one timeout per quarter and an immediate inbounds policy. Neighboring Michigan teams include the Holland Blast and Battle Creek Knights. The first game of the season will be on March 23, vs. the Blast, a team whose owners also owned the Flight last year.

Holland had a better turnout for games than Grand Rapids last year, but Fox is hoping that will change.

“People don’t know about us,” Fox said. “That’s the main problem … half of the people we talk to say, ‘Who are you?’” Fox likes that Grand Rapids has a lot of entertainment options, but is certain that once fans become familiar with the IBL, they will choose seeing Flight basketball over other activities.

In hope of increasing the number of fans, all home games will be held at one venue — Forest Hills Northern High School. There will be eight home games in a row this season.

“We are professional basketball in Grand Rapids,” said Fox. “We are (also) the return of the $40 family outing.”

That breaks down to two adult tickets ($8 each), three child tickets ($4 each), six hot dogs ($1 each) and six sodas ($1 each).

The cost of a family outing is already on Fox’s mind, although his son is still in diapers.

“I’m enjoying my son being eight months, because when he’s 4, I’m going to have to buy him lunch,” Fox joked.

Fox and wife Amy, a reporter for WZZM 13 news, both watch Andrew during the workweek. As a new father, he is excited about working for the IBL, which he describes as “a family league.”

To boost the success of the Flight this year, Fox wears many different hats, and his duties include “promoting the team, marketing the team, selling the team.”

Fox and his staff have pinpointed more than 2,000 Grand Rapids businesses to gain sponsorship for the team. They have contacted more than 100 businesses during the last two months.

When Fox isn’t raising money for the Flight or coaching basketball, he enjoys reading about basketball, since many of his family members give him basketball books as holiday gifts. He has competed in triathlons, most recently the Walt Disney World triathlon in 2005, for which he raised more than $4,000 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

While growing up on the East Coast, Fox idolized players more often than coaches, but he always admired former Indiana University coach Bobby Knight, who recently became the all-time winning-est coach in college basketball while leading Texas Tech’s program. Although Fox reveres Knight for his talent, he hopes to have a career like that of New Jersey Nets head coach Lawrence Frank, because “nobody really knew who he was — he appeared on the scene, and he’s very successful.”    

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